There was plenty to like – and a little to nitpick – with the Buffalo Bills’ 2022 NFL Draft.
At least, that’s the consensus of several national draft analysts, who in recent days have filed their grades now that the annual selection process is in the books.
Here’s a look at what those analysts had to say about the Bills’ eight-man class:
A look at Buffalo Bills draft history shows how critical the selection of Kaiir Elam will be for the Super Bowl hopes of the Bills the next few seasons.
Prisco writes … “Best Pick: First-round corner Kaiir Elam fills a need and will end up being an outstanding cover player. He has the length and talent to be a lock-down man player.
“Worst Pick: I like second-round running back James Cook, but is he much different than Devin Singletary? Why not a bigger back who can run between the tackles?
People are also reading…
“The Skinny: This team doesn’t have a lot of holes, but they filled a big one with Elam. Cook was a bit of a surprise, but I did like fifth-round receiver Khalil Shakir. This is the team to beat in the AFC.”
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.
PFF writes … “Day 1: The Bills had a need at cornerback, and they got one who excels at the line of scrimmage in Elam. The Florida Gator put up an 89.8 PFF coverage grade as a true freshman in 2019 and followed that up with an 81.0 grade as a sophomore in 2020, dominating so much that opposing offenses largely avoided him in 2021. Elam was targeted three or fewer times in over half of his games this past year. However, penalties dragged down his PFF grade, which speaks volumes about how overly physical he can get.
“Day 2: James Cook – Dalvin Cook’s brother – is a scat-back type with great play speed. He earned an 85.0 PFF grade and totaled 728 rushing yards with Georgia in 2021. He’s a great complementary piece to what the Bills already have in their backfield in Zack Moss and Devin Singletary.
“Bernard is fast and plays fast. At the same time, he’s firmly undersized at 6-foot-1, 224 pounds and comes with serious tackling issues. Bernard owns a 14.8% missed tackle rate for his career and is teetering toward safety territory. He doesn’t let the lack of size get in the way of his mindset, and he does have quality instincts and athleticism. Still, Bernard should have been a Day 3 pick.
“Day 3: Shakir was a human highlight reel for the Boise State Broncos. His body control and hands are the stuff of legend. He likely profiles best from the slot after putting up over 1,000 yards there in 2021. The 102nd-ranked player on the PFF big board, Shakir adds depth and a high upside to the Bills’ passing game.”
“I’m excited about some of these late guys, maybe even more than some of the other years,” Buffalo Bills general manager BrandonBeane said. “I think a lot of these guys have a legit chance to make our roster.”
Kiper writes … “I thought the Bills might be the team to take a first-round running back; I agonized in my final mock draft, toggling between Breece Hall and cornerback Kaiir Elam. I settled on Elam but didn’t feel great about it. And then Buffalo traded up for Elam (23) when the real thing started, so I feel much better now.
“Elam had been rising recently, and he is a great press-man corner with speed and physical tools. He fills a huge hole on the other side of Tre’Davious White. The Bills went running back with their next pick, and I think James Cook (63) is a nice accent player with Devin Singletary. Cook has stellar hands and will open up some checkdown options for Josh Allen. As I mentioned Friday night, the pick of undersized linebacker Terrel Bernard (89) was a reach on my board, even if it was a need. I like Brian Asamoah and Leo Chenal, who were both available, more than Bernard, who does have some read-and-react ability.
“On Day 3, wideout Khalil Shakir (148) is super interesting, because of his work out of the slot. I know the Bills added Jamison Crowder, but Shakir could fill that role in 2023 while playing mostly special teams this season. Christian Benford (185) is another late riser at corner, while Matt Araiza (180) is my third-ranked punter, and he went right around where I expected. Araiza is going to boom some punts in Buffalo and flip the field position.
All in all, the Bills filled their biggest needs with their top two picks, and if Shakir or Benford break out, this class could be one of the best when we regrade it in five years.”
We won’t know for at least a couple years whether these picks ultimately pan out, but it’s easy to see the logic behind each of them. The Bills didn’t do anything sexy this weekend, but they didn’t have to. They already look good.
Reuter writes … “The Bills got the cornerback they needed in Round 1 by trading up to select Elam, whose feisty attitude and quickness on the outside should translate at the next level. Cook was exactly the sort of speedy receiving threat the team needed at the running back position, and Bernard helped fill a hole on the defense’s second level, as he was a tough, productive college player when healthy.
“Shakir is a reliable receiver who was a really good fifth-round pick. I projected the Bills to take a punter in my seven-round mock; Araiza’s strong leg could very well unseat veteran Matt Haack. Spector didn’t get a lot of publicity at Clemson but will offer depth and make his name on special teams.”
Conor Orr, Sports Illustrated
Although his leg strength is obvious, punting in the NFL is about more than just bombing the ball as far as possible. Araiza has plenty of work to do when it comes to hang time, directional punting and pinning teams inside their own 20-yard line.
Orr writes … “This is a team doing the best they can with the reality that they’ll be consistently selecting in the back end of the first round for a long time. Cook is the real pearl of this class from a bird’s-eye view. While the Bills’ run game was maligned last year, it was better than appearances showed. Cook adds an efficient, downhill element to the offense. Next Gen Stats keeps tabs on how north and south backs get off the snap, and Cook seems like a player whose straight-line speed and short-window decisiveness could play really well in the AFC East, a division weak at the defensive tackle spot. However, we overwhelmingly applaud the selection of Shakir, one of our favorite receivers in the draft. Podcast co-host Gary Gramling first made the Cooper Kupp comparison and it feels apt when you watch the way Shakir feels out his blockers and gains sensible, efficient yardage after the catch. He is one of the few weapons drafted after the second round I’d anticipate becoming an immediate contributor.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News
Iyer writes … “Brandon Beane and the Bills filled their need for a big No. 2 cornerback pretty well with Elam, although Trent McDuffie or Andrew Booth Jr. would have been more ideal. After talking about taking a running back hire, Cook was a fine get as a complementary speed-quickness receiving type. Shakir and Araiza rounded things by catching falling stars for wide receiver depth and a major punting upgrade.”
Here’s an analysis of winners and losers at One Bills Drive after the dust settled from three days of drafting by the Buffalo Bills.
Kelly writes … “The Bills quietly put together a solid, no-frills draft. They addressed a critical need in the first round by grabbing Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam, who brings good size, elite speed, and ball-hawking talent to Buffalo. He should be a plug-and-play starter. I like the fit of Georgia running back James Cook, who will play a hybrid role for the Bills as an explosive runner and versatile receiver (basically he’ll be a more dynamic version of what I assume they were trying to sign J.D. McKissic to do). Boise State receiver Khalil Shakir is a great value and one of my favorite day-three sleepers, giving new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey a dynamic run-after-the-catch playmaker who can line up all across the formation. Add in the Punt God Matt Araiza in the sixth round and Buffalo comes out of this draft with a handful of early contributors.”
Davis writes … “A team that may enter the 2022 season as the prohibitive AFC favorites didn’t necessarily have a lot of needs but came away with really good players who should pay immediate dividends. First-round CB Kaiir Elam has ideal physical traits (size, speed) for the position, and his presence could ease any pressure on Pro Bowler Tre’Davious White to return too quickly amid his recovery from an ACL tear. Second-round RB James Cook will bring needed juice to the ground game and maybe reduce some of that load on QB Josh Allen. Even fifth-round WR Khalil Shakir might soften the departure of slot WR Cole Beasley. The Round 6 choice spent on Matt “Punt God” Araiza, whose booming leg will cut through those Lake Erie winds, was the cherry on top.”