Another NFL Draft is in the books.
The Bills made many moves and selected eight players throughout the draft weekend. Buffalo received high grades from many analysts for the job Brandon Beane and his staff did over the past couple of days.
Day 1 grade: A
Day 2 grade: A-
Day 3 grade: A
Analysis: 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.
Buffalo Bills: (A)
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.
More great work from Buffalo on draft weekend. The Bills had a glaring need at corner heading in and Elam will be a great fit as a No. 2 boundary player opposite Tre'Davious White. Running back was also thought to be a focus, particularly one who could contribute in the passing game, and Cook is a phenomenal fit. The Georgia product - and younger brother of Vikings star Dalvin Cook - can slide into the role the Bills envisioned for free-agent target J.D. McKissic. And to top it all off, they added a sleeper wideout in the fifth round and the "Punt God" in the sixth. Circle the wagons.
Scroll to see photos from inside the Buffalo Bills Draft Room during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
R1 (23) — CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
R2 (63) — RB James Cook, Georgia
R3 (89) — LB Terrel Bernard, Baylor
R5 (148) — WR Khalil Shakir, Boise State
R6 (180) — P Matt Araiza, San Diego State
R6 (185) — CB Christian Benford, Villanova
R6 (209) — T Luke Tenuta, Virginia Tech
R7 (231) — LB Baylon Spector, Clemson
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.
Draft Grade: B+
Buffalo Bills: B
Top needs: CB, LB, RB
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.
Scroll through to see the photos of the Buffalo Bills' day two picks, RB James Cook and LB Terrel Bernard as they spend their first day at One Bills Drive
Round 1, Pick 23: Kaiir Elam
Round 2, Pick 63: James Cook
Round 3, Pick 89: Terrel Bernard
Round 5, Pick 148: Khalil Shakir
WR, Boise State
Round 6, Pick 180: Matt Araiza
P, San Diego State
Round 6, Pick 185: Christian Benford
Round 6, Pick 209: Luke Tenuta
OT, Virginia Tech
Round 7, Pick 231: Baylon Spector
The Bills hit their first-round pick out of the park. Kaiir Elam, a legacy NFL player, has tremendous skills both in man and zone coverage. He can make an immediate impact in a position of need for Buffalo. They then grabbed another position of need, albeit a bit high for a running back. Still, it's safe to say James Cook's best attribute isn't his rushing ability.
Clearly the best pass-catching back in the class, Cook has something that the Bills' current stable does not. In fact, Cook's ability to line up out wide is uncanny. Very few running backs across the NFL has his ability. The Bills rounded out their draft with their selection of Terrel Bernard, a valuable three-down linebacker with speed to burn and great instincts.
Day 1 and 2 Grade: B-
ANALYSIS: 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.
With the 2022 NFL Draft underway, scroll through to keep track of Buffalo's newest players. Presented by Caesars Sportsbook