“With the 89th pick of the 2022 NFL Draft the Super Bowl 57 champion, Buffalo Bills, select, my man, Terrel Bernard. Linebacker. Baylor. Woooo!” ~ Kyle Brandt
Thus began a saga that has both perplexed and antagonized much of Bills Mafia. Questions regarding how the undersized, yet extremely athletic, linebacker would get involved have given way to legitimate concerns that his only clear path to consistent play is directly through All-Pro, Matt Milano. This has resulted in criticism towards general manager Brandon Beane for “wasting a pick” in a critical draft for the Buffalo Bills.
The majority of analysts and fans have come to this consensus, but there is another side to consider, a side that suggests the selection of Terrel Bernard was not only warranted but presents potential value in the future. The below article intends to present that argument by providing context and data to the contrary of a more popular opinion.
Building an elite NFL roster makes it extremely difficult to find rookie contributors. The Bills built precisely that and went into the 2022 NFL Draft with the only missing starters being a second outside cornerback and punter. On day one, they addressed the former, selecting Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam with obvious plans to address punter much later in the draft. This left the Bills looking toward depth in the final two days of the draft.
On day two, QB, WR, TE, OT, DL, and safety were already deep rooms for the Bills, making RB, IOL, CB, and LB the priority. The Bills would address running back at pick No. 63 by selecting James Cook, leaving just three areas of need on the roster. At that moment the depth of those groups was as follows:
- IOL: David Quessenberry, Cody Ford, Greg Mancz, Ike Boettger
- CB: Dane Jackson, Siran Neal, Cam Lewis, Olaijah Griffin, Tim Harris
- LB: Tyrel Dodson, Joe Giles-Harris, Marquel Lee
Finding a player capable of winning a roster spot and contributing from a depth role was paramount at pick No. 89. At IOL David Quessenberry was all but guaranteed a role as a four-way OL coming off starting 17 games for the Titans. This meant that any OL picked would have to beat out at least Cody Ford, who the Bills hoped Aaron Kromer could fix, and Ike Boettger once he came back from injury. At cornerback, Dane Jackson and Siran Neal were borderline roster locks making the open role CB6. As for LB, Tyrel Dodson was likely to retain his LB2 role while Harris and Lee competed for LB3.
Which position was most likely to not only win a roster spot but be active each week and contribute (on special teams)? Linebacker.
Finding value amongst unknown commodities in the NFL Draft is one of the more difficult parts of an NFL general manager’s responsibilities. In the case of the Bills, that means finding value through contributors not just on offense and defense. The selection of Terrel Bernard provided Buffalo with the ability to assure some facet of value outside the traditional expectations of a day two pick, in this case on special teams.
On the season Bernard would finish with 16 tackles on 110 snaps on defense and six tackles on 254 snaps on special teams. This included two standout performances, one on defense against the Jets in Week 8 and one on special teams against the Chiefs in Week 6.
In Week 8, his only defensive start of the season, Bernard would put together a performance on par with that of rookie linebackers. Against the Jets, he would finish with seven tackles, a 58.3 Passer Rating Against, and a 0.0% Missed Tackle Rate. By no means dominant, and far from abysmal, his performance was criticized for being severely below the player he replaced, Matt Milano (Who would finish the season as a first-team All-Pro).
Special teams was where Bernard saw most of his action in 2022 and in Week 6 against the Chiefs he had arguably his best performance. In the game, the Chiefs had a combined six kick and punt returns. On four of those returns, Bernard was the one to bring down the ball carrier. Just how impressive are four special teams tackles in a single game? Tyler Matakevich, who is widely considered one of the better Special Teams players in the NFL, has accomplished that feat just once in his career of 123 games played.
Ultimately Bernard would finish his first season in the NFL with an Approximate Value of 2 which fell below his Expected Approximate Value of 3.3. That being said, considering the 89th pick in the NFL Draft was always expected to be a reserve player for the Bills there was still a level of tangible value provided.
Brandon Beane’s Draft History and Finding Value in the NFL Draft
The selection and subsequent performance of Terrel Bernard have led many to compare him to other linebackers in the 2022 Draft. Such comparisons are often difficult to support or refute due to the wildly different scenarios these players are thrust into. Still, there is some basic information we can use to provide a basis for comparing the 21 true linebackers drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft.
There were seven linebackers selected prior to Bernard and 13 selected after him. Of the seven drafted before Bernard, three finished with an equal or lesser AV and of the 13 drafted after Bernard, four finished with a higher AV.
The three players with comparable production drafted before Bernard were Brian Asamoah (MIN), Chad Muma (JAX), and Nakobe Dean (PHI). Asamoah finished with 119 defensive snaps and 285 special teams snaps, both comparable to Bernard, but finished with five fewer tackles while stuck behind Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks on the Vikings’ depth chart. Muma didn’t see consistent play time until Week 10 and struggled mightily against the pass after that point. Dean, viewed by many as a steal as the 83rd pick, saw little action on defense, finishing the regular season with only 34 defensive snaps.
As for the four drafted after Bernard with a higher AV, you have Leo Chenal (KC), Micah McFadden (NYG), Damone Clark (DAL), and Malcolm Rodriguez (DET). Chenal saw action in sub-packages of the Chiefs scheme all season as a run-stopping force. Damone Clark fell in the draft due to offseason Spinal Fusion Surgery but after receiving a clean bill of health became an integral part of the Cowboys’ defense from Week 8 onwards. McFadden saw more use for the Giants as the season progressed for an underwhelming linebacker corps. Rodriguez earned a day one starting role for the Lions after beating out Chris Board and Josh Woods for the position.
The circumstances surrounding most of the players that exceeded Bernard’s production in 2022 were conducive to rookie contributions. By no means a steal, Bernard played on par with the majority of linebackers taken despite being relegated to a depth role, similar to some others (see Brian Asamoah).
The Bills’ third pick in the NFL Draft did not produce to the expectations of many fans, but by all accounts, it was the expectations that missed the mark. Hindsight is 20/20 but at the time of the selection the Bills had the ability to improve most at one spot on their 48-man active roster, Linebacker #4. Terrel Bernard gave them that upgrade as a player easily capable of beating out Joe Giles-Harris and Marquel Lee, neither of whom played a defensive snap in the NFL in 2022.
The most consistent argument applied against the selection of Bernard continues to be that the Bills could have taken guard Dylan Parham in his stead. While a fair critique, the Bills doing so would have intended to relegate Parham to a reserve role behind 2021 Pro-Bowler, Rodger Saffold, and Ryan Bates, who had recently signed a four-year extension. The result would have been spending a third-round pick on a player the Bills did not expect to see the field in 2022, a critique fans often use against the Bernard selection.
Bernard’s size means it’s unlikely he fills the potential void at ILB in 2023, and with a near 0% chance he surpasses Matt Milano on the depth chart, it’s likely Bernard yet again is a reserve special teamer in 2023, and that’s okay. The Bills dedicated $4.3m of their cap to special teamers Tyler Matakevich and Taiwan Jones in 2022, meaning Bernard’s $1.17m cap hit in that role provides flexibility. With a late third-round selection, the Bills have found themselves an adequate backup linebacker who projects, at minimum, to be an integral special teams contributor for the remainder of his contract. There’s not much more defense needed for that, the selection of Terrel Bernard was far from a “wasted pick”.
Far from a wasted pick. MUCH further away from a good pick. There were a handful of WRs, IOL, OT, S, CBs and TEs that made much more sense. Knowing that Saffold was a one year rental (and was horrible in 2021), Poyer and Edmunds being FAs, it made much more sense to draft possible replacements for them, rather than Milanos replacement who had 3 years left under contract. Our WR unit is very poor beyond Diggs and we could’ve used another, yet drafted none. We’ll be drafting one on day 1 or 2 this year 💯.
Wasted pick? No, he’ll contribute. Poor selection, absofrickenlutely
Still feels like a reach even after the article. Can’t play inside and will never see the field outside with Milano. Still would have preferred back up guard for a year until sad food was cooked
I wasn’t going to reply, because, as my mother told me. “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Then I saw your show….and here I am. Let’s break this down :
1)Value – There is no value in a player who plays a position where the Bills use 2 as opposed to the usual 3 or 4. The 2 they use are 2 of their top 9 players & 2 of the top 5 players in terms of responsibility & difficulty of assignment. Unless he was great, he was never going to play.
2) The Roster – Sometimes on a championship team, there isn’t a spot for a rookie to contribute. This was not one of those cases. There was a hole at G/OL. It’s a position that fields 5 starters weekly. One is always injured. That brings opportunity. Dylan Parham, Zach Tom, Sean Rhyan, Braxton Jones would have played more snaps(BTW, the reason Parham is always mentioned is 4-fold. 1st,The Bills NEEDED a G before the draft. 2nd Parham was oft-mentioned as a possible Bill. 3rd, he was picked right after Bernard. 4th, Parham, like Braxton Jones, was all rookie!).
How about DB. Again, oft-injured position where the Bills start 5, not 4, each week. You think Kerby Joseph, Coby Bryant or Tariq Woollen(3 more guys who were often mocked to the Bills) would have been helpful to make a play week 3 @ Miami instead of Jaquan Johnson or Siran Neal? Bills win that game & Cincy & KC are the ones playing a round 2 death match. We would have had a week off & Jax. What a difference a bad draft pick makes!
Leo Chenal @ MLB when Edmunds was out vs no Bernard even when Milano was out. At least Chenal could play if we end up losing Edmunds. How about a thunder RB to go w/ James Cook’s lightning? Rachaad White, Damien Pierce, Tyler Allgeier w/i 61 picks afterwards. Cole Beasley type slot anyone: David Bell or Kyle Phillips. Deep threat : Romeo Doubs. How about a
2nd TE: Cade Otton, Daniel Bellinger, Isaiah Likely, & All-Rookie Chigoziem Okonkwo.
3) On your Sophomore Recap, one of you said that you’d be fine with him as a 3rd rounder b/c he might be a core special teamer. Later in the Sophomore breakdown, you didn’t bother speaking about Baylon Spector b/c “He would only ever be a special teamer.” LOL.
Being an outside linebacker could it seem plausible that Bernard move into that role and Milano life into Inside linebacker role. What makes Milano so good is he is extremely fast and extremely intelligent. Wouldn’t sliding him inside be beneficial if Edmunds was to leave for free agency? Yes you lose a little size but Milano kind of plays and inside role anyways the way the bills defense is run. How many times do you see Milano blitz up the middle
In his limited playing time in preseason and season. Bernard looked very small, slower than advertised and lost on the field. In his big preseason moment with a pick 6, Siran Neal slowed to a jog while guiding him for the last 20 yards looking like a father spotting a child learning to ride a bicycle. There were other examples of him being slow to react or not being able to run with average tight ends. I believe the coaching staff was likely very disappointed at what they saw from Bernard and quickly had no faith in him.
Drafting a player is always a gamble in the NFL. Turn back the clock to a year ago. Bills have 2 stud LBs in their nickel package defense that are more than capable and being all-Pro caliber. Milano was signed to a multi-year deal, but Edmunds was not given a new contract with his rookie contract expiring. Beane knows he cannot tie-up $35 million on 2 LBs. You can do one, but not two. Timing and being in the right place at the right time is everything in the NFL and Milano got here first. I have a feeling Edmunds is someone the Bills do want for the long haul. But at what price are you going to sacrifice the team as a whole? Bernard would be an excellent backup LB especially when he is doing so well on special teams. Perhaps that will prod the Bills into cutting Matakevich and Jones on special teams. Use the money they can save towards signing Edmunds instead. It took the Bills 5 years to bring Edmunds along to where he is now. Edmunds is not even in his prime yet. Cutting him will mean starting from scratch all over. That’s the thing with the draft each year–out with the old and in with the new. Bills need to move on from the players past the age of 30. Sorry Poyer, for all that noise you and the missus are making, you only have a good 2 years left to play. Speed comes from the young demons. So you are expendable. Of more concern is the Bills running game. Keep this cr@p up and you will not see Allen getting up after getting tackled to the ground running. The running game has been missing since McCoy was cut. We’ve spent three picks on RBs recently and none of them has panned out. Time to take one in Round 1 and start getting serious. Do we need OJ to come out of retirement to make my point? Our dead-cap money situation is just over $1.6 million. That is pretty good for the cap situation.