Bills addressed their most important need, then spent rest of draft adding depth

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

ORCHARD PARK - As eternally forever as Rochester’s lilacs blooming in May, the general managers of every NFL team will sit in front of reporters and proclaim at the end of every draft that his team knocked it out of the park.

Book it. It’s automatic because the draft is always a time of hope and excitement and thinking - or at the very least dreaming - that after infusing your team with new blood, it now has a genuine chance to win the Super Bowl.

Brandon Beane did this for the fifth time in his tenure with the Buffalo Bills on Saturday afternoon at the conclusion of the 2022 draft and we’ll find out soon enough whether he can jog around the bases and stomp on home plate.

But trying to judge a draft as soon as it ends is akin to proclaiming a basketball game is over two minutes after it starts. It’s a foolhardy exercise because we simply don’t know enough about any of the players to determine who killed it and who didn’t.

So, don’t ask me for a grade on the eight-man class Beane drafted this weekend because I don’t know how he did.

Brandon Beane felt like the Bills had a solid 2022 draft.

All I’ll say is the mere fact that the Bills addressed their No. 1 need in the first round when they selected cornerback Kaiir Elam set the tone for the rest of the process because the Bills were continually able to pick from a position of strength.

Of course, the main reason for that, Beane said, is because the Bills have security at two of the most important areas - coach and quarterback with Sean McDermott and Josh Allen.

“It’s just stability,” he said. “If you’ve got your quarterback and you’ve got your head coach, that’s the two most important things. You’ve got to be really good there if you want to be championship level. We’ve got a good quarterback and we’ve got a good head coach. I would just say it helps you in anything.”

With those two cornerstones in place, Beane has been able to build everything around them the last four years and even before he made the Elam pick, he already had a roster built to compete for, and perhaps win, a Super Bowl. 

And by the close of business Saturday, he augmented it with four players on defense, three on offense and one very notable player on special teams. Elam could quite possibly become a starter, Matt Araiza, the nicknamed “Punt God” could be the new punter, and a few other picks may provide depth in key spots.

“I did feel a lot better after Thursday night and felt like, at this point, we don’t have to force anything,” Beane said of getting Elam and filling the one gaping hole he was staring at. “Getting Kaiir on Thursday really just relaxed me and let it come.”

Friday, the Bills took running back James Cook in the second round

and then linebacker Terrel Bernard in the third. 

Cook is a dual threat out of the backfield, something along the lines of J.D. McKissic, the free agent who Buffalo almost signed before he reneged and went back to Washington.

Bernard is an undersized player who will have a chance to be Matt Milano’s backup at the weak side position.

The Bills sat out the fourth round Saturday due to the trade Beane made in the first round to move up two spots to secure the selection of Elam, and his patience got the better of him in the fifth when he traded up 20 spots in order to make sure he picked wide receiver Khalil Shakir at No. 148 overall.

That deal with the Bears cost him one of the four sixth-round picks he had in his pocket to begin Saturday, and at first blush, it looks like it was worth it.

Shakir was a dynamic slot receiver at Boise State, and Beane said he can also bring a dimension lining up on the outside with his 4.43 speed.

“Another guy that’s in our system, kind of fits what we call the No. 4 role, a guy that can play inside and play out,” Beane said. “He’s probably more of an inside guy, but we think he’s got enough outside speed. We’ll get him with (OC Ken) Dorsey and (receivers coach) Chad Hall and let him compete with all the other guys we have.”

Beane then made the most talked about, and even most anticipated, move with the first pick in the sixth round when he took Araiza.

There had been speculation in the weeks leading up to the draft that finding a replacement for Matt Haack, who had a tough first season as Buffalo’s punter, would be something Beane should do because with an already strong roster, he could afford to draft a punter. 

Araiza was considered the top player at that position, though two punters went before him in the fourth round so getting Araiza at No. 180 overall felt like a potential steal. But as Beane said, he still has to come in and beat out the incumbent.

Late in the sixth, Virginia Tech offensive tackle Luke Tenuta - a 6-foot-8 mountain of man similar to 2021 third-round pick Spencer Brown - was the choice. He’ll battle with the likes of 2021 fifth-round pick Tommy Doyle and veteran free agent David Quessenberry for a spot.

And lastly, Clemson linebacker Baylon Spector rounded out the class, a 6-1, 233-pounder who, as Beane said, has played in a whole bunch of meaningful and big-time games in college.

“I feel better,” Beane, referring to the state of the roster now that the draft is complete. “I’m excited about the guys we got. I know you sit here every year and you should be excited. So hopefully in the fall, it looks like it’s exciting as we see some of these guys play and fill out their roles, whether it ends up being starters or key backups or special teams players, whatever it is.”

Next up will be the signing of several undrafted free agents this week, perhaps a couple veteran free agents after that, and before you know it, the Bills will be back at St. John Fisher for the first time since 2019, to begin in earnest the quest for the championship that has forever eluded Buffalo.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.