1 – Big play weapons added
When asked what he hoped to accomplish in the 2023 NFL draft, the first thing GM Brandon Beane said was a playmaking weapon. That explains why he held his ground in round one and ultimately traded up two spots to land dynamic tight end Dalton Kincaid.
"We were looking for guys to add to our skill positions that can be matchups and whether it's receiver, tight end, whatever it is, just a guy, another weapon to say, 'Hey, you can't double Stef every play,'" said Beane. "If you do, we're expecting this guy to win his one-on-one matchup or Gabe to win his one-on-one matchup. Khalil Shakir, we've got a lot of hope for him. I thought he really played well down the stretch when he had his opportunity. (Deonte) Harty has been really good when he's been on the field. He's had a couple of injury things that caught up with him in New Orleans, but if we can keep him healthy, he's a really fast guy.
"So we've just tried to look for different things different pieces to use so that (offensive coordinator) Ken Dorsey and the offensive staff can come out and kind of be in multiple formations, multiple looks, different game plans. This week we need to air it out. This week we need to run it a little bit more, adding Damien Harris, probably a more physical guy. James Cook in year two. Nyheim coming back from seven, eight games with us, has the whole offseason to learn our offense and special teams. So all of it is to make it to where Josh can play quarterback and not feel like he's got to do everything."
Kincaid was a touchdown-scoring machine in college with 35 touchdowns scored in his career. Couple that with him leading the nation in receiving yards and receptions per game as a senior and making an early impact seems more than reasonable for a player with the instinct and feel for space and defensive leverage that Kincaid possesses.
Buffalo added another big-play weapon on day three in Florida WR Justin Shorter. At 6-4 and 229 pounds, Shorter was an expert deep ball tracker for the Gators. In his senior season he averaged almost 20 yards per catch (19.9), a season after leading his team in receptions. High-pointing the ball and out leaping defenders for passes was not difficult thanks in large part to his 35 ½-inch vertical.
And although Beane talked about how Shorter's experience on special teams in college will help him be active on game days, the former top high school wide receiver recruit in the nation in 2018 over names like Ja'Marr Chase, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jaylen Waddle, believes he has a lot of potential to realize now that he's a professional.
"I am very competitive by nature," said Shorter. "I would just say I definitely know every single wide out that went before me and I know all the teams that picked them. And I definitely know that when I get my opportunity, I'm definitely going to tear this league up. Because I've been working for a long time and it's all going to pay off."
Add in the fact that Kincaid (4 career drops) and Shorter (1 drop on final 116 targets) are among the most sure-handed pass catchers and the future could be bright for both.
2 – Middle linebacker competition is officially open
The Bills took only one linebacker in the draft, selecting Tulane's Dorian Williams near the end of round three. On Friday night, Beane indicated that Williams would be a weakside linebacker only as a rookie. On Saturday, when he was asked about where the middle linebacker position stood, he confirmed who would be part of the competition and that Williams might be a late add.
"Bernard, he'll definitely get a chance to compete for that Mike (middle linebacker) spot," said Beane. "So, he'll do that. (Baylon) Spector will get a chance at that. Tyrel (Dodson) will get a chance for that. We know AJ (Klein) can play in there or play outside. Obviously, Matt (Milano) is going to be an outside only guy and Dorian, we'll see. We're not ruling it out. We're still talking about maybe we'll look at him as a guy to get in there and compete at Mike."
The key to that decision will be based on how well Williams can pick up the scheme and then line everyone up and call the checks pre-snap. Beane indicated that the system he played in at Tulane was a lot less complex than what he'll be in now.
"We've just got to see how much we can get him caught up to what it takes to run this defense," said Beane. "It'll be a big transition for him. Great young man. He's eager to try it. We'll see. Worst case though he would be an outside backer for us this year and then we'll see next year. But yeah, all those guys that you mentioned Bernard, Spector, Dodson, are all going to get in there and compete for that Mike linebacker starting role."
Right now, Beane said Dodson is the leader in the clubhouse at the spot based on the fact that he has more game reps at the position than anyone else. Klein can unquestionably play there, but he might serve as veteran insurance while the younger players battle it out.
3 – Offensive line of scrimmage a major offseason focus
From the time free agency started to the time the draft ended the interior of Buffalo's offensive line has been a major focus. Three veterans were signed in free agency, and by the time the 2023 class was assembled Buffalo had two more guards in O'Cyrus Torrence and Nick Broeker.
Head coach Sean McDermott time and again has preached winning the battle at the line of scrimmage as a weekly must. McGovern and Edwards are proven NFL starters and Torrence is a veritable people mover. Even Broeker, who played left tackle at Ole Miss, will be a competitor in camp.
"I think we came into the draft looking for ways to add protection up front," Beane said. "In free agency we added (Connor) McGovern and David Edwards to our group and we had a chance to get O'Cyrus from Florida and then Broeker (Saturday). So really thrilled with the guys we've added. (We've got) some beef up front."
Buffalo's offensive interior upgrades should make the offense one that more consistently resets the line of scrimmage two yards downfield in the run game or maintains the integrity of the pocket in the pass game.
4 – Three trades down, more draft capital
After losing a fourth-round pick on night one of the draft to trade up two spots to land Kincaid in round one, Beane was able to recoup picks on day three when he traded back three separate times. He first moved back in round five from pick 137 to 150 where they took Justin Shorter and added a sixth-round pick (215 overall).
They then traded back from their original sixth-round pick at 205 and took pick 230 from Houston and added a sixth-round selection for 2024. Beane then made one final move back from pick 215 in a deal with the Rams in exchange for pick 252 and another sixth-round pick next year.
"Yeah, we felt that the way our board was looking that we could add some picks and still get the guys that we were drafting, just the way that it was working, and who we had on the board," said Beane. "There are no guarantees. But we were excited about the guys we got. And we still got to take six picks that we like and think have a legit chance to help us."
Buffalo began the draft with six picks and finished the draft with six picks this year. And now the Bills could have as many as 10 in 2024 if they are awarded a compensatory pick for the free agent loss of Tremaine Edmunds next year.
"That's exciting," he said. "I love the picks. And it'll buffer things when I do things like when I trade up for next year (laughs) so maybe help that."
Beane gave credit to Assistant GM Brian Gaine and Director of Player Personnel, Terrance Gray for working the phones as they usually do on trades down the board.
5 – Free agent reinforcements?
There was one position group that Buffalo's personnel boss was disappointed he did not come out of the draft with and that was defensive tackle.
"It just didn't fall our way," said Beane about the draft board. "It really didn't, and from that standpoint, I was really hoping to add one for sure. We're working on some other things. Maybe, we'll see if there's a veteran out there. We've talked to a couple of people prior to the draft. And we decided to wait and see.
"But we'll see this coming week. I think we'll have a chance to add at least one veteran."
6 – Less than the roster max
With just six draft choices, Buffalo's undrafted class is likely to be a bit bigger than usual. The Bills had 69 players on the roster heading into the draft. The half dozen draft picks makes it 75. Beane can add another 15 players be they undrafted rookies or a couple of more free agents, but he doesn't intend to go up to the offseason roster maximum.
"I don't expect us to go to 90 right now," Beane said. "We've marked guys that we would be excited about that we believe can come in here and either compete for a roster spot or be a really good practice squad (player). Other than that, I think we're going to end up you know, probably 82 to 85 over the next few days. Some of that will take a little time here. Also, we'll see if we can add a vet or two this week. So counting all that. But we're not going to be we're not going to be anywhere near 90. We were hopeful there would be a few guys that we were hopeful to be able to target in (undrafted) free agency that got selected after our last pick."
Scroll to see exclusive photos of TE Dalton Kincaid, OL O'Cyrus Torrence, and LB Dorian Williams as the first 3 picks of the Buffalo Bills 2023 Draft visit the portrait studio at One Bills Drive.