Analysis: Bills’ draft addresses need for run after catch improvement | Buffalo Bills News | NFL

Josh Allen had a specific goal in mind when asked two weeks ago how he could improve his game.

“I think, myself especially, making sure I’m on time, making the right reads and giving our guys good enough balls to get some more RAC,” the Buffalo Bills quarterback said.

“That’s one thing I think, on offense, run after catch wasn’t very high last year,” Allen said. “But again, that’s me putting the ball where it needs to be and allow our guys to catch in a good position to make a run after the catch. So working on that, that’s been one of my biggest takeaways in this offseason and trying to work on just ball placement and allowing our receivers to do that.”

Kaiir Elam, who stands 6-foot-1 1/2, weighs 191 pounds, ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and was widely projected as a first-round pick, did not hire an agent when he declared for the draft, instead relying on his uncle and father to serve as advisers.

General Manager Brandon Beane obviously was on the same page with Allen during the NFL draft.

The Bills selected running back James Cook in the second round and wide receiver Khalil Shakir in the fifth. Both are outstanding with the ball in their hands and have the potential to boost the Bills’ yards after catch production.

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The Bills ranked 20th in the NFL in yards after catch last season at 1,757 yards, according to Stats Perform, the sports data company. Kansas City ranked first at 2,700 yards. The NFL team average was 1,981 yards.

It was one of the few below-target aspects of a Bills offense that ranked third in the NFL in scoring and fifth in yards gained.

“It’s something you want … we don’t want to have, nine, 10, 11 plays” all the time, Beane said. “We like that at times to control the game. But sometimes you want that quick score or that chunk play. … If you’re gonna pick on our offense a little bit, that’s probably one of the things you could pick on is some chunk RAC plays, get it in somebody’s hand, a receiver, running back, tight end, whatever it is. And that was an area, especially from the running back position that we thought we could improve.”

That’s why the Bills targeted Washington running back J.D. McKissic in free agency. He wound up staying with the Commanders.

Defenses last year showed more respect for Allen’s big-play passing potential by using more zone shell coverages to protect deep. Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes saw the same kind of defensive tactics.

By the end of last season, Allen was managing this approach brilliantly. Think of the Week 16 road game at New England. Allen looked like Tom Brady getting the ball quickly into his underneath receivers’ hands so they could get maximum yards. Allen continued it in the playoffs against the Patriots and Chiefs.

However, for a lot of the season, the Bills had some struggles exploiting defenses that dared them to be patient.

NFL Yards After Catch 2021
Rk Team Yards
1 Kansas City 2,700
2 Tampa Bay 2,623
3 Green Bay 2,485
4 Cincinnati 2,423
5 Las Vegas 2,357
20 Buffalo 1,657
Source: Stats Perform

Cook, the Georgia running back picked 63rd overall, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. He makes sharp cuts and has quick acceleration. He’s only 199 pounds and he wasn’t a workload back for the Bulldogs. He never had more than 12 carries in a game. However, the Bills are not drafting him to be a lead dog in the running game. He is a change-of-pace back and a weapon in the passing game who can line up wide or in the slot.

In the Bills’ master plan, Cook can be a “Destroyer of Light Boxes” by gaining extra yards on checkdowns, screens and underneath throws.

“We thought he’d be a great fit, for Josh, a guy that we talk about RAC,” Beane said. “We talk about it a lot of times with receivers more than running backs. But this guy is a RAC player for Josh. Get the ball in his hands and make a guy miss. And then he’s got the wheels to take it all the way.”

Shakir is a 6-foot, 196-pound receiver from Boise State who ran 4.43 in the 40. He was drafted 148th and his testing numbers were comparable to those of Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, drafted 54th by Kansas City. Shakir had a 34.5-inch vertical jump, a 10-4 broad jump, a 4.21-second short shuttle and a 7.28 3-cone drill. Moore ran 4.41 with a 34.5-inch vertical jump, a 9-9 broad jump, a 4.32 short shuttle and a 7.13 3-cone.

Kaiir Elam, who stands 6-foot-1 1/2, weighs 191 pounds, ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and was widely projected as a first-round pick, did not hire an agent when he declared for the draft, instead relying on his uncle and father to serve as advisers.

Shakir is good with the ball in his hands. He played primarily in the slot but did see some action outside. Shakir probably has a long way in his route running before he starts creating the kind of instant separation that the Bills got from slot receiver Cole Beasley. But the Bills don’t need to force him onto the field. Shakir is firmly behind slot receiver Jamison Crowder on the depth chart. Crowder is playing on a one-year contract.

Beane thinks Shakir brings some RAC to the table, as well.

“Yeah, I do,” the GM said. “He’s got some straight-line speed. I think if he gets the ball and has a step, he’s not going to be the easiest guy to track down.”

Beasley’s contributions to the Bills can’t be overstated. He was a security blanket for Allen. He ranked No. 2 in the NFL in catches from the slot each of the past two seasons. The majority of his catches came vs. zone coverage, which by its nature, means he usually wasn’t catching it on the move. Still, run after the catch was not Beasley’s best trait.

The Bills are working hard on getting more in 2022.

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