Buffalo Bills Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

James Cook, RB, Georgia – Round 2
Under general manager Brandon Beane and assistant director of player personnel Terrance Gray, Buffalo has been done a great job in the NFL draft. Former executives Dan Morgan and Joe Schoen were also contributors before leaving for promotions with the Panthers and Giants, respectively, but Beane and Gray put together another good draft class for the Bills. They landed good starting talent while also filling needs. Adding Cook in the second round could pay off immediately with more explosion in the ground offense.

As a runner, Cook is a speed back who is real threat to rip off a big gain anytime he touches the ball. He has a first-step burst and accelerates through the hole with a second gear to explode downfield for long gains. With his explosion, it looks like Cook gets a one-step head start over everybody else on the field. In the open field, Cook is not just fast, as he has moves to dodge tacklers and tremendous change-of-direction skills. The fast back Cook is a threat to tackle any carry to the end zone.

On top of being an explosive runner, James Cook can be a weapon as a receiver. With soft hands, Cook is natural catching the ball. He is elusive in the open field and can rip off yards in chunks. He is too fast and shifty for linebackers or safeties to cover in man, so he provides an excellent mismatch and will be a third-down receiving problem in the NFL. Like all college backs, Cook will need some tutoring in pass protection.

If Cook (5-11, 190) were bigger, he could have been a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Even though he is undersized, Cook could become Buffalo’s starter because the team lacks an established starter with Zack Moss and Devin Singletary proving to be complementary backs. Cook could be a good receiving weapon for Josh Allen, and early in his career, Cook could emerge as a solid starter for the Bills.

2021: Spencer Brown, OT
2020: A.J. Epenesa, DE
2019: Cody Ford, OT
2018: Harrison Phillips, DT
2017: Dion Dawkins, OT/G
2016: Reggie Ragland, LB
2015: John Miller, G
2014: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT
2013: Robert Woods, WR

Most Likely To Bust

Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor – Round 3
The Bills could use some linebacker depth, so it made sense that they addressed the position in the mid-rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. Bernard (6-1, 224) could stand to get stronger and tougher for the NFL because he had issues with taking on blocks in college. Bernard gets moved by blocks, knocked backward, and struggles to maintain his gap in the ground offense. Multiple sources from other NFL teams had him graded on Day 3 and projected him to being a backup and special teams player. As a third-round pick, he has a grade of backup developing into a starter, and I think he could fall short of that. Of Buffalo’s three early-round picks, Bernard looks like the riskiest.

2021: Gregory Rousseau, DE
2020: Gabriel Davis, WR
2019: Dawson Knox, TE
2018: Josh Allen, QB
2017: Tre’Davious White, CB
2016: Cardale Jones, QB
2015: Karlos Williams, RB
2014: Ross Cockrell, CB
2013: E.J. Manuel, QB

Potential Boom Pick

Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida – Round 1
In the 2021 NFL Draft, there was chatter in scouting circles of the Bills targeting Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round, but he was snatched away right in front of Buffalo by the Packers. The corner need continued into 2022 and was given further emphasis after Tre’Davious White tore an ACL during the 2021 season. Hence, taking a cornerback was not a shock for Buffalo’s first-round pick, although taking Elam was a bit of surprise. Head coach Sean McDermott likes physical corners, and Elam has good size, but he is a weak tackler, so that makes this an unpredictable match.

For the NFL, Elam (6-2, 196) has the skill set to be a starting outside cornerback. He has impressive instincts with good ball skills. Elam possess soft hands, making natural catches and playing the ball extremely well. Elam has ideal height and length to battle big receivers. He is willing to jam them at the line, but Elam is a poor tackler and somewhat soft. He also grabs way too much on receivers and will have to improve on that to avoid painful penalties as a pro.

Being so instinctive allows Elam to thrive in zone coverage, and he is adept at picking up receivers who run into his territory. While Elam isn’t overly twitchy or fast, he does a nice job of running the route to prevent separation when in man coverage. Elam also is a disciplined corner who does not bite on double moves. He is not a gambler who sells out for interceptions and gives up an equal number of big plays. Elam is steady and reliable in coverage. NFL sources felt Elam would be betst off going to a team that played a lot of zone coverage.

While Elam has some flaws of tackling, grabbing too much, and not playing up to his timed speed, he landed in a great situation in Buffalo. With Tre White there, Elam gets to take on No. 2 receivers. McDermott and his coaching staff also are superb at development, so Elam could improve upon those issues under their guidance. By landing with the Bills, Elam definitely has boom-pick potential.

2021: Carlos Basham, DE
2020: Zack Moss, RB
2019: Ed Oliver, DT
2018: Tremaine Edmunds, LB
2017: Zay Jones, WR
2016: Adolphus Washington, DT
2015: Ronald Darby, CB
2014: Sammy Watkins, WR
2013: Marquise Goodwin, WR

Future Depth Player

Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State – Round 5
The Bills have some good talent at wide receiver with an elite No. 1 in Stefon Diggs, a quality Z receiver in Gabriel Davis, and a functional slot receiver in Jamison Crowder. Hence, Shakir won’t fit in as a starter, but he could be a solid backup who provides some decent production as a fourth or fifth receiver. The 6-foot, 196-pounder flashed ability at Boise State with the speed to challenge defenses. Shakir could be a versatile backup slot or outside receiver for the Bills. While he may not become a starter, he could be a really nice depth receiver for Buffalo.

2021: Marquez Stevenson, WR
2020: Jake Fromm, QB
2019: Jaquan Johnson, S
2018: Siran Neal, S
2017: Nathan Peterman, QB
2016: Jonathan Williams, RB
2015: Nick O’Leary, TE
2014: Seantrel Henderson, OT
2013: Duke Williams, S

Walt’s 2022 NFL Draft Grades:

23. Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida B Grade
With Kaiir Elam and Andrew Booth on the board, it didn’t seem necessary for the Bills to give up a fourth-round pick to move up for a cornerback. I think this pick is solid though. Elam could have gone earlier than this, and he fills a huge need across from Tre’Davious White.

63. James Cook, RB, Georgia – B Grade
It’s no surprise that the Bills just drafted a running back. They brought in a decent number for top-30 visits, as they wanted someone better than Zack Moss to pair with Devin Singletary. This running back needed to be a stellar receiver out of the backfield, and that’s exactly what James Cook is. I would’ve taken him a bit later, but this isn’t much of a reach.

89. Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor – B+ Grade
The Bills have needed help around Matt Milano at linebacker for quite some time now, as Tremaine Edmunds has been a disappointment. Buffalo’s linebacking corps looks lost whenever Milano is hurt, so perhaps that won’t be the case now that Terrel Bernard is on the roster. I like Bernard as a third-round prospect. He has three-down potential.

148. Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State – A Grade
The Bills didn’t really need a receiver, but they’re getting terrific value with Khalil Shakir, whom I had in the third round of my mock draft. Shakir has decent size and good athleticism, and he’s a versatile threat. I just worry that he’ll be lost on a deep depth chart.

180. Matt Araiza, K/P, San Diego State – B+ Grade
Wait, Walt is grading a kicker/punter pick favorably? Yes, and I almost can’t believe it. Two things, though. First, this is the sixth round, which is not the fourth round. Second, Matt Araiza can play both punter and kicker, so he can save a roster spot, which could end up being very valuable.

185. Christian Benford, CB, Villanova – C Grade
I never had Christian Benford on my radar as a draftable prospect. He was a productive player at Villanova, but it was just Villanova. At the very worst, he’ll provide needed depth at cornerback if he makes the roster.

209. Luke Tenuta, OT, Virginia Tech – C- Grade
Luke Tenuta is a tough run-blocking offensive lineman, but I don’t think he has the athleticism to cut it in the NFL. We’ll see if he can prove me wrong. I’m not a fan of this pick, as I didn’t have Tenuta as being drafted at all.

231. Baylon Spector, LB, Clemson – A- Grade
This is a quality value pick, as I thought Baylon Spector could’ve gone as early as the fifth round. Finding more linebacker depth was essential for the Bills.

2022 NFL Draft Team Grade: B+. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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