Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane and I were on the same page when it comes to the valuation of the players he ultimately selected in the 2019 Draft. Below is Buffalo’s 2019 Draft Class in totality with where I ranked them on my own personal Big Board entering the draft.
Round 1, Pick No. 9: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston (Marino Rank: No. 3 overall)
Round 2, Pick No. 38: Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma (Marino Rank: No. 33 overall)
Round 3, Pick No. 74: Devin Singletary, RB, FAU (Marino Rank: No. 74 overall)
Round 3, Pick No. 96: Dawson Knox, TE, Ole Miss (Marino Rank: No. 93 overall)
Round 5, Pick No. 147: Vosean Joseph, LB, Florida (Marino Rank: No. 158 overall)
Round 6, Pick No. 181: Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami (Marino Rank: No. 176 overall)
Round 7, Pick No. 225: Darryl Johnson, EDGE, NC A&T (Marino Rank: Did Not Eval)
Round 7, Pick No. 228: Tommy Sweeney, TE, Boston College (Marino Rank: No. 185 overall)
Given how closely the selections mirrored where I ranked the prospects, it's challenging to take issue with anything regarding the class. But this column is about finding something to take exception with and that’s exactly what I am going to do. In fact, if I could change one pick in the Bills’ 2019 Draft Class, it’s the one that was taken in the exact spot I ranked them on my board - No. 74 overall.
MY BILLS DRAFT MULLIGAN: RB DEVIN SINGLETARY FOR MICHIGAN EDGE CHASE WINOVICH
There’s a lot to unpack here.
I get that the Bills’ lead running back duo of LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore represents an aging pair and neither will likely be part of the mix beyond the 2019 season. I defended the Gore signing for numerous reasons:
Jokes about the Bills having the oldest running back group in the league aside, there is so much to love about adding Gore to the mix. A tireless worker and leader, Gore embodies everything in terms of establishing culture that McDermott craves. Losing Kyle Williams was a significant blow to the locker room and bringing in Gore helps to replace some of that and connect McDermott’s message to the locker room. From that perspective alone, Gore is worth his 1 year, $2 million deal.
Gore is tight with LeSean McCoy, and they often train together in the offseason. Pairing the two together helps maximize what is left in the tank for McCoy with Gore pushing him. Injuries, an awful passing game and a lackluster offensive line limited McCoy last season, and he’s highly motivated to prove he can still be a playmaker in the NFL. I believe Gore’s presence will only help make sure that happens.
Although he will soon be 36 years old, Gore can still play. In a split role last season behind an awful Miami offensive line and a poor passing game, Gore still racked up 722 yards while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. It was his highest yards per carry average since 2012 and the fifth-best of his 14-year career. He can still contribute and nicely complements McCoy’s skill set. Given the Bills’ favorable cap position, his salary is of no concern and has no restrictions on other moves Buffalo can make. From a skill perspective, he's an asset to the Bills rushing attack.
In Josh Allen’s second season, having an experienced backfield can be extremely beneficial to him. Allen can rely on Gore and McCoy lining up and executing the way they should. While the position group will need overhauled next season, it should be of lesser concern to add youth to the mix with Allen in the backfield since he will have more experience. Plus, running back is an easy position to completely rebuild in one offseason. For now, it’s favorable for Buffalo to have experience.
Lastly, Gore helps improve the protection around Allen. Playing in the league for 15 seasons has provided Gore an incredible amount of experience in pass protection which is now an asset to Buffalo’s offense and keeping Allen upright. Gore's addition improves Buffalo's ability to keep Allen upright.
When you really dig into things, the Gore signing is extremely underrated once you get past his age and analyze the impact he can make.
What an amazing opportunity for the 21-year-old Singletary to learn behind Gore and McCoy in his rookie season, setting the stage for him to become a top-two back in Buffalo’s rotation in 2020 and beyond.
But now it’s time to get critical. I’ve already went on record as stating Singletary was the Bills’ worst pick.
Singletary is a delight to watch on film. His elusiveness, vision and contact balance leads to some of the most electric offensive plays you will see from any prospect in the 2019 class. With that said, I have some concerns about how his game translates to the NFL. It must be considered how effective his style will be in the NFL after finding his unique success against Conference USA Competition. Tallying 162 rushing yards on 44 carries across four total games, Singletary did not fare overly well in his games against Power Five competition.
For as agile and dynamic as Singletary is on tape, he just isn’t that explosive. Most of his success came taking horizontal tracks with the football and his receiving output declined every season with it being nearly non-existent in 2018.
Singletary will have a wonderful opportunity to play behind veterans LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore as a rookie and has top traits in terms of balance, agility and vision. But does he have enough juice and receiving ability to make a major impact in the NFL? Time will tell, but I have questions.
The Bills could be set at running back in 2020 which was likely to be a top need entering next offseason and it’s nice to potentially check that box. With that said, there is a larger box that needs checked and it’s a MUCH more important one in terms of positional value: outside pass rush.
As things stand, there are short- and long-term concerns with Buffalo’s edge rushing situation. At 30 years old and entering a contract season, Jerry Hughes is a standout that consistently applies heat on the quarterback but who else on the roster is? Shaq Lawson has proven to be a nice run defender but his pass rushing impact has been minimal since he was a first-round pick in 2016. Buffalo recently declined picking up Lawson’s fifth-year option in his contract, making him a free agent at seasons end. Trent Murphy is still finding his way back from an ACL tear in 2017 and battled injuries throughout last season. Along with Mike Love who is a fringe rosterable player and 2019 seventh round selection Darryl Johnson, Murphy is the only defensive end under contract beyond this season. Using pick No. 74 on Michigan EDGE rushing Chase Winovich in lieu of Singletary would have made a lot of sense.
My No. 26 overall prospect in the 2019 class, Winovich carried an early second round grade and was one of my favorite prospects in the Draft. This was my summary of him in my trait-by-trait scouting report:
You won’t find a more relentless and urgent football player than Chase Winovich. The dude plays every snap like it could be his last. What makes him such an intriguing prospect is that he blends a hot motor with outstanding hand usage, processing skills and play strength which gives him playmaking upside against the run and pass. He is a bit of a tweener that isn’t ideally suited to play in space, but Winovich should thrive in an attacking role and become one of the pillars of his defense. He has early starter upside that should be dynamic in sub packages right away.
A lack of complementary edge rush opposite of Jerry Hughes was problematic for Buffalo last season. While Hughes was able to wreak havoc off the right edge, nothing coming from the other side often spoiled his efforts because it created easy space for the quarterback to flee to. Winovich could have instantly helped with that problem.
Rebuilding and improving the pass rushing situation in one offseason is going to be a major challenge for Beane and Winovich would have got the ball rolling in a very positive way. Instead, Buffalo has a running back that comes with questions and will be hard-pressed to find touches in 2019 given the current depth chart. Overhauling the running back position in one offseason is a much more manageable task than edge rusher.
When did Winovich ultimately get drafted? The New England Patriots took him three spots after Buffalo pulled the trigger on Singletary.