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Unknowns reach a new level as Bills prepare for the 2020 NFL Draft


When day one of the NFL draft arrives in just over two weeks, Bills fans will have to remind themselves that Stefon Diggs is effectively their first-round pick this year. It was part of what Buffalo surrendered to acquire the dynamic receiver in a trade with Minnesota. Bills GM Brandon Beane will be doing much the same as he watches players come off the board, knowing he's very likely to sit out round one on April 23rd.

"Day one will be hard," said Beane. "We've just got to play some videos of Stefon Diggs when pick 22 comes up. But beyond that, we'll just be patient and go through it and watch it all."

Scroll through to view photos of prospects that some mock draft experts have Buffalo selecting in the second or third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Not having a first-round pick for the first time in his tenure as Bills general manager, Beane's strategy for the draft won't deviate from his overall philosophy of taking the best player available. It doesn't have to with the way he has built Buffalo's roster the past few offseasons, first in free agency and then the draft.

But without a first-round pick and the draft to take place virtually with he and members of his staff in separate locations, after a league decision Monday, the lens through which Beane and his personnel department views the draft will be different. As Buffalo's personnel boss sees it, the most ardent work for them will come when round one concludes.

"The big thing will be when day one is over, which we do whether we have a pick or not, we'll stay there for a little bit and stare at the board and start looking over what's still on the board that we like," he said. "Is there anybody left that we gave first round grades to? Obviously those are targets."

That proved to be the case in last year's draft. When the first round was over, Buffalo still had a player with a first-round grade on their board in Cody Ford. They began to formulate plans based on anticipated scenarios of how the seven picks in front of them in round two might go and when it might be time to move up the board to secure the offensive lineman.

When Ford was still on the board after pick 37 was made, Buffalo swung a trade with the Raiders sending their pick at 40 and a fifth-round pick to move up two spots to take the Oklahoma offensive lineman.

"How long do we let a guy stay there (on the board) before we make a move like Cody Ford last year," Beane said. "To solve that we start looking at all the teams in front of us and what their needs are.

"Let's just say we were looking at receiver and let's say we have three receivers there in the second round. And how many teams that didn't take a receiver in the first that we have penciled as a team that we see a receiver need for maybe they reach here in the second round for that guy and will the third guy get to us? Maybe we love to have any of these three, if two of them go, do we want to be aggressive and go get that other one? Or do we want to be patient? Maybe we get one in the third round and focus on another position. That'll be my plan. Watch day one. And then see what's on the board for us to be ready for day two."

Buffalo's personnel department has been hard at work trying to check off all the boxes on all the prospects with draftable grades despite the Covid-19 restrictions, which has prevented pre-draft visits to One Bills Drive, college pro days and player medical exams by team physicians.

"I really feel like our scouts have done a great job in the fall of talking about who these guys were. We had guys at the East-West Shrine game, the NFLPA and Senior Bowl. We did have the Combine. So we had our formal interviews, but we also try and get around some of the guys, and I can't get around them all, but I tried to spread things out. So I feel like we got to know some of these guys."

Beane said they have been making use of FaceTime and Zoom conferencing to replace the pre-draft visits to One Bills Drive that can't happen now.

"Is it the same as bringing a guy in your building or going on campus and being able to take him out to dinner, getting him in a meeting room? Probably not, but it's equal across the (board)," Beane said. "Everybody is dealing with the same thing. So we'll get to the right answer here within a few weeks."

As for getting the medical information to feel comfortable about drafting a prospect with an injury history, Beane and his staff are using their professional contacts to acquire as much background as they can to make the best decision possible on prospects.

"We're trying to close as many loops as we can, either through our medical staff making calls to trainers, doctors, whatever," said Beane. "The bigger medical concerns would be anybody that was supposed to come back to the medical re-checks, or non-combine guys. Our guys are working to get some answers from some of the fellow trainers, doctors, at some of these schools where these guys were that were not invited to the combine."

Beane admits that it's possible they can't check every box for every prospect under the current circumstances and it could affect the player grade due to uncertainty.

"There may be some loops that we can't close," he said. "If we can't close them, those would probably be guys that might slide a little bit for us. Maybe I'm not as comfortable in the second, third round, but maybe I'd be a little more comfortable in the fourth, fifth or beyond that."

Beane and his personnel department will be diligently working right up until day one of the draft to get all the information they need. Knowing 31 other NFL clubs are operating under the same restrictions leaves Buffalo's GM assured that they'll be able to make quality decisions based on all their additional leg work.

"I'm confident in our process," he said. "We know the timeline. We've scheduled everything, even though we've had to do things differently. We have split things up to connect with as many players, or people that have been around these players to close those loops. And I'm very confident that we're still going to find very good players with the seven draft picks that we currently own."

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