1. The trenches were a priority
Going into the draft it was readily assumed that Buffalo needed to fortify their defensive line with an influx of youth, particularly on the edges, and their offensive line across the board.
When that would happen in the draft was going to have a lot to do with how the board fell knowing how late the Bills were picking in most of the rounds. But Buffalo made it clear from the start that the line of scrimmage was their top priority.
They took a pair of defensive ends and a pair of offensive tackles with their first four selections.
"We do believe in being stout up front on both sides of the ball, that's something that you're going to see here as long as Sean and I are running this thing," said GM Brandon Beane. "We're in sync on that. The game evolves and changes, whatever you want to do, there's more passing now than there was 10 years ago and obviously 20 years ago, but the game is still won and lost up front so we want to be strong there."
Buffalo's last pick was a highly-decorated guard from Texas Tech, Jack Anderson. All told, five of their eight picks were up on the line of scrimmage.
Scroll through to see first-round pick Gregory Rousseau's first visit to One Bills Drive, presented by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York
2. Value over everything
Some Bills fans were no doubt scratching their head a bit when they saw GM Brandon Beane at the bottom of round two address the pass rush a second consecutive time with the selection of Wake Forest edge rusher Boogie Basham, just 31 selections after making Miami's Greg Rousseau their top pick.
Social media enthusiasts asked aloud, why not a cornerback? Why a pass rusher again?
The reason is simple. Buffalo's front office has a core principle when it comes to the draft.
Value over everything.
The Bills talented personnel department, along with their diligent college scouting department works for the better part of a calendar year putting together a draft board with assigned values based on months of information gathering and vetting.
It says what the value of every single player with a draftable grade should be.
So when the value of the player on your board far outweighs any other player you have on your board by a wide margin, where that player lines up on the field does not matter. What matters is the value.
"Obviously we took Rousseau on night one," said Beane. "You're not anticipating taking another pass rusher, but Boogie was the best player on our board and so we followed that. You can never have enough pass rushers. We just felt the value was too good to pass up and we're excited to get it."
The pick of Basham is definitive proof that Buffalo will trust the value of their board and not waver.
"You'd love to sit here and say, 'I'm going to fill this need, fill this need, fill this need,' each spot along the way," said Beane. "But you don't pass up good players to drop down to handle a need."
3. Towering tackles
Prior to the draft there wasn't firm working knowledge of a definitive body type the team sought out when it came to an offensive tackle.
That is no longer the case after Buffalo took Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle in back-to-back picks spanning the second and third day of the draft.
Brown at 6-8, 311 pounds and Doyle at 6-8 and 320 are giant young men with arms that approach or exceed 35 inches (that's long) and hand sizes that are over 10 inches. Both also have a finisher's mentality on every play that borders and sometimes spills right into the nasty category.
That's a good thing.
But height and length is only good if it can adjust to angles. As Beane sees it both Brown and Doyle check that very important box.
"They are tall," he said. "The biggest thing you're looking for is how well they can bend. If they can't bend, it really becomes a problem. We think these guys can bend enough to lower their pad level. That's probably the hardest thing they have to do at 6-8 so guys don't get underneath their pads and lose leverage. They're athletic. We feel like they have the ability to be both left and right tackles."
Scroll through to see second-round pick Boogie Basham and third-round pick Spencer Brown's first visit to One Bills Drive, presented by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York.
4. Beane trades down
Speaking of value there was curiosity surrounding why Beane, for the first time in the four drafts over which he has presided, decided to trade down in round five. Buffalo parted with the second of their two fifth-round picks at 174 overall in a deal with Houston, getting a pair of sixth-round picks in return at 203 and 212 overall. Both right around their pick at 212.
The Bills GM indicated they had a large cluster of prospects grouped together, presumably in round six, and thought it best to get a cluster of picks in the same range as well.
"It's just where our board was," said GM Brandon Beane. "There were a decent amount of positions we had similar grades. We had a number of players, and this year is a thinner free-agent class. I can't remember if I mentioned this to you guys before, but because the NCAA is allowing a lot of guys to go back for an extra year due to COVID, there are less guys on our priority free agent board, and so I just decided to -- there were actually a couple opportunities where we almost traded down again."
This year there were only 657 players in the draft pool represented by agents. Usually there's between 1,800 and 1,900. Knowing that would leave the undrafted free agent market thin, the Bills thought it best to add picks late if possible to secure as many players as possible.
Buffalo ended up landing eight players in the draft instead of just seven.
5. 2021 contributors
Now in year five of the roster build Beane and McDermott have constructed a roster that's deep in many areas. As such it will be difficult for any of the draft choices to compete for a major role, let alone playing time week to week.
But Buffalo's personnel boss sees opportunity for some of the members of their draft class.
"We've got guys who are going to be part of the equation in 2021," said Beane. "Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham, we rotate our D-linemen. I'm not going to promise either one of them a starting job, but they're going to have an opportunity to start. I expect them to be part of the game-day rotation of our crew.
"Spencer Brown, he'll come in and compete with the guys. I'm not saying he's going to win a starting job, but he's an injury away from being in the game. And that happens, especially at offensive line. We wanted to make sure, should something happen to Dion (Dawkins) or Daryl (Williams), that we have a guy to step in and protect number 17 and block for those running backs."
6. Plenty of player connections
We came to learn from Boogie Basham after night two of the draft that he was an acquaintance of Bills DE A.J. Epenesa.
"I was friends with A.J. last year when he was going through the pre-draft process, just keeping in touch with him," said Basham. "We stayed in touch during the football season, just checking up here and there, every other week, just seeing how he's doing, stuff like that."
Basham said he's already given him a lot of insight on the vibe of the Bills organization.
Epenesa also squared of in a game in 2019 against Bills fifth-round pick Tommy Doyle.
"It was a super, super exciting day," said Doyle of the matchup. "It was my first start at left tackle. Being able to play against such a great player like that, it was a cool opportunity."
Then there's Houston WR Marquez Stevenson, who along with Bills DT Ed Oliver, was part of the Cougars highly-touted 2016 recruiting class. But Stevenson said they weren't only teammates, they were roommates on campus.
"I just talked to Ed on Wednesday," said Stevenson. "He was telling me, 'It won't be too long.' For us to end up in the same place, I mean, it's crazy. We lived together, we've got a real friendship also. So me and Ed linking back up, that's going to be everything."
Stevenson's situation in Buffalo is only enhanced by the presence of Tre'Davious White, a fellow Shreveport, Louisiana native, who he has looked up to since he was 10-years old.
"Me and his little brother, we were actually best friends growing up so I was always around," Stevenson said. "I met him when I was real young and I've been following his path ever since he went to high school, Green Oaks to LSU and now to Buffalo. So, I've been following his path for a long time, but I've been around him a lot of times also."
There will be a whole lot more times to come.
And sixth-round pick Damar Hamlin is also rejoining his former Pitt teammate in Buffalo in CB Dane Jackson.
But the relationship began long before their days as Panthers.
"That's my brother," said Hamlin of Jackson. "That's literally like a brother to me. We grew up on the same side of town in Pittsburgh, so we knew each other since we was about 7 or 8-years old. Ever since we've been on the same mission. We happen to be on the same path going to Pitt together and it's a dream come true still being on that same mission and being together at Buffalo."
7. Team captains
The 2021 NFL draft wasn't the first time Buffalo has drafted prospects who were team captains, and it won't be the last.
But the Bills drafted three team captains over the course of the three-day draft.
Boogie Basham, Marquez Stevenson and Damar Hamlin all served their college squads as team captains.
Leadership is box Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane like to fill with a check mark. It matters.
8. An important quality for Bills cornerbacks
Rachad (pronounced Ra-SHAWD) Wildgoose was their penultimate pick of the class, but after seeing last year's late-round pick at cornerback impress when he had an opportunity in Dane Jackson, it has us paying a bit closer attention to the Wisconsin product taken with the 213th pick.
Blessed with 4.41 speed, Wildgoose also had an important trait that the Bills prioritize when grading cornerbacks. He's an aggressive tackler, much like Jackson and incumbent starter Levi Wallace.
"One of the key traits in Leslie (Frazier) and Sean (McDermott)'s defense that we count on in corners that some don't, is we need our corners to come up and tackle," said Beane. "It's just the way this is built. So, that's a big part of it that gets overlooked and we got a guy late in Wildgoose who's versatile. He can play outside and play inside."
9. A clear return candidate
It kind of flew under the radar, but Buffalo lost their Pro Bowl caliber return man in free agency this spring in Andre Roberts, who signed with Houston. While Isaiah McKenzie is expected to be a prime candidate for punt returns, a true kick return threat was a welcome added talent that the Bills were seeking in a skill position player.
Stevenson will unquestionably provide that.
"The returner, Marquez Stevenson, that's probably the thing that was most attractive to us," said Beane. "He's still a young player as a receiver. He didn't run a variety of routes there, but get the ball in his hands and he's explosive."
As a kick returner at Houston he averaged over 26 yards a return and took three kicks back for touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons. He went 82 yards against North Texas, 94 against Tulsa and 97 to the house against Tulane.
10. Why it'll be harder to recruit UDFAs
The work has already begun to recruit and sign undrafted rookie free agents to fill out Buffalo's offseason roster with talent at positions that still might not fill the quota for the 90-man squad.
But now armed with one of the deepest rosters in the league, Beane and his personnel department will have a much harder sell in convincing players hoping to stick to a roster that they actually have a chance of making this one.
"As your roster gets deeper to where ours is, it becomes harder to recruit guys, because agents are looking at what is the best chance for my player to make a 53," Beane said.
Buffalo in many cases will be far from the top of a player agent's list.