The 2019 NFL Draft is in the books which means it’s time to evaluate how the players selected will impact their respective new team’s roster. Here, the Buffalo Bills are in the spotlight. General manager Brandon Beane deserves credit for doing a fairly solid job addressing the most pressing needs on the roster. He did so with the addition of the following eight players.
First round, ninth overall: Ed Oliver, interior defensive lineman, Houston
Second round, 38th overall: Cody Ford, offensive tackle, Oklahoma
Third round, 74th overall: Devin Singletary, running back, Florida Atlantic
Third round, 96th overall: Dawson Knox, tight end, Ole Miss
Fifth round, 147th overall: Vosean Joseph, linebacker, Florida
Sixth round, 181st overall: Jaquan Johnson, safety, Miami
Seventh round, 225th overall: Darryl Johnson, edge rusher, North Carolina A&T
Seventh round, 228th overall: Tommy Sweeney, tight end, Boston College
Buffalo Bills 2019 NFL Draft Grade: 8.3/10
Which prospect is ostensibly the best player taken? What was the pick that most likely had Bills fans scratching their heads? Was there a player whose selection came as a surprise, likely due to not much of a need at that position? Who has the status of draft day steal? And which one will make an immediate mark once training camp commences? It will all be broken down below.
The Best Player: Ed Oliver
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering Oliver came off the board early in the first round. Buffalo’s need for an instant impact interior defender became pronounced with the retirement of long-time Bill and fan favorite Kyle Williams. There was talk ahead of the draft that the Bills were looking to possibly trade up to nab Oliver. In the end, it wasn’t necessary so in that sense, he could also be looked at as a bit of a steal.
In a draft that was almost historic in terms of the game-changing defensive talent available, Oliver is about as good as they come. He’s a pocket-pressing machine able to generate leverage and convert speed to power as good as any player in this draft class. Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams has completely revolutionized the way the interior defender position is played due to his versatility and athleticism and Oliver possesses similar traits. All in all, he’s a dynamic, every-down player who should excel right off the bat both in bottling up the run and getting to the quarterback.
The Head-Scratcher: Dawson Knox
The Bills have been in the wilderness at the tight end position for quite some time now. They gave Charles Clay a massive five-year deal in 2015 which ultimately became sunk cost after he managed just nine touchdowns over four seasons before the team released him in February. Iowa standout T.J. Hockenson was a definite option until he came off the board one pick before the Bills were on the clock in round one. And so they addressed this glaring need late in the third round by taking Knox.
There certainly are some pluses about the tight end out of Ole Miss. He boasts an NFL-caliber body type and should be able to successfully handle the in-line and downfield blocking duties necessary at the next level. And he showed hints at being an effective vertical threat down the seams, something that could really help Josh Allen in his second NFL season. But Knox didn’t register a single touchdown pass in college. Could it have been a function of being in an offense that included D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown? Possibly. But that alone can’t allay concerns regarding his big play ability. He’s also had injury issues and so durability could also become an issue.
The Surprise: Jaquan Johnson
Safety was far from the biggest positional need for the Bills this off-season. The team is fairly set with two reliable starters in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer while they also took Siran Neal in last year’s draft. If anything, Beane was likely adhering to a “best player available” philosophy here. Many draft projections had Johnson going as early as the fourth round.
Johnson is a tad undersized at 5’10” and 191 pounds which could be an issue at the next level as he exhibited a physical playing style in college. There will undoubtedly be concerns about playing him at box safety regarding his body holding up as well as whether or not he can dish it out at the line of scrimmage against bigger skill position players. But he is a fairly reliable tackler and his intangibles are outstanding. He likely left a strong impression on the Bills brass during meetings as part of the pre-draft process. If he can realize his ceiling on the field, he’ll have plenty of teammates willing to go into battle with him given his demeanor off of it.
The Steal: Cody Ford
If the Bills had an oversized need at the safety position, Johnson would probably be the best fit here. But their needs on the offensive line were much more significant and it’s for that reason that Ford deserves recognition as a day two steal. The Oklahoma product did his part in providing a clean pocket for this year’s first overall pick, Kyler Murray. And there was the possibility of him also hearing his name called on the first day of the draft.
Ford is the embodiment of a junkyard dog capable of bullying opposing defenders at the point of attack. He has a massive frame and uses it to good effect but he’s also highly athletic for a player of his size. That athleticism shows up when he’s blocking in space which should supercharge the Bills’ screen pass game on his side of the field. While he’ll likely be limited to the right side of the line, Ford has all the makings of a starting caliber player as a rookie.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Devin Singletary
Prior to the draft, Buffalo’s running backs corps wasn’t exactly a proverbial spring chicken. The club signed 35-year-old Frank Gore to go on top of already having a 30-year-old LeSean McCoy on the roster. It necessitated an infusion of youth which they addressed partially by bringing in T.J. Yeldon. But adding another young gun via the draft couldn’t hurt, and that’s exactly what they did.
Singletary rushed for 1,000+ yards in all three of his seasons with Florida Atlantic. He earned second-team all-American honors in 2017 after going for 1,920 yards, the fourth-best total in FBS that year. His downfield vision is spectacular, particularly around the goal-line which is a big reason he totaled 66 touchdowns during his college career. Combine that vision with his impressive lateral agility and you have a player capable of eluding in space to the tune of big gains. While his top-end speed lacks that extra gear, he should contribute immediately to what looks like a committee backfield for Buffalo in 2019.
Joseph is a hard-hitting player who showcases plus read and react instincts as well as impressive sideline-to-sideline range. There are quite a few similarities between him and his new teammate Matt Milano, particularly with respect to frame as both are a tad undersized. In Joseph’s case, he does showcase potential every-down value as he’s capable as a run-stuffer and a pass-rusher. His presence should bolster the Bills’ depth at the linebacker position.
Johnson became the third straight North Carolina A&T player taken in the draft after running back Tarik Cohen went in 2017 and offensive lineman Brandon Parker came off the board last year. He has the physical traits to make it at the next level but needs a lot of work technique-wise. Too often, he lacks a plan as a pass-rusher which won’t cut it against top-level NFL tackles. He’s a developmental project at this point but should learn a lot from the likes of Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, and Trent Murphy.
Seventh-round picks are usually depth adds and Buffalo’s final pick of the 2019 draft, Tommy Sweeney, is no different. They took Knox four rounds earlier and inked Tyler Kroft to a multi-year deal in free agency. Sweeney comes to Western New York after solid production during three of his four seasons at Boston College. His blocking ability is a significant weak point but he is a fairly reliable catcher of the football.
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