ORCHARD PARK – Brandon Beane has said numerous times over the past few weeks while scouting at the East-West Shrine Game and then the Senior Bowl that the Buffalo Bills will not be drafting for need come April.
“I promise you, drafting for need is a mistake that can set franchises back, and I’m not going to do that as long as I’m in charge here,” the Bills’ general manager said at his season-ending press conference on Dec. 31.
He then reiterated that philosophy last week at the Senior Bowl, saying, “We’re at nine (in the first round) and we’re going to take the best player on offense or defense and we’ll continue to do that in round two, three and beyond.However, drafting for need was exactly what Beane did in his first draft with the Bills in 2018, and it’s a good thing he did because he may have set in place two foundational cornerstones upon which to build.
Expertly working his way up the board via trades, Beane filled two gaping holes on the roster in selecting quarterback Josh Allen at No. 7 and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds at No. 16.
Allen’s future is a bit polarizing because there are many people — fans, media, analytics gurus — who wonder whether he’ll ever become a true franchise quarterback. Edmunds, on the other hand, seems like a player who will blossom into a star as his career progresses.
It’s true that Edmunds had a topsy-turvy rookie season and there were certainly moments when he looked lost, but let’s also remember that the 6-foot-5, 250-pound freak of an athlete is the youngest drafted player in NFL history.He can’t even legally purchase an adult beverage until May 2 and he’s half Tom Brady’s age, for crying out loud. Yet, in his first season, he led the Bills with 121 tackles and 12 pass breakups, had two interceptions and two forced fumbles, and he was on the field in the chaotic middle of the Buffalo defense for more than 96 percent of the snaps in the 15 games he played.
“I think everybody forgets, especially if you’re around him all the time because he’s so big, that he’s 20,” Beane said. “He’s still growing into his body, believe it or not. But mentally, this was a big step. A lot was asked of him that was not asked at Virginia Tech. For all that was thrown at him, I thought he really progressed.”
Progressed to the point where, late in the season, now retired defensive tackle Kyle Williams essentially slid into the passenger seat and handed the keys to the car over to the newbie 15 years his junior.
On Thursdays of game week, Williams would gather the entire defense for a meeting without the coaches to go over situations and responsibilities, and prior to the Bills hosting the Jets in Week 13, he told Edmunds to run the session.
“The guy that’s in that position, in a perfect world, is kind of your bell cow,” Williams said of middle linebackers. “He’s communicating the ins and outs of the defense to everybody around. He’s the quarterback of the defense.”
Having played three-quarters of the season by that point, Williams — already knowing that he was going to announce his retirement — thought Edmunds had earned the opportunity to prove that he could handle more responsibility.
“There’s a couple things that have to come before he can step in front of a group of guys and lead them,” Williams said. “He has to have production, he has to be accountable, he has to work the right way. Those are things he’s done well. I think he plays hard, he prepares the right way, and he’s in a natural position that if you can cultivate it and you can be that type of guy, it’s a natural leadership position. Hopefully it will help him grow a little bit more.”
Beane loved that proverbial passing of the torch, and he believes it will boost Edmunds’ confidence as the 2019 season approaches.There were times that he was still hesitant during the year,” Beane said. “But he has the growth mindset. He’s a great kid, as you know. He’s not content with where he’s at. He’s one of those guys that you almost have to say, ‘Hey, you’re doing good.’ He’s so hard on himself. He focuses on the three or four plays he missed versus the 15 or 20 that he nailed.”
What impressed defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier more than anything was that Edmunds did not play middle linebacker at Virginia Tech. He had to learn the nuances of the position during a whirlwind NFL baptism, and now that he has one full season where he experienced a little bit of everything, Frazier can’t wait for year two.
“Bob Babich, his position coach, and I talk about that often,” Frazier said. “Sometimes we’re having meetings and we talk about all the things that we put on his plate, and then you realize how young he is. And the fact that it’s a new position, because he was an outside linebacker in college. Now, you’re a middle linebacker in the National Football League, so young at what he’s doing. To see his growth is just incredible. You have high hopes for his future. He’s just going to keep getting better and better.”