CLEVELAND — In most years, landing the third edge rusher off the board at pick 30 in the NFL Draft would be a widely celebrated feat.
The circumstances this year saw a prized linebacker – a potential future safety hybrid – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah slip, and a portion of Buffalo Bills fans started to set their sights on him. Another section of the fan base wanted cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.
Gregory Rousseau, who the Bills ultimately selected at 30, wasn’t the most popular choice considering the options left on the board. The prospect has been polarizing because he opted out in 2020 and tested poorly at his combine. Whether it’s sound or flawed reasoning, some fans believe that Rousseau’s bust potential after a limited sample size of success might not be worth the risk.
But those fans haven’t been paying attention. Maybe it’s one thing to trust the process and an entirely different thing to truly understand the methodology.
Let’s explore the pick. Here are five thoughts and a grade.
1. Beane covets risky players in the draft
Isn’t this a bit obvious at this point? Beane’s first pick was the riskiest of them all when he took Josh Allen at pick 7 in 2018. He came right back on the next one when he traded up to take Tremaine Edmunds, an outside linebacker at Virginia Tech who the Bills moved to Mike backer. The next year they took a chance on an undersized interior defensive linemen in Ed Oliver to try and create pressure from up the middle. The only home run of the bunch to this point has been Allen. The other two have been developed and have big seasons in front of them in 2021 that will reveal the rest of the story. Rousseau is a raw prospect but he has a limitless ceiling that Bills can try and push him towards.
2. Buffalo believes in their coaches
When you look at how the Bills have approached their defensive line this offseason, there is a lot of trust that second-year d-line coach Eric Washington can unlock a group that returns most of the players from last season. There are some big differences, of course. Star Lotulelei returns as the starting one-technique defensive tackle and free agent Efe Obada signed a one-year deal after a three-year stint in Carolina. Now Rousseau gets thrown in with Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, A.J. Epenesa and Darryl Johnson. And things need to go better for this group in 2021. The Bills didn’t pull the trigger on a big free agent contract on the line, and that showed their faith in Washington to get Vernon Butler, Addison and company to elevate their level of play. Especially when the eventual rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs rolls around.
3. What’s to like?
Rousseau is massive athlete. He played receiver in high school and now stands at 6-7 and weighs 266 pounds after adding 20 pounds of muscle while not playing in 2020 because he opted out. He just turned 21 earlier this month and he was a force when he was on the field in 2019. He finished second in all of college football with 15.5 sacks. He’s raw but he brings power, a fast get off, instincts, and the kind of size Bills GM Brandon Beane said you just simply can’t teach. He’ll start on the edge for the Bills but will move inside on obvious passing down to utilize his versatile skill set.
4. What has some fans worried?
This isn’t a pick that was made primarily with 2021 in mind. This is the long play as the Bills continue to rely on their veterans in Hughes and Addison to carry the unit. Rousseau has a ton of size but the power didn’t match up at the college level. He needs to learn how to be a pass rusher, and that could take time. Luckily he can try and carve out a role as big or small as he needs as the Bills roster is strong on both sides of the ball.
5. Trading back would have been too big a risk
A common thought pertaining to the pick was why not trade back and try to nab Rousseau at the top of the second round. It’s obvious by the way Beane spoke about Rousseau and how the team grew to like him during the scouting process that they wanted him. A trade back could have resulted in not only losing out on Rousseau, but maybe other players they had close in terms of grade on their board, depending on how far they moved back.
There’s value here and it’s important to remember the layers of the decision. This is a choice that won’t truly have full ramifications revealed for a few seasons. The ceiling is attractive and the ability to get to the quarterback at the college level, if the Bills can get it to translate will be beneficial to the defense. Buffalo has to get more consistent pressure and finishes next season. It’s always hard to grade the pick in the immediate aftermath, but there’s enough to like about the positional value, the person, and the plan for Rousseau to blossom into a playmaker for Sean McDermott’s defense.
“There’s some rawness, but having him and A.J. and Darryl, that’s three young, longer players,” Beane said. “Length just helps you. It helps you get off that tackle or guard, whoever he’s going against. He’ll help the rotation and we see him being part of the mix for a long time.”
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