By Callum Squires

The NFL Draft is over, and we cannot head into the three-month abyss that is the offseason without looking at what all 262 selections mean for each franchise. Whilst too early to judge just how successful a draft class each team’s was, we can look at how rookies fit within schemes, where they stand on depth charts, and who we can expect to make an impact in 2022. We continue our team by team series with the Buffalo Bills:

Draft Haul

123Kaiir ElamCBFlorida
263James CookRBGeorgia
389Terrel BernardLBBaylor
5148Khalil ShakirWRBoise State
6180Matt AraizaPSan Diego State
6185Christian BenfordCBVillanova
6209Luke TenutaOTVirginia Tech
7231Baylon SpectorLBClemson

Day One

Credit: USA Today Sports

The Buffalo Bills went into Day 1 of the NFL Draft in an enviable position. Bills fans are heading into the 22-23 season with huge expectations, coming off back to back heartbreaking losses to the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. Despite how the last two seasons have ended, the Bills have fostered a feeling of hope and belief in this young and talented roster.

GM Brandon Beane has come back with a vengeance, desperate to finally take this franchise back to the promised land of the SuperBowl, and attempt to write the wrongs from the 1990s. Von Miller was the most notable free agent addition, arriving in western New York off the back of a SuperBowl Championship with the LA Rams. Miller may be in the twilight of his career, but is certainly more than able to still be a gamewrecker on any given day, and adds a true star piece to this Bills defense for the next 2-3 years at least.

The Bills traded up into the number 23 spot – that the Ravens had previously acquired in the Hollywood Brown trade – in order to take a cornerback that will likely be paired with Tre’Davious White in the long term. Kaiir Elam, CB from Florida was the apple of Brandon Beane’s eye, and the Bills decided to move up and get their guy, worrying that another team might try to jump them and secure Elam for themselves.

Elam’s length, athleticism, and youth (he’s only 20) make him a hugely intriguing prospect, that Beane said was “the final 1st round grade” on the Bills’ Draft Board. Elam has speed and physicality that will help him become a key cog in a Bills Defense that now has to deal with Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill & Garrett Wilson in the AFC East.

Day Two

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Day 2 saw the Bills address one of the needs that has long since been discussed as a point of emphasis for Buffalo. Over the past few years, the joke has been that the Bills best Running Back is, well, their Quarterback. And that’s more due to Josh Allen being an exceptional athlete, than their RBs being poor players, but the Bills have needed someone they could rely on to share the load with Allen for a while.

They may have remedied this by selecting James Cook, RB, from Georgia 63rd overall. Cook was part of the National Championship winning Bulldogs team, and projects to be a success in the NFL as well. His older brother Dalvin has become one of the truly elite rushers in the league, but James has talents of his own as well. The younger Cook is an excellent receiver who will provide Allen with a true security blanket in case Dawson Knox, Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, or new addition Jamison Crowder are covered downfield. Cook is perhaps a bit undersized at 5’11”, but is a great route runner and if he can run the ball effectively too then Buffalo will be ecstatic with him. 

Secondly, the Bills added Terrel Bernard, LB, from Baylor with pick #89. Bernard was part of a fearsome Baylor defense that fell just short of sneaking into the College Football playoff. Bernard only lasted to Round 3 because of only being 6 feet tall, and perhaps not having elite level speed. That said, he’s more than capable of rushing the passer and controlling the run game from within the box. The Bills narrowly missed out on Nakobe Dean falling to them in Round 3, but may been intending to plump for Bernard anyway considering Dean’s medical issues.

Day Three

The Bills took 5 players on Day 3, the undisputed highlight for me being the “Punt God” Matt Araiza from San Diego State, 180th overall. Araiza became a social media darling by constantly flipping the field for SDSU, regularly rattling off 60+ or 70+ yard punts. One concern could be how his technique will cope with the Buffalo elements, but with the leg strength he possesses likely able to overcome these challenges.

Also of note was the addition of WR Khalil Shakir from Boise State, who can be a threat both in the slot, taking handoffs in the backfield, and also on kick returns. The Bills do have Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder who tend to operate from the slot, but obviously Shakir is younger and cheaper and Crowder specifically may only be around for a year or two. Shakir is explosive in space and may well develop into another favourite weapon of Josh Allen to complement Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis.

“Despite Boise State not getting a lot of air time, Khalil Shakir would usually make a weekly appearance on my Saturday college football experience with a variety of outrageous big play highlights for the Broncos. A true ‘swiss army knife’ at the college level, Shakir’s athleticism and competitive nature meant that defenses had to account for him on every single snap. The arm length is a concern, and likely removes outside duties for him at the next level, limiting his draft stock somewhat. But what a team loses in that regard, they can gain with a bespoke playbook, allowing Shakir to work his magic in the slot or backfield as well as returner on special teams. A high character guy and locker room asset, Shakir is one of my favourite evals in this draft class, a future WR3, and brings every desirable trait as a contributor to an NFL offense.”
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Luke Tenuta, OT from Virginia Tech, was chosen to add more depth on the O-Line, behind David Quessenberry and Tommy Doyle. Lastly, adding some more defensive depth with CB Christian Benford from Villanova, and LB Baylon Spector from Clemson both felt like sensible moves as CB specifically feels like maybe the thinnest position on the Bills roster, and AJ Klein’s expected departure at LB leaves space for others to compete to make the roster.

One To Watch: James Cook

If James Cook can be half the calibre of Running Back that his brother is, the Bills have got a great one. Josh Allen’s rushing ability is part of what makes him special, but having a true bell-cow back will help protect Allen’s longevity. What’s more, if you need to sell out to stop a runner like Cook, Allen will be able to use the element of surprise even more when he does decide to run with it.

The Zack Moss experiment doesn’t appear to have worked out, and Devin Singletary, whilst talented and a good role player, is not a lead back who will be feared in the NFL. If James Cook can become that, the Bills offense will take another leap forward, even closer to being unstoppable. Now that might seem like an uphill battle – as stated previously – Cook is on the smaller side, but with his threat as a pass catching threat, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a true 3 down back for the Bills.

UDFA Tracker

Jalen WydermyerTETexas A&M
Prince EmiliIDLPenn
Malik WilliamsWRAppalachian State
Alec AndersonOTUCLA
Travon FullerCBTulsa
Neil Pau’uWRBYU
Keith CorbinWRJackson State
Raheem BlackshearRBVirginia Tech
Derek KerstetterIOLTexas

The Bills signed a handful of UDFA’s with perhaps the most intriguing being Jalen Wydermeyer, TE from Texas A&M. The 6’5” pass catcher was a 3 time All-SEC 2nd Team member, and looks well placed to learn from Dawson Knox and newly acquired O.J. Howard. 

Also of note, is O-Lineman Derek Kerstetter from Texas, who played four different positions along the Longhorns Line in his collegiate career. Kerstetter started 49 games in his Texas career, and was named to the AP All-Big12 2nd Team in 2021. Kerstetter’s flexibility and versatility is something that could well lead to a successful NFL career by being able to slide into whatever opening the Bills have on their O-Line.

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It may still feel alien for #BillsMafia to be the SuperBowl favourites, but they’ve more than earned that spot thanks to GM Brandon Beane putting together a truly exceptional roster of talent. Truth be told, the Bills were in great shape before the draft, and not many of these picks will need to have a big impact for Buffalo to be playing deep into January next year. This team will go as far as they like barring serious injuries. If Allen, Diggs, White, & Miller can stay healthy, they’ve got as good a chance as anyone to win SuperBowl 57 in February.

The success of Elam will likely be the headline that comes from this Draft Class, but with Cook, Bernard, Shakir & Araiza too, there’s plenty of talent in this crew headed to join Bills Mafia. The Bills are the undisputed favourite for the AFC East, with perhaps Miami the most likely to challenge them, but with Josh Allen at the helm, and Beane putting together a roster of this calibre, it would would be a shock for this season to have any other conclusion besides a deep Buffalo Bills playoff run.