An unceremonious end to another Buffalo Bills’ season has, rightfully, led to another round of criticisms. Among 2022 critiques is one focused on Brandon Beane’s draft history. It’s a debate that centers on Beane’s draft “hits” and “misses” but one which far too often ignores what it means to find value in the draft.
In the NFL Draft, value is relative. Since draft-based assets are divvied based on team success value realized must be weighed against draft position. As NFL fans, should we expect the #31 overall pick to produce at the same level as the #1 overall pick? Absolutely not. When considering whether a GM “hit” or “missed” on a pick the number of the pick is just as important as the player selected.
This leads to the point of this article, a value-based look at Brandon Beane’s track record in the NFL Draft. To accomplish this we will utilize two data points, Approximate Value (AV) and Expected Draft Value (EDV). Dividing AV by EDV will provide us with the Value Return (VR) where 100% is the expectation. The below analysis leverages VR and places each of Brandon Beane’s 39 career draft picks into six “hit” and “miss” buckets.
Swing and Miss (VR = 0% – 45%)
|K. Elam (’22, #23)||M. Araiza (’22, #180)||L. Tenuta (’22, #209)|
|C. Basham (’21, #61)||T. Doyle (’21, #161)||M. Stevenson (’21, #203)|
|A. Epenesa (’20, #54)||J. Fromm (’20, #167)||V. Joseph (’19, #147)|
|T. Sweeney (’19, #228)||A. Proehl (’18, #255)|
Even the greatest hitters occasionally swing and miss, and Brandon Beane is no different. Since 2018 28.2% of his selections fall within this range of players who either never played in the NFL (3) or produced well below expectations (8). Before reacting to that seemingly high percentage, some context is needed. 262 players were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, of them, 28.2% produced a VR of 0%.
While the size of this bucket should be considered an overall success there have been a couple of egregious mistakes. Most glaring was the selection of Defensive Ends in the 2nd Round of back-to-back drafts in A.J. Epenesa (’20) and Carlos Basham (’21). While Epenesa has flashed at times (6.5 sacks in 2022) Basham has done little to live up to his #61 selection, resulting in a combined AV of 9 far below their combined EDV of 22.4.
There does remain some hope in this group of players, with two having the potential to flip the script in 2023. Kaiir Elam may have had an unimpressive rookie campaign, but expectations remain that he will take hold of the CB2 spot this coming season. Similar, though less ambitious, aspirations are at play for third-year Tackle, Tommy Doyle. After missing most of 2022 with a torn ACL, Doyle will look to compete for Buffalo’s Swing Tackle role in 2023. If each reaches their potential this coming season, they will quickly move out of the Swing and Miss category.
Made Contact (VR = 45% – 90%)
|T. Bernard (’22, #89)||R. Wildgoose (’21, #213)||I. Hodgins (’20, #207)|
|E. Oliver (’19, #9)||C. Ford (’19, #38)||J. Johnson (’19, #181)|
|S. Neal (’18, #154)||R. McCloud (’18, #187)|
These 8 players may not be complete whiffs, but Brandon Beane didn’t exactly hit the ball out of the park with these selections either. This group consists of Day 1/2 Picks that are inconsistent/replaceable or Day 3 Picks that have had little on-field impact. Combining this with the previous grouping marks 48.7% of Beane’s draft picks playing below their EDV, a number that the Bills would like to see improved but one that isn’t as outlandish as some may believe.
Of these players, only 3 fall below a VR of 80%; Cody Ford (73%), Terrel Bernard (60%), and Siran Neal (51%). Ford’s bust status has all but been cemented while Bernard’s seems inevitable with no clear path to a starting role in Buffalo. As for Siran Neal, he likely doesn’t belong in this category as a 5th-round pick that has become a Special Teams Ace, a phase of the game AV doesn’t handle well.
There are two hidden gems in this subset of players though, both of whom just so happen to be Wide Receivers. The first of those two is 2018 6th Round Pick, Ray-Ray McCloud who has built a solid career as a Punt Returner. In fact, he has been so prolific in that role that over the past 3 seasons he has garnered an impressive 15 All-Pro votes. The second of the two gems is BillsMafia cult hero, Isaiah Hodgins. While injuries and depth issues prevented him from succeeding in Buffalo, he found success with the Giants in the latter half of 2022. His 33 Receptions, 351 Yards, and 4 Touchdowns to close out the season set him up with a very good chance to move his AV above his EDV by the end of the 2023 season.
Single (VR = 90% – 125%)
|J. Cook (’22, #63)||K. Shakir (’22, #148)||B. Spector (’22, #231)|
|J. Anderson (’21, #236)||Z. Moss (’20, #86)||D. Johnson (’19, #225)|
|H. Phillips (’18, #96)|
If a player’s AV matches their EDV then that player, at a minimum, should be considered a successful selection. These 7 players fit that description with a few of them still possessing the potential to far exceed expectations in the coming seasons. For Brandon Beane, these aren’t star players but instead building blocks necessary in rounding out a roster.
There are two surprises here, the first and most controversial being the inclusion of Zack Moss. Moss may not have lived up to fans’ expectations through his first 3 seasons, but his 1613 Yards and 11 Touchdowns is on par with the average production for a third-round pick. Ultimately though this wasn’t enough for Buffalo who packaged him and a 5th Round Pick in order to acquire Nyheim Hines in 2022.
The second surprise is 3 players from the 2022 draft falling into this bucket. James Cook finished his rookie season with nearly 700 yards and is on pace to be the Bills’ RB1 in 2023. Khalil Shakir may not have contributed much, but still has produced more than most 5th-round picks and will compete for a Top-3 WR spot in 2023. Last is Baylon Spector, who had substantial contributions on Special Teams despite being active in only 6 games. The 7th Round Pick performed well in his audition as Tyler Matakevich’s heir apparent. 2022 may not have had many home runs but all-in-all it was a solid class of future contributors for Buffalo.
Double (VR = 125% – 150%)
|C. Benford (’22, #185)||G. Rousseau (’21, #30)||D. Knox (’19, #96)|
|T. Edmunds (’18, #16)|
The next three buckets consist of selections that have been bonafide victories for Brandon Beane. This group in particular consists of players that have performed slightly above their draft position as key contributors for the Buffalo Bills.
This group begins with one of the most polarizing players in recent Bills history, Tremaine Edmunds. Despite the debate surrounding him Edmunds has the 10th-highest AV in his respective draft class and has earned 2 Pro-Bowl nods before the age of 25. The following season the Bills would select TE Dawson Knox who has outperformed his borderline 4th Round selection ranking in the 5th in his draft class in Receiving Touchdowns (20).
More recently, the Bills have found success both early in the draft as well as late. In 2021 the selection of Greg Rousseau at #30 surprised many however, he has been impressive through 2 seasons. From the 2021 Draft there are just 2 players with 65+ Tackles and 5.0+ Sacks, Greg Rousseau (69/12.0) and Micah Parsons (106/26.5). In the 2022 draft, the Bills took what many would consider a risk by selecting FCS CB Christian Benford early in the 6th Round. In his rookie season, Benford would end up finding success as CB1/CB2 for one of the best defenses in the NFL prior to an injury. With most 6th-round picks relegated to Special Teams, the selection of Benford has the possibility to be one of Brandon Beane’s higher-value picks moving forward.
Triple (VR = 150% – 200%)
|D. Singletary (’19, #74)||J. Allen (’18, #7)||T. Johnson (’18, #121)|
These final two buckets consist of players who have blown away expectations while this group includes players that haven’t quite doubled them. It’s incredibly difficult for 1st Round Picks to reach these levels as their initial EDV becomes almost impossible to double. A specific name in this grouping should make that evident.
Starting with the player most will take issue with in this category means looking at Devin Singletary. While he may have never turned into a Derrick Henry or Nick Chubb his production out of the backfield has far exceeded expectations. In his career, Singletary is averaging 1,031 Yards and 5 Touchdowns per season as a committee RB1 for one of the best offenses in the NFL. That may not be the production most want out of an RB1 but it’s greater than the production that most get out of a mid-3rd Round pick.
Even later in the draft the Bills found a steal in Taron Johnson. After getting hit in the head with a ball at the combine Johnson fell to the Bills in the mid-4th Round. Players selected on day three rarely become NFL starters let alone elite players at their position. Johnson has done just that, increasing his snap share each season and earning a contract extension with the Bills as one of the best Nickel CBs in the NFL.
The last player in this category falls statistically short of a Home Run but is undoubtedly that. Selecting Josh Allen 7th overall in 2018 came with lofty expectations for the Quarterback out of Wyoming. Since then, Allen has exceeded all of them possessing a VR of 152%. What makes this even more impressive, Allen has led all Offensive Players in AV each of the past 3 seasons in one of the more dominant stretches in the history of this statistic.
Homerun (VR = 200%+)
|S. Brown (’21, #93)||D. Hamlin (’21, #212)||G. Davis (’20, #128)|
|T. Bass (’20, #188)||D. Jackson (’20, #239)||W. Teller (’18, #166)|
We’ve reached the pinnacle of Brandon Beane’s work as the drafting GM of the Buffalo Bills, his Home Runs. This includes players that haven’t just met the expectations of their draft position but have blown them out of the water. Doing this all but mandates being a later-round pick to assure that the initial EDV is low enough to double.
Most people will initially take issue with the inclusion of Spencer Brown in this category, and rightfully so. AV does not do a good job measuring Offensive Linemen as the lack of counting stats for the position pushes most of the value to team success. This is what lands Brown in this category as a late 3rd Round Pick and 2-year starter. Nonetheless, Brown should be viewed as an above-average draft pick as a player who has contributed in back-to-back seasons for one of the best offenses in the NFL.
In the secondary, Beane has had 2 Home Run selections in Damar Hamlin and Dane Jackson who were selected in the 6th and 7th rounds respectively. Hamlin has had much less on-field experience but the Safety did finish 2022 with the 3rd most Tackles for the Bills. His resulting career AV of 6 far exceeds his EDV of 2.3 earning him a spot in this grouping. As for Dane Jackson, he comes in as Beane’s biggest value gain with a 389% VR. Falling just 16 picks shy of Mr. Irrelevant, Jackson contributed in each of his 3 seasons with Buffalo most recently starting 14 games as the Bills’ CB1/CB2.
Rounding out contributors to the Bills are 2020 selections Gabe Davis and Tyler Bass. The same logic used for Taron Johnson comes into play here, day three picks rarely realize high levels of success at their respective positions in the NFL. Gabe Davis has gone on to become, at worst, an average WR2 while Tyler Bass is in the conversation for Top-5 Kicker in the league. These players are not just contributors to the Bills, they are key cogs that have been integral to the Bills success in recent seasons.
The last player to discuss in this entire exercise is one of Brandon Beane’s best draft selections, Wyatt Teller. Teller would play just 8 games for the Bills before he was traded to the Browns and since then he has become elite. With the Browns, he has become one of the best Guards in football earning 2 All-Pros and 2 Pro-Bowl appearances. While the success didn’t come in Buffalo, the initial scouting and selection was spot on by Beane and his team. It’s also worth pointing out that the Bills acquired a 5th and 6th Round pick for Teller. The 6th Round Pick became Tyler Bass while the 5th Round Pick was integral in the Stefon Diggs trade which also netted Buffalo…Dane Jackson.
When we discuss whether a Draft Pick is Good or Bad, we must look at much more than the player themselves. Each season the expectations for Buffalo’s draft class should be below the expectation for, say the Jets. As a perennial playoff team, Buffalo’s catalog of picks initially is less valuable than the floundering teams of the NFL, this is how parity is generated in the league.
Does this mean that Brandon Beane can’t find the occasional diamond late in each round of the draft? Of course not, but simply that the expectations for the players that the Bills select should rightfully be below those that less talented teams pick. Regardless, Brandon Beane has been a success as a drafting GM in the NFL and as far as this study goes his overall drafting AV of 428 exceeds his overall EDV of 362.5 for a VR of 118%, and that’s a good thing.
 Approximate Value is a metric designed by Pro Football Reference with the goal to assign a value to each player in the NFL. It relies on both individual as well as team success to be calculated.
 Expected Draft Value was a study commissioned by Chase Stuart. It found the average Approximate Value of each pick in the NFL draft and generated a logarithmic formula to plot them.