The Buffalo Bills went into the 2020 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 (defensive line in particular). But some were taken to fill holes anyways – like their second-round draft choice, A.J. Epenesa.
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:
Epenesa, taken by the Bills in the second round, racked up 26.5 sacks at Iowa in three years (22.5 in the last two years alone) and was a two-time first team All-Big Ten selection and a second team AP All-American. His selection made sense given that Buffalo’s incumbent starting defensive ends, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, are 32 and 33, respectively.
Epenesa was the 23rd-ranked prospect on NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s list of the best players in the 2020 NFL Draft. According to Jeremiah:
Epenesa is a skilled pass rusher with outstanding size, strength and effort. He has average get-off quickness, but he boasts strong hands, can flip his hips and is a reliable finisher. He has a variety of hand techniques, including a violent club move, swipe move and a push/pull move. He also will flash a long-arm move with his inside arm. He has a great feel when an OT is leaning outside, which creates an opening for his up-and-under inside-counter move. Against the run, he can hold the point of attack easily. His effort on the back side is outstanding, but he lacks the burst to make a ton of plays from distance. Overall, Epenesa has a very high floor as a prospect. He should be a consistent 8-to-10 sack performer at the very least.
For the second straight year, the Bills took a running back in the third round – Zack Moss, who finished his four-year college career with 4,067 rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns. His rushing yardage and touchdowns, along with 712 carries, 18 career 100-yard rushing games, 778 all-purpose plays and 41 total touchdowns are school records for the Utah Utes – resulting in Moss, the cousin of former NFL wide receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss, being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Conference.
Moss, at 5’9” and 223 pounds, has drawn comparisons to Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Marion Barber III and Travis Henry as a shorter running back who can run with power and also catch the ball out of the backfield. Moss will likely be used in a role similar to what Gore was used in last year – a short yardage back and a goal line specialist.
Recognizing the need to supplement his wide receiver group with some badly-needed size, Beane used his fourth-round draft pick on Davis, a 6’2” wideout from UCF. Davis caught 152 passes for 2,447 yards and recorded 23 touchdowns during his three years with the Knights.
According to Lance Zierlein of nfl.com, this is Davis’ scouting report:
Big target with outstanding 2019 production in an offense that created favorable big play opportunities. Davis is a sideline threat with a good feel for creating space short and long through hand fighting. His build-up speed, ball-tracking and high-point talent can alter the success rate of deep throws for quarterbacks, but sluggish release quickness and predictable route usage are concerning. His size and downfield talent could push him up the board, but he won’t get easy looks in the pros and may need more work and development than the 2019 production might indicate.
It was originally believed that the Bills wouldn’t add to their quarterback depth with the likes of Josh Allen, Matt Barkley and Davis Webb already on their roster. But when Fromm – a three-year starter at Georgia who led the Bulldogs to three straight SEC Championship games and an appearance in the national championship game – fell into their laps, Bills general manager Brandon Beane couldn’t pass up the value.
“I wouldn’t have told you going into the day that he was on our radar, but we had him in a spot that you just can’t ignore and we gave him his due,” Beane said. “This guy is a winner at the highest level of college. He’s got all the intangibles. He’s smart. When I went down to that school to watch them practice they said he loves being the guy at Georgia. They said this guy would be in there, 11 or 12 at night with the coaches, walking out the door the same time as the offensive coaches. Just a guy who loves everything about the game, the full process, the preparation, and that matters.”
Fromm eventually beat out Davis Webb to become Buffalo’s third string quarterback, relegating Webb to the practice squad.
After the struggles of veteran Stephen Hauschka throughout 2019, the Bills decided to bring in some competition in the form of Tyler Bass from Georgia Southern. Bass is just the 12th kicker Buffalo has utilized a draft pick on in franchise history, and for good reason – he connected on 79.4 percent of his field goal attempts in three years, and also recorded a touchback on 73.9 percent of his kickoffs. That success led Bass to being named to the first or second team All-Sun Belt Conference team in each of his three years on the Eagles’ roster.
Bass and his strong leg beat out Hauschka for the Bills’ kicking job in training camp, leading to Hauschka’s release.
Like the selection of Davis, Buffalo’s pick of Isaiah Hodgins gives the Bills more size. At 6’4” and out of Oregon State, Hodgins joins Davis and Stefon Diggs as the only wide receivers on the team’s roster with a height of six feet or taller – but Hodgins isn’t just a jump ball threat.
“When we got in the red zone we used him on a lot of double moves and stutter moves because he was so good at changing direction and freezing guys and winning,” Oregon State receivers coach Kefense Hynson told the Bills’ website. “But we used him in a lot of ways in the pass game as far as double moves, vertical moves, quick game throws, isolation throws. If we needed six yards we knew we could get it just throwing him a stop route. He had over 80 catches, more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns last year so we utilized him.”
Hodgins will begin the 2020 season on injured reserve as he recovers from a shoulder injury.
A seventh-round pick out of Pittsburgh, the feisty Jackson started 41 of 50 games played at cornerback for the Panthers. Despite having just one interception in his senior year and none his junior year, Jackson still ended 2019 with 12 pass breakups and was named second team All-ACC.
It’s believed that Jackson relied a bit too much on using his hands while in coverage to take advantage of lackadaisical officiating. Which may be one reason why Jackson was relegated to the Bills’ practice squad after training camp ended. He will have to learn to control his physicality and pick and choose his battles.