The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Buffalo Bills 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (30)
Round 2 (61)
Round 3 (93)
Round 5 (161)
Round 5 (174)
Round 6 (213)
Round 7 (236)
Buffalo Bills Offense
By Rich Hribar
Josh Allen made a seismic jump as a passer in his third season, throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns. After zero career 300-yard passing games through two seasons, he had eight in 2020. Even if his passing stats recoil, he also is paired with a tremendous rushing upside, being the first quarterback in league history to rush for seven or more touchdowns in three straight seasons.
Allen’s growth was aided by the addition of Stefon Diggs and a complete revamp of how the Bills played offense. First, they deployed a hyper-aggressive offensive approach throwing the football. 48.8% of Allen’s pass attempts came on first downs, the highest rate in the league. On those first down passes, Allen averaged 8.9 yards per attempt as opposed to 7.0 on all other downs.
The Bills also used play-action for 34.4% of Allen’s dropbacks. That was the fourth-highest rate in the league and up from 23.1% in 2019 (23rd) and 25.5% in 2018 (13th). Using play-action, Allen averaged 8.7 Y/A, throwing 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
The Bills also reeled in Allen’s dependency on vertical throws while he improved his efficiency when he did go downfield. Just 17.7% of Allen’s throws came over 15-yards downfield, down from a 22.1% rate in 2019 and a 30.0% rate as a rookie in 2018. In turn, Allen completed 48.6% of those passes after 32.8% over his first two seasons in the league.
Allen could not have picked a better time to explode as he enters 2021 in the final season of his rookie contract. Buffalo will surely pick up his fifth-year option prior to May 3 while working on a long-term extension.
Buffalo added Mitchell Trubisky on a one-year contract to back up Allen. David Webb is signed for this season, while Jake Fromm is still on his rookie contract.
Reggie Gilliam (FB)
In 2020, the Bills swerved completely into being an aggressive, pass-first offense and flourished under the approach. Buffalo running backs combined for just 21.5 touches per game (30th in the league) for 106.7 yards from scrimmage per game (28th), but their backs did average 5.0 yards per touch, which ranked 12th in the league.
Zack Moss played 13 games as a rookie, turning 126 touches into 576 yards and five touchdowns. Moss was out-touched by Devin Singletary 142-126 in their games played together, but Moss had more scoring opportunities inside of the 5-yard line (8-3 in those games played) although Josh Allen remained the team leader with nine carries and seven touchdowns in that area of the field.
Singletary has shared work both of his two seasons in the league, seeing 180 and 194 touches for 969 and 956 yards. With six total touchdowns and averaging 2.4 receptions per game in each of those seasons.
Buffalo is often linked to running backs in this draft, but Moss and Singletary are a capable duo on rookie contracts with multiple years left on those contracts. The team also added Matt Breida on a low-leverage one-year deal. Buffalo could certainly look to upgrade here, but it is not as dire of need as many pinpoint.
The Bills absolutely smashed instant return in acquiring Stefon Diggs from the Vikings last offseason. A chameleon that has adapted to multiple NFL roles, quarterbacks, and schemes, Diggs’s first season in Buffalo could not have gone better as he led the league with 127 receptions and 1,535 receiving yards. Diggs caught at least six passes in every game but one.
Cole Beasley remained productive as well. The 32-year-old slot-man led the NFL with 948 receiving yards from the slot in 2020. Beasley is getting up their age-wise, but still is under contract through the 2022 season.
The team also hit on fourth-round pick Gabriel Davis last offseason. As the 16th wide receiver selected in the draft, Davis was tied for second among all rookies with seven touchdowns while his 17.1 yards per reception led the team, closing the year catching 35-of-62 targets for 599 yards.
The Bills did release John Brown, but immediately replaced his veteran presence with Emmanuel Sanders. Last year with New Orleans, Sanders showed that he can still be productive, but it all came out of necessity when Michael Thomas was off of the field. In seven games with Thomas inactive, Sanders caught 40 passes for 511 yards and two scores on 22.9% of the team targets. In his seven other games with Thomas active, Sanders only managed a 21-215-3 line on 13.2% of the team targets. Sanders just turned 34 years old March 17.
Buffalo was in either a 3WR, 4WR, or 5WR set on 88% of their offensive snaps in 2020, easily the highest rate in the league. With that usage and the ages of Sanders and Beasley, you can never enough wide receivers on the depth chart, but Buffalo does not have to press the issue here in pursuing the position early in April.
Despite their improved passing attack, the Bills tight ends did not come along for the ride. Buffalo targeted their tight ends just 11% of the time (30th in the league) while they were 20th in success rate (53%) and 23rd in yards per target (6.5) on those passes to their tight ends.
After 1.9 receptions for 25.9 yards per game as a rookie, Dawson Knox produced 2.0 catches for 24.0 yards per game in his second season. His yards per catch dipped from 13.9 yards down to 12.0, but his targets per game climbed a tick from 3.3 per game up to 3.7 per game.
Knox, Tommy Sweeney, and Nate Becker all are under contract through the 2022 season while the team added veteran Jacob Hollister to the fold. Buffalo has been linked as a potential trade partner for Zach Ertz and Brandon Beane signaled a desire to get more out of the position moving forward at the end of last season.
LT: Dion Dawkins/Trey Adams
LG: Cody Ford/Forrest Lamp*/Ike Boettger
C: Mitch Morse/Ryan Bates/Jordan Devey
RG: Jon Feliciano/ Jamil Douglas*
RT: Daryl Williams/Bobby Hart
Buffalo has hit on a number of short-term veteran deals and draft picks across the offensive line the past few offseasons.
2017 second-round pick Dion Dawkins has started all 16 games the past three seasons. The team rewarded him with a four-year extension last offseason that has him locked up at left tackle through 2024.
The Bills also locked up both Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams this offseason to multi-year deals after their performance last season while veterans Mitch Morse and Cody Ford are also both signed through 2022.
Ike Boettger led the Bills with 616 snaps at left guard in 2020, but Buffalo added Forrest Lamp on a one-year deal while having 2019 second-round pick Cody Ford (257 snaps in 2020 at LG) as options to compete for the position. The team also added veteran guard Jamil Douglas as interior depth. All in all, Buffalo is solid upfront from a starting and contractual stance and any addition here will solely be for depth purposes.
Buffalo Bills Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
Ed Oliver started all 16 games but with a heavy defensive line rotation, played the same 54% of the defensive snaps that he played during his rookie season. Oliver was 17th among defensive tackles in pressure rate, according to Sports Info Solutions. Quinton Jefferson was also a top interior pass rusher in his one season with the Bills — he ranked ninth in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate — but was released and signed with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Justin Zimmer flashed as a pass rusher when he was on the field for 25% of the defensive snaps. The 28-year-old had previously bounced around practice squads, and though he only had one sack, he totaled seven quarterback hits and ranked 20th in pressure rate among defensive tackles.
Vernon Butler and Harrison Phillips were more run stoppers, though the Bills only ranked 24th in Run Stop Win Rate as a team and 17th in run defense DVOA. Butler is on the second year of a two-year deal and Phillips is on the final year of his rookie contract. Star Lotuleilei opted out for the 2020 season and will return. He played 46% of the defensive snaps in 2019, but the Bills still ranked just 22nd against the run by DVOA. With how often Buffalo used a rotation on the line, it would not be surprising to see the Bills add some more depth here later in the draft.
Bryan Cox Jr.
Entering his age 33 season, Jerry Hughes remains one of the most underrated edge rushers in the league. Hughes ranked 22nd among edge rushers in pressure rate and second in Pass Rush Win Rate. He’s on the final year of his deal and even with his production played under 60% of the defensive snaps for the first time since 2013.
Mario Addison was just 71st in pressure rate among edge rushers and played 56.6% of the defensive snaps and he’s also on the final year of his contract.
Last year’s second-round pick A.J. Epenesa was on the field for 27% of the defensive snaps but totaled just four quarterback hits and one sack. Epenesa played inside and outside, but had a lower pressure rate than Addison, Oliver, and Zimmer.
As a team, the Bills were 14th in pressure rate in 2020 and there could be some more individual talent added early in the draft. Buffalo had the eighth-highest blitz rate in the league to help create pressure but also rushed four at the 10th-highest rate in the league.
The Bills live in nickel personnel. They used it on 91% of defensive snaps last season, the highest rate in the league per SIS. Matt Milano plays a huge part in that and while Buffalo still stuck to nickel personnel when he missed six games this season, his absence was felt. The Bills allowed -0.01 EPA per play without Milano but -0.08 with him on the field. The split was even bigger against the pass: 0.02 without him and -0.09 with him in 2020. Though it looked like Milano was primed to leave in free agency, he returned with a four-year deal before free agency officially started.
2018 first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds is the other piece of that duo and he played 85% of the defensive snaps last season. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal.
Buffalo’s addition of A.J. Klein allowed for the ability to spell the two linebackers but also replace them when needed. Klein officially started 11 games and played 60.9% of the defensive snaps. Behind him, there are a number of special teams focused players who can hold their own in limited snaps. One last season was Tyler Matekevich, who spent his first four seasons with the Steelers.
Tre’Davious White ranked 24th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap (which accounts for touchdowns and interceptions) last season and remained one of the top corners in the league. Taron Johnson had the second-most snaps among Buffalo corners and was the Bills’ slot defender in nickel. He ranked 62nd among 148 corners in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap.
At the other outside spot, the Bills rotated through Josh Norman, who is no longer on the roster, and Levi Wallace. Wallace is currently slotted to take on the starting outside role, but corner is the second-most mocked position to the Bills in the first round, according to data from Grinding The Mocks, though no specific corner is in the top-5 individually mocked players.
Also of note: Dane Jackson, last year’s seventh-round pick flashed with five passes defensed and an interception on just 126 coverage snaps.
As is the case with linebackers, the Bills rely on their top two players to be on the field for nearly every snap. Luckily, unlike linebacker, the Bills were able to stay healthy there in 2020 and over the past few seasons. Jordan Poyer played 94.3% of the defensive snaps and Micah Hyde played 87.5%. The Bills will have that pairing for at least two more seasons with Poyer signed through 2022 and Hyde through 2023.
With both players in their 30’s, it could make sense to add more depth behind them but that could be a Day 3 option to consider.