The Buffalo Bills went into the 2019 NFL Draft with two goals – to upgrade the talent on their roster and to not be forced to draft for need. In a sense, they accomplished both goals.
Many of the players the Bills drafted were among the highest-rated at their positions and they also added to some positions that were seemingly overcrowded (running back in particular). But some were taken to fill holes anyways – like their first-round draft choice, Ed Oliver.
Although none of us know how it will pan out until a few years down the road, it seems as if the Bills came away with one of the better draft classes in the National Football League. To paraphrase former ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman, allow us at From the 300 Level to be the last to recap the events of this past offseason. Here’s a comprehensive roundup of Buffalo’s haul from the draft:
“Mean” Joe Greene. John Randle. Warren Sapp. Aaron Donald. These are just some of the names that are evoked whenever Ed Oliver’s name pops up in discussion, and for good reason: like his contemporaries, Oliver isn’t the biggest defensive tackle around but boasts elite quickness and athleticism off of the line of scrimmage.
Although the three-time All-American, Outland Trophy and Bill Willis Award winner (Oliver was the first freshman ever to win the latter accolade) had some buzz heading into his last collegiate season at Houston as a potential top-five pick, he likely slipped to the ninth selection because of a knee injury that sidelined him for four games. Also working against Oliver was the Cougars’ deployment of him – 64 percent of his snaps last season were as a 3-4 nose tackle, which isn’t ideal given that he would face more double teams at that position.
In Buffalo Oliver will line up as a three-technique defensive tackle in Sean McDermott’s one-gap 4-3 scheme, where he will be asked to pin his ears back and not control multiple gaps like he had to in college. In a scheme like this, he should be much more productive.
According to Doug Farrar of USA Today, these are Oliver’s strengths and weaknesses:
“Strengths: Oliver has an absolutely freakish first-step burst off the snap – it’s as good as you’ll see from the quickest edge-rushers, and a smart defensive coordinator will let Oliver build a lot of his game around it. Linemen have real trouble recovering from his initial pops – he’s an underrated power disruptor. Has ridiculous upper-body strength for his size to stack and shed offensive linemen from side to side. Gets up to speed very quickly on lateral runs and converges quickly in pursuit. Has an outstanding feel for opening gaps and can blast right through them with his short-area speed. Zips right through openings diagonally to close on the ball carrier. Stands up to power very well with leg drive and will be even better at moving through it when he expands his hand movements. As a base three-tech or end, can win several ways against single blocks. Has the athleticism to drop to linebacker depth or turn around the edge. Athletic potential is off the charts and with a better schematic plan in place, Oliver could be truly special as an interior disruptor.
“Weaknesses: Oliver’s schematic misfit at Houston can be considered both a positive and a negative when projecting his potential, but we’re beholden to note that a 6’2”, 287-pound speed tackle isn’t built to play nose tackle 65% of the time. At times, he’s so hell-bent on getting to the pocket that he completely misses the play going away from him. Needs proper leverage to avoid getting blasted out by double teams. Dives into the pile are essentially wasted plays since he can’t get free to disrupt. Has the potential to ride a consistent bull rush but needs to work step-to-step power into his game. Tweener characteristics could get him lost if he’s not in the hands of an alert defensive coordinator.”
In the second round the Bills traded up to get Cody Ford, a mauling offensive tackle from the Oklahoma Sooners. While Ford joins a crowded offensive line group in Buffalo, he’ll have a chance to compete for a starting job right out of the gate.
The 6’4”, 330-pound Ford boasts good athleticism and has experience playing both guard and tackle while protecting the likes of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray – the previous two first-overall draft picks. Although he excelled at both positions and was recognized for his efforts with numerous awards, he somehow slid outside of the first round – where many thought he would be selected.
Ford is noted for having a good knee bend, strong punching ability and has good lateral agility in pass protection. He can also pull and get up to the second level in the running game, and possesses a mean streak. Ford does have some issues with setting his fee, the timing of his punch and adjusting to stunts and twists by defensive linemen, but those can be coached up.
When the Bills picked up running back Devin Singletary from Florida Atlantic in the third round, at first yours truly was a bit skeptical. With many other running backs already under contract – and despite a crying need for youth at the position – I was of the mindset that the Bills could have gotten similar value in the later rounds or even among the undrafted free agents that would have slipped through the cracks.
Then I researched some footage of Singletary. And your trusty correspondent was turned into a believer.
While Singletary didn’t portray a lot of speed – his 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine was just 4.66 seconds – and also isn’t the biggest back at just 5’7”, I kept seeing a Darren Sproles/Tarik Cohen-type who could make splashy plays. Singletary possesses an excellent ability to pick up blitzes in pass protection, is decisive when finding creases to exploit and doesn’t dance in the backfield, is a nightmare to tackle in space and is also a threat while running routes out of the backfield. Buffalo may have gotten a steal here.
With just the newly-signed Tyler Kroft, unproven Jason Croom and veteran Lee Smith on their roster, the Bills needed to address the tight end position in the 2019 draft. By deciding to follow their board and not reach for any of the consensus top talent available, general manager Brand Beane made a deal with the Washington Redskins to trade back into the third round and select Dawson Knox from Ole Miss.
Knox is an intriguing prospect. A former quarterback in high school, he walked on at Ole Miss to play tight end despite getting offers from Air Force, Cornell and Austin Peay to play quarterback. Although he only registered 39 catches over the last two years and he never caught a touchdown pass for the Rebels, Knox was behind fellow pro prospects D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks) and A.J. Brown (Tennessee Titans) on the team’s pecking order.
Knox boasts some good acceleration, speed, athletic ability and upside. He is also a physical and willing blocker.
Florida’s Vosean Joseph, a speedy 6’1” junior linebacker, led the Gators in tackles in 2018 with 93 (nine for losses) and also had four sacks and five pass breakups. According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, “Joseph is a narrow, underweight linebacker with excellent athleticism and outstanding closing burst but a maddening amount of negative tape.
“Inconsistency will follow him until he shows that discipline and control matter in his play….. Joseph’s lack of instincts and field awareness may never leave, but a move to WILL linebacker should help as should his coverage/blitz potential on third downs.”
Joseph could see some time in the Bills’ nickel and dime packages in both coverage responsibilities and blitzing, and will also be involved in the kicking game.
Jacquan Johnson, a safety from the University of Miami, was the 181st pick in the sixth round by Buffalo. As a junior in 2017, he was one of four players from the defensive side of the ball to be a finalist for the Walter Camp player of the year and led Miami in tackles in each of the last two seasons.
The cousin of Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller – also a former Hurricane – the 5’10” Johnson is, according to Zierlein, an “interchangeable safety with aggressiveness and leadership qualities teams covet….. teams might pick at his measurables, but he’s reliable in coverage and extremely consistent as a downhill, open-field tackler with a taste for striking. He has good short-area quickness and soft hands, but he lacks ball-hawking instincts, which limits his production.”
Although he joins a team that already boasts safeties Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Kurt Coleman and Siran Neal, Johnson – who has been mentored by former Bills coach and Hurricane safety Ed Reed – will compete for a subpackage role and will also likely see time on both the kickoff and punt units.
DARRYL JOHNSON JR.
A linebacker from North Carolina A&T, Darryl Johnson Jr. had a productive career in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – one that ended with his winning the conference’s defensive player of the year award after a senior year that saw him rack up 55 tackles (19 for a loss) and 10.5 sacks.
Johnson, who joins recent MEAC defensive players of the year Darius Leonard (Indianapolis Colts) and Javon Hargrave (Pittsburgh Steelers) in the NFL, will switch to defensive end in Sean McDermott’s and Leslie Frazier’s 4-3 scheme and like Joseph and Jaquan Johnson will also see time on the Bills’ special teams units.
Buffalo doubled down on their commitment to improving at tight end by selecting Tommy Sweeney from Boston College with the 228th pick in the seventh round. Sweeney joins Knox, Tyler Kroft, Jason Croom and Lee Smith at that position on the Bills’ roster.
Lightly recruited out of high school – he was just a two-star recruit – Sweeney gradually improved his production every year, racking up over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns between his sophomore and senior seasons. Two years ago he led the Eagles in catches and receiving yardage, and followed that up with 32 catches, 348 yards and three scores in his senior year – earning a first-team All-ACC selection and an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
Sweeney didn’t make much of an impact as a receiver during his collegiate career due to the Eagles’ strong commitment to the running game. But the lack of targets helped Sweeney develop his prowess in the blocking game, an area where most tight ends are usually underdeveloped coming from the college game.