Buffalo Bills draft picks 2022: Round-by-round selections and analysis
ORCHARD PARK - One of the primary goals general manager Brandon Beane sets for himself each offseason is to rebuild the Buffalo Bills roster as much as he can through free agency so he can then approach the NFL Draft from a position of strength.
“The goal in free agency is always to try and fill as many holes as we can so that I don't have to feel the pressure of, ‘I cannot leave the first round or the second round without player X or position X,’” he explained.
That work enabled the Bills to hone in on the one position Beane didn’t address in free agency as he traded up two spots in the first round Thursday and selected cornerback Kaiir Elam.
The Bills then added Georgia running back James Cook in the second round and Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard in the third on Friday.
Saturday saw Beane make five more picks as he took wide receiver Khalil Shakir in the fifth, punter Matt Araiza, cornerback Christian Benford and offensive tackle Luke Tenuta in the sixth, and linebacker Baylon Spector in the seventh.
Here's my analysis on each pick:
No. 25: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
There should not have been any doubt that the Bills were going to pick a cornerback. Everything else you heard was just noise because the one position that they had the greatest need was always cornerback.
In Elam, they get a 6-foot-2, 191 pound athletic freak, long, lean and fast.
Over his last three seasons at Florida, Elam allowed a completion percentage of 46.0 on 113 targets, playing 959 snaps in coverage. He had six career picks and 26 passes defensed and had been a popular player for Buffalo in mock drafts.
He was also a high character player who represented Florida at the SEC Leadership Council in 2021, and he certainly knows what NFL life is like as his father, Abram, played seven years in the league as a safety, and his uncle, Matt Elam, also a safety was a first round pick of the Ravens in 2013.
One of the things that attracted the Bills to Elam was when he came to Buffalo for a top 30 visit, he was asking questions about "What has Tre'Davious White done to be so good? And what do you see in my game I need to do?" That impressed Beane and his staff.
Another thing the Bills loved is that he played in the SEC, against the best competition in college football, a level Beane said is as close to the NFL as it comes.
Here’s what Dane Brugler of The Athletic wrote about Elam in his draft guide.
“Elam needs to tidy up his timing and processing issues, but he is a good-sized athlete with natural cover talent and NFL-ready intangibles. With his physicality for press-man, he compares favorably to Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis when he was coming out of Auburn.”
No. 63: James Cook, RB, Georgia
The Bills were originally at 57 but they traded back four spots to Tampa Bay’s pick at No. 60 and also received a sixth-round pick on Saturday which happens to be the first pick of that round, No. 180. And then they went back to No. 63 in a deal with Cincinnati and also received pick No. 209
With wide receivers flying off the board just as they did in the first round, that was clearly not going to be an option, but the only running backs taken were Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker.
Cook, who is the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook, is a 5-11, 199-pounder who averaged 6.5 yards per carry during his college career. He also caught 67 passes for 730 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.
Back at the start of the draft process, ESPN’s Todd McShay said that Cook “Is the most underrated RB in the 2022 draft class. He may never be the every-down starter for an NFL team but he’s such a versatile weapon. Love his vision and twitch as a runner and he’s a legit receiving threat in the slot and out of backfield.”
No. 89: Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor
The Bills are adding some depth to the linebacker room by picking the 6-foot, 224-pound Bernard.
Bernard is an undersized player who plays with speed and aggressiveness which helped him make 16.5 sacks during his 45-game career which included 31 starts.
He will definitely be a project early in his career, but the good news is that the Bills, who play the same two linebackers on almost every snap, won’t need him to step in and contribute. His best chance to play will come on special teams.
(Buffalo traded pick Nos. 25 and 130 to the Baltimore Ravens for No. 23)
No. 148: Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State
It took a little longer than most Bills fans would have preferred, but the Bills finally took a wide receiver and the value seems pretty good for the 5-foot-11, 196-pounder.
To do so, Brandon Beane traded up 20 spots in the second round from 168 to move into the Bears’ position. To complete the trade, he sent one of Buffalo’s four sixth-round picks, No. 203, back to Chicago.
“My agent’s been in contact with them a lot through the interview process and everything like that, so it's been a blessing and in the back of my head I just felt that it was the Bills the whole time,” he said. “I was just sitting there waiting patiently and when I finally got the call, I'm struggling to put words together right now.”
Shakir ran a 4.43 in the 40 at the Combine, proving that his college tape was accurate.
During a stellar four-year career at Boise State Shakir caught 208 passes for 2,878 yards and 20 touchdowns and was a first-team all-Mountain West Conference pick his last two years
Another thing to keep an eye on with Shakir is his ability as a kick returner.
NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein said of Shakir, “A coach's dream, combining competitive nature, exciting versatility and elite character on and off the field. For a short-armed player with average explosiveness, Shakir puts an emphatic stamp on games. He's more football player than prototypical slot receiver and needs to prove he can handle an increase in contested catches.
“He can be activated from a variety of alignments with the vision, wiggle and toughness to move the chains once the ball is in his hands. He finds a way to frequently show up on the notepad when watching tape and his will to outperform the guy across from him should not be overlooked. Shakir should become a valuable piece for a creative play-caller.”
No. 180: Matt Araiza, P, San Diego State
There had been speculation throughout the draft process, and even Friday night when Brandon Beane was asked about it, that the Bills would take a punter, and that it would probably be Araiza, nicknamed the Punt God.
Sure enough, it happened as Beane used the first pick in the sixth round to take the punter who was widely-considered the best one in this class, but who actually was the third punter picked overall.
Before him, Penn State’s Jordan Stout went to the Ravens at No. 130 in the fourth round, the pick Buffalo traded to Baltimore. And then Tampa Bay took Georgia's Jake Camarda at No. 133.
“I’ll have a lot of motivation to dominate this season,” Araisaid of being the third punter taken.
Araiza - who said he really isn’t a fan of the Punt God nickname - became a phenomenon in 2021 at San Diego State, the only season he was the full-time punter, as he averaged an NCAA record 51.2 yards gross on 79 punts. Of those, he had 17 punts of 60-plus, two that went more than 80 yards, and he had 37 downed inside the 20.
Araiza won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter and was a first-team Associated Press All-American while nabbing Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.
One thing to watch, though, is hang time. He was more of a distance punter and he forced only 17 fair catches, while 15 of his punts went into the end zone for touchbacks. Both of those numbers are high and need to be refined and he admitted he’s been working on those skills during the draft process.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder was also the team’s placekicker and he made 73.5% of his field goal attempts in three years. He also made 96 of 97 extra points.
Araiza obviously will compete with holdover Matt Haack who struggled in his first season with the Bills. Of course, he’ll also have to work his way into the role of holder for kicker Tyler Bass, something that Haack handled very well.
No. 185, Christian Benford, CB, Villanova
Having already used their first-round pick on cornerback Kaiir Elam, the Bills went back to the position to bring in more competition for the holdover group by taking the 6-foot, 208-pounder.
He ran a 4.52 in the 40 so he’s not a burner, but he’s also bigger than most corners and plays a physical style. Last season he made seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups for the Wildcats and for his career he had 14 picks and 47 breakups.
One scouting report called him, “A big physical cornerback with ball-hawking skills and lockdown capabilities. This is a player that put in the right situations, can become a star.”
No. 209: Luke Tenuta, OL, Virginia Tech
Last year the Bills picked 6-foot-8 Spencer Brown in the third round and he went on to become the starter at right tackle.
As if they’re trying to build a basketball team, they picked Tenuta, another 6-foot-8 tackle with the last of their three third-round choices.
He played 34 games for the Hokies, starting 26. He was a left tackle most of 2021 but was a right tackle before that and that’s where he will likely be slotted with Buffalo.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic said, “Tenuta is a heady, efficient blocker and relies on his instincts to aid his body control when pass blocking versus rushers in space. However, his leverage issues and limited range create soft corners and he struggles to sustain as a run blocker. Overall, Tenuta has relatively clean college tape, but his traits leave question marks about his pro transition because of his lack of length, explosiveness and power. He is a potential backup at right tackle.”
No. 231: Baylon Spector, LB, Clemson
The Bills closed out their 2022 draft by adding a second linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 233-pound Spector was a two-time honorable mention All-ACC pick who made nine career sacks and 22 tackles for loss in four years, two as a starter.
He played primarily on the weak side, meaning he’s probably a candidate to serve as Matt Milano’s backup, but the only way he’ll be making the team is if he proves to be a great special teams player.
The Bills may take a look at Spector as a big nickel player, too, as he has some safety attributes in his game.
Buffalo Bills' previous five top draft picks
2021 (No. 30 overall): Gregory Rousseau, edge rusher, Miami
2020 (No. 54 overall): A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
2019 (No. 9 overall): Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
2018 (No. 7 overall): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
2017 (No. 27 overall): Tre'Davious White. CB, LSU
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.