1. The rookie class played key roles on the field
Several rookies played important roles for the Bills this season in all three phases of the game. Running back Devin Singletary missed a few games with a hamstring injury but received a bulk of the carries once he was healthy. Singletary ended the regular season tied for most yards per carry out of any NFL running back with 5.1 yards per carry. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver didn't play as many snaps as Singletary, but learned a lot over the course of the season which was obvious to see in the way he was able to get to the quarterback during the second half of the season. Tight end Dawson Knox's role was much bigger than anticipated due to Tyler Kroft's ankle injury that kept him out for part of the season. Knox went from not scoring a touchdown since high school to scoring two touchdowns and averaging 13.9 yards per catch. McDermott thinks the 2019 rookie class learned at a faster rate than the class before.
"You look at our team that's out there in the playoff game and you've got Dawson out there, first year player, you have Devin out there, first year player, and you have some other first year players and second year players making big time contributions," McDermott said. "I think this rookie class overall, probably progressed quicker than the class the year before, and that's a credit to them. It's a credit to Brandon [Beane] and his staff, and then also our development team and the way that they got these young guys in a short amount of time to understand what habits need to look like in the NFL if you want to play and want to perform at a high level. Then, the players I think took the rest of it upon themselves to contribute at a high level, which bodes well again for the future."
First-year players had very productive seasons for the Bills in 2019 on offense, defense and special teams. Scroll through to view photos and stats from Bills rookies during the 2019 season.
2. Brandon Beane's evaluation of the rookie class
Many including coach McDermott gave credit to general manager Brandon Beane and his staff for finding rookies that could make an immediate impact if needed. Beane went through each rookie who had starts and played a major role in the season, the GM is proud of the group and knows they will continue to develop in the offseason.
"I think the best thing that happened was he had Jordan Phillips here, and Jordan had stepped up his game," Beane said. "And so, we play who has earned it, and Ed could've sulked, he could've moped. He took it in stride, and I was very impressed, and he picked his game up. I think he ended the season playing well. And I'm hoping this will be a very good offseason for him, entering next year."
"I thought Devin had a really good year," Beane said. "I hate he had the hamstring setback. I think that hurt us a little bit and slowed his development. But you saw it as the year went on, he began to get more and more touches in the games whether it's the pass game or the run game."
"I mean I love Cody's versatility and Cody got some great experience this year," Beane said. "I think if you look at rookie tackles across the league over the last few years, very rarely do they go out there and just dominate and you don't look to help them at all. And I think Cody had some really good moments. He had some moments that he learned. Playing at, just take his situation, playing at Oklahoma, never being a three-point stance. It's a big change to then do that. He's not facing the DeMarcus Lawrence, Von Miller, JJ Watt. You just, you can't replicate that stuff."
"I thought he did a nice job being thrown in as a rookie," Beane said. "You know, for him it was probably a blessing that Tyler [Kroft] got hurt, so he got more reps. Not all those reps came out the way he wanted, but again he got experience. He made some big plays for us. I think we'll all remember the Cincinnati play he made when we were down in that game and needed a big one. But I know he'll be the first to tell you he left a few out there, but I like where he's at and what a pro."
3. Josh Allen believes the rookies fit into the culture
Quarterback Josh Allen leaned on three rookies during his second year—Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox and Cody Ford. Allen thinks all three were a big part of helping offense improve this season. More importantly, the quarterback believes the rookie group fits into the locker room and can be a big part of the team moving forward.
"Not only are they good football players and going to be great football players, but they're great human beings off the field," Allen explained. "They fit in well with this locker room, they fit this culture very well and what coach McDermott is trying to preach here. I appreciate what they've done for us this year."
Allen is excited for the first year players to hit their first NFL offseason so they can focus on enhancing important aspects of their game. Allen's advice to the squad is that it doesn't get easier after year one, so get ready to push even harder in the years to come.
"Just because you've played in the league for one year doesn't mean next year is going to be simpler or anything like that," Allen said. "They're going to work hard. I have no doubt in that and they're going to come back in OTAs and training camp ready to get after it with a year of experience under their belt. They are going to be better and we're going to rely on them more in this offense."
4. Veteran Frank Gore impressed with Devin Singletary's first season
One of the many reasons that attracted Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott to Frank Gore was the leadership qualities and intangibles he could bring to a locker room, especially after drafting a rookie running back. Gore was tasked with helping Devin Singletary learn the ins and outs of the NFL including advice on and off the field, as well as sharing how to take care of your body during a long season. The veteran helped Singletary by doing far more than was asked of him. The rookie will point to Frank Gore as one of the most important figures in his first NFL season as he made a point to follow the 15-year vet wherever he went through the entire season. Gore thinks Singletary can have a long, successful career in the league after playing with him in his first season.
"What I saw when I first got here was a guy who loves ball," Gore said. "Great eyes, great feet. He won't have any other choice; I'll be on him every day. Like I said, he's a brother for life. He's a good kid, a baller. He's just going to get better; I'm going to stay on him. I'm happy I got the chance to play with him and what I love about him is every step I took, he was right there. He will be a great player in this league."
5. Transitioning from college football to the NFL in year one
Eight rookies made this season's 53-man roster. For those eight, the first year was all about adapting to life in the NFL. One of the biggest differences from college to pro is the length of the season, going from a 12-week regular season in college to 17 weeks in the NFL. Several Bills coaches said they were impressed with the class' ability to stay fresh through the season explaining rookies usually begin to wear down after Week 12. Dawson Knox pointed to another difference being the way you prepare for opponents week-to-week.
"It's a long season," Knox said. "Obviously, I wanted it to be longer. Everyone is good, every week you have to prepare like you're playing the possible Super Bowl champs because everyone has talent. I think I'm just going to take that feeling of knowing it's going to be a long season and knowing how my body feels at this point of the season into next season too."
The rookie year is also unique because the group has essentially been on the go with little rest time since the beginning of their final year in college. Their college season begins in late August or early September, then on to a bowl game or the Senior Bowl at the end of January, following that is the NFL Combine in February. From the NFL Combine to the 2019 NFL Draft, the soon to be rookies get a pocket of time to rest, but as soon as they are drafted it's on to their new team. The rookies begin offseason training and head into training camp, then the preseason rolls straight into the regular season. These eight have been at it since about September 2018, if you can believe it. Knox said even though it has been a long first year, rest time isn't something he usually gets excited about.
"It's a weird feeling just being on the go since basically January 1 of last year," Knox explained. "I'm not the type of person that necessarily wants off time. Part of me wants to come in today and start fixing the mistakes, start working out again. But it will be good to rest and recover a bit, just get my mind right to come back here in April."
Knox said he will spend some time resting back at home in Tennessee and then head out to California to train with Josh Allen.