After two playoff appearances that brought the Buffalo Bills very close to reaching the Super Bowl, the latest draft has become very important, but not a make-or-break scenario for the team. General manager Brandon Beane told the media last week that ” this is not a one-year ‘we gotta get to the Super Bowl or not.’” However, this year’s draft could determine if the Bills can jump the last hurdle to reach the ultimate destination. Today we review the 2022 Buffalo Bills NFL Draft selections.
Buffalo Bills 2022 NFL Draft Review – New Faces
Round 1: Kaiir Elam, CB
The Bills had a huge need at cornerback and they filled that need with their first-round pick. In fact, the Bills made such a point to target the position that general manager Brandon Beane moved up two spots Thursday night to select Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam. The Bills sent their first- and fourth-round picks to the Baltimore Ravens for the right to move up to the 23rd pick.
Elam has some NFL pedigree, being the son of former NFL safety Abram Elam and nephew of Matt Elam, who appeared in 41 games for the Ravens. He should immediately challenge for a starting job, but he’s a long-term asset the Bills hope to pair with star cornerback Tre’Davious White for the foreseeable future.
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With his aggression in the run game, Elam isn’t afraid to get dirty. He looks to punish receivers when given the chance in the pass and run coverage. Although he is a willing tackler, there are times when he can pull off tackles. Elam is a physical cornerback who likes to get his hands on receivers and reroute them as they work downfield. For a taller cornerback, he does a very good job in sinking his hips to transition in and out of breaks.
Some have labeled Elam the most athletically gifted cornerback in the draft. His stock may have tumbled a bit as his 2021 season did not match what he produced in 2020, possibly due to dealing with some nagging injuries. Regardless, the Bills did draft a player who can have an immediate impact in 2022.
Round 2: James Cook, RB
After trading down twice from their original 2nd round position at 57, the Bills selected Georgia running back James Cook with the 63rd pick. Cook brings impressive speed (4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and pass-catching ability. And yes, he is the younger brother of current Minnesota Viking running back Dalvin Cook.
Cook’s draft profile states that he is best suited as a third-down back, as he offers a lot of value as a passing-down back. This would suit the Bills’ offense quite well.
Cook had an outstanding career at Georgia and might have gone higher if he was just a little beefier than 200 pounds to go with his 5-11 frame. This makes him a little vulnerable as a pass blocker, but it is something that can be addressed by the team.
With a great deal of upside due to his excellent movement and receiving skills, Cook could develop into a quality running back and overall offensive weapon.
Round 3: Terrel Bernard, LB
Bernard projects best as a weak-side linebacker. At that position, he would more regularly be protected by seeing runs away from him. Many of his best plays at Baylor featured him flying across from the opposite side of a run play to shoot through a gap or firing downhill to slip past a blocker into the backfield.
The concerns with Bernard’s game stem mostly from size and strength, but again that is something that can be addressed quite nicely at the NFL level.
Bernard may not be a Day 1 starter, but his speed alone makes him a nice developmental option, with the possibility that he could be an immediate impact on special teams.
Round 5: Khalil Shakir, WR
Looking for help after the departure of Cole Beasley, the Bills took Khalil Shakir. a dual-threat type of receiver who can play in multiple positions. He is a good route-runner who can operate from the slot and outside and who consistently gets his depth and understands how to use leverage to win. Despite his slender frame, Shakir can also be productive on various concepts like receiver screens and designed runs. The ability to return punts is an added bonus. Great value for a player who was generally projected to be selected in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Round 6: Matt Araiza, P
Described as a kicker who can frequently flip the field, Matt Araiza is the Bills’ first pick in the 6th round. Araiza set an NCAA record by averaging 51.19 yards per punt, breaking the record set by Texas A&M’s Braden Mann in 2018. What makes this even more impressive was that the 2021 season was Araiza’s first taking on full-time punting duties for the Aztecs. He previously was a placekicker, and can also hold for field goals and extra points. Having a strong leg in what can be some rather harsh conditions in Buffalo at times, is something the “punt god” will need to learn to deal with.
Round 6: Christian Benford, CB
Benford has solid instincts and impressive ball skills, as he finished with 137 tackles, 47 pass breakups, and 14 interceptions through 36 games. He was a four-year starter at Villanova and is one of the best small-school cornerbacks in the country. Benford has some speed challenges but his size makes him a strong candidate for special teams work.
Round 6: Luke Tenuta, OT
Luke’s father, Jon, played football at Virginia and is the defensive coordinator for the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers. Tenuta is an imposing player, measuring in at 6′ 8″, 320 pounds. He has experience in playing both left and right tackle and appeared comfortable in both positions. This versatility should help the Bills and give Tenuta a better shot at making the team while working on some technical issues.
Round 7: Baylon Spector, LB
Wrapping up this Bills draft review is Baylor Spector, an athletic player, that will need to work on his strength and work out some technique issues in his play, such as a below-average ability to take on blocks. He has above-average speed and can play sideline-to-sideline. Spector tested fairly well across the board at the NFL combine.
Overall Draft Grade: A-
Coming into the 2022 NFL Draft, the consensus was that the biggest needs for the Buffalo Bills were at cornerback, running back, wide receiver, and the trenches. The first two needs were addressed with the first two picks, but after that, only one offensive lineman was drafted and the defensive line was not addressed at all.
They made a nice selection at wide receiver with Shakir when he dropped a couple of rounds. Drafting a punter will raise eyebrows but if you have watched a Bills home game in the late fall/winter, you know how the weather can wreak havoc in that department. Overall, this was a draft that the Bills coaching staff and front office completed in fine fashion, and this is reflected in the draft review.
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