There’s been a predictable dissonance between the national media and the local fandom about this year’s Buffalo Bills draft picks. While most organizations have given the Bills a high grade for their small, but fierce six-player haul, the local press, content creators, and random fans are not as impressed. Although many do give the Bills mostly high grades for Brandon Beane’s picks (and his addiction to trading back on Day 3), there were some curtly curious glances cast. To a degree, I get it. We’re deeply invested in the team. We know our roster’s weak spots and where there are gluts. There are some valid critiques. However, in many cases, the culprit might have more to do with our obsessions with specific draft crushes.
As a fan, I tend towards positivity. In fact, fellow Bills fans who know me would chortle at that understatement. That said, I was not a huge fan of last year’s draft, and especially the pick that the team seemingly repeated this year. However, my post draft haze finds me in a much better mood this year. There is not one pick I dislike.
Round 1, Pick 25: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
This pick admittedly threw me for a loop when it happened, but it was more the lack of anticipation that they would draft a tight end, let alone Kincaid, arguably the best pass catcher in the draft. At least he’s the best not referred to by initials. Few expected Kincaid to be there at 25, so after a run on WRs, Beane’s eyes lit up (watch the video). Beane told the story of letting Josh Allen know he secured the pick. After simply texting Allen “Kincaid,” the franchise QB blew up his phone.
It’s easy to question the selection if you just clock the position. Yes, we just gave Dawson Knox his bag. But when you look deeper into who Dalton Kincaid actually is and how he plays the game, it hits a bit differently. Kincaid is a speedy 6’4″ tight end who plays the slot to a T. Essentially we got a gigantic slot receiver who may be cheaper to retain. He’s not Knox’s replacement, but he provides the ability to run a formidable 12 personnel with both on the field. He’s Swole Beasley as some on Twitter have dubbed him.
The worst argument I’ve seen against drafting Kincaid is the idea that the Bills — and OC Ken Dorsey in particular — don’t know how to get tight ends the ball. They indeed did have one of the lowest tight end usage rates by any metric. It’s a valid concern. However, it’s not a reason to not draft a game-changing player. Draft him, then figure it out. Furthermore, is the lack due to playcalling or talent? Knox, if undertargeted, has still been productive. And the lack of productivity from a TE2 may have more to do with the parade of meh at the position. Tyler Kroft had his moments, but has never lived up to his early hype. Tommy Sweeney was a wash (but good luck in East Rutherford). OJ Howard hyped up many fans but could not even crack the 2022 roster.
The second lame narrative I’ve heard is lowering the grade of the first round pick due to trading up. If you liked the pick for this team, you can’t criticize trading up to get him. Dallas was clearly about to snag him. Check how long it took them to put their card in for Mazi Smith (a nice pick btw). Further, if there was any doubt teams valued Kincaid over other top tight end Michael Mayer, his drop to the second round should alleviate those misgivings. Dallas really could use a tight end and pivoted to Mazi Smith — again, an excellent pick. But not the guy they wanted. We got that. The Bills.
Round 2, Pick 59: O’Cyrus Torrence, OG, Florida
There is just about zero controversy about this pick. The gigantic guard Torrence out of Florida was a frequent Round 1 mock to the Bills. While Rick Bates was servicable last year, and they signed Connor McGovern on the first day of free agency and the underrated David Edwards later on to one of those 1.77m contracts, Torrence is a much better bet than any of those solid players, even as a rookie. Ideally, it gives you a second o-lineman to pencil in for the next decade alongside Dion Dawkins. (OK, he might slot in at right guard, but you get my point.)
There’s a lot to love about Torrence. He has not commited a penalty since 2021 while a full-time starter last year — do the math! Oh, and have you heard how many sacks the mountainous man gave up in college? Zero. It’s been at least since high school, if that, that Torrence looked back to see his QB on the ground due to his own negligence. Admittedly, his QB was the elusive Anthony Richardson, fourth pick overall to the Colts. But then, who has Richardson been most often compared to in the draft process? Josh Allen. He’ll be fine.
My Grade: A+
Round 3, Pick 91: Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane
Here’s where the dissonance between national press and local folks mostly begins (and ends). I’ve seen almost all As for the Dorian Williams pick on a national punditry level. Meanwhile, Bills fans have savaged this choice. The Bills Mafia complaints stem less from his ceiling, which is relatively high for a 3rd round pick. It’s more a matter of Mike vs. Will. While Williams played MLB in college, he projects more as an OLB in the NFL. That’s fair, but it might be missing the point.
My opinion varies dramatically from the majority of the Bills fans/content creators. While I was sideswiped by the Terrel Bernard pick last year in this round, Dorian Williams was totally on my radar. In fact, the way the board fell, he was exactly who I was hoping we would pick. He was the fifth LB on my board, and the only one who gave me goosebumps outside of the Big 4 of Jack Campbell, Drew Sanders, Trenton Simpson, and Daiyan Henley. Campbell was gone to the Lions before anyone even had him on the brain. Sanders would have had the same fit questions, and Simpson was more of a name to me. I would have loved Henley, but he was already gone before they could have realistically moved up.
Beyond all that, Williams is an intriguing choice. While he’s a questionable fit for the defense we ran in 2022 with Tremaine Edmunds wearing the green dot, we don’t really know what to expect from McDermott’s return to the DC playcalling. They signed starting safety Taylor Rapp despite having All-Pros at both safety positions. According to Williams, McDermott asked him to prepare to learn both OLB and MLB. Whoever plays the position will not be Tremaine Edmunds. They can’t be; he was a unicorn. More importantly, they don’t have to be. Williams, or whoever, merely needs to be 1/11 of whatever McDermott schemes when he’s on the field.
My Grade: A-
Round 5, Pick 150: Justin Shorter, WR, Florida
Perhaps the perfect pick at the perfect time. Justin Shorter was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school and at one point the top WR in a class that included Jalen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. His college career turned out to be underwhelming. He’s also 6’4″, fights for extra yards, is in great shape and does not ever drop the ball. Fans complained about the Bills lack of YAC and excessive dropped passes. Beane would seem to have listened. Both Kincaid and Shorter have above average YAC in their college careers. Heck, the pair dropped a combined 3(!!!) passes in college.
Shorter may never rise above WR4 on the roster. The hard-working receiver may make his bones a la CB Siran Neal as a special teams standout. Or… if anyone knows that a 5-star recruit who underwhelmed in college and entered the league in the 5th round of the draft can succeed, it’s the Bills. Stefon Diggs says hello.
My Grade: A
Round 7, Pick 230: Nick Broeker, OG, Ole Miss
It’s round 7. I’m not going to tear any team for missing a 7th. However, both the Bills picks in the final round had at least a round 5 grade from Lance Zuerlein at NFL dot com. The only remotely negative thing to point out here is that the Bills have created a glut at guard. The interior line was suboptimal to be polite. Mitch Morse was good and we’re all happy he got his first Pro Bowl nod. Rick Bates still has potential, but the team might be better off with him as reserve and maybe Morse’s replacement when the time comes.
Broeker is a long shot to make the roster. That said, he played tackle at times in college and was at one point a top prospect. In the 7th, he’s a downright steal.
My Grade: A
Round 7, Pick 252: Alex Austin, CB, Oregon St.
Same goes for Alex Austin, the Bills’ final pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Austin was one of the best CBs left on the board at that point and many had a 4th round grade on the Oregon State defensive back. I won’t pretend to know that much about him. However, who does know late round defensive backs? Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane do. Taron Johnson, Christian Benford, Damar Hamlin, and Dane Jackson are just a few Day 3 standouts who have already exceeded their draft position. The only drawback is if he shines in camp and pre-season, how do you stash him on possible the deepest DB roster in the league. He’s only eight picks before Mr. Irrelevant, so who really cares.
My Grade: A-
So, it’s not a perfect draft. It does not address all of the positional needs. What it does do is improve a team that was 13-3 last year despite one of the most taxing, traumatic, injury-riddled seasons in NFL history. Flaws on the team included receivers’ YAC, height, and surehandedness, as well as o-line pressure allowed and constant penalties. The Bills addressed all of these.
Beane was criticized for focusing too much on the defense in an offense-driven league, of not giving Josh Allen weapons to thrive. In addition to picking up mostly offensive pieces in free agency, the first two picks this weekend were a unicorn of a pass-catching TE and a mammoth guard who should be solid. Can’t misses sometimes miss, but Torrence has got a good shot.
Do they still have question marks at right tackle and middle linebacker? To a degree, yes. However, Williams still does add to the competition in the LB room. And the notoriously tight-lipped Beane even admitted he’s likely to sign a few vets this week when Compensatory Pick SZN™ is over. Most importantly, is this Super Bowl contender better after the draft? That’s a resounding yes from me. Plus they upped to 10 picks in the 2024 draft, so I can’t give them anything but an…
Overall Grade: A