Since 2017, the Buffalo Bills have had at least four rookies play 40% or more of the team’s snaps but that could change in 2020.
The Buffalo Bills under Sean McDermott have been a big proponent of players needing to earn their spots. There isn’t many times that players have just been handed the starting job but once they earn it the coaching staff has shown tremendous faith in them by keeping them on the field.
Since 2017, the Bills have had at least four players in each draft class play 40% of the the team’s snaps. In McDermott’s first year as head coach, the team saw Tre’Davious White (99% of the defensive snaps), Zay Jones (75% of the offensive snaps), Dion Dawkins (74% of the offensive snaps), and Matt Milano (41% of the defensive snaps) all play key roles on that team.
In 2018, the team followed a similar trend with Josh Allen (68% of offensive snaps), Tremaine Edmunds (91% of defensive snaps), Taron Johnson (40% of defensive snaps) and Wyatt Teller (45% of offensive snaps) all contribute as rookies.
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Then this past season it was Ed Oliver (64% of defensive snaps), Cody Ford (69% of offensive snaps), Devin Singletary (50% of offensive snaps) and Dawson Knox (60% of offensive snaps) who were all regular starters during the Bills’ playoff run.
However, that trend will likely end in 2020 for the players drafted by the Bills this year for two key reasons. The first is that this roster is much deeper than the Buffalo Bills have had in the past. They are not entering this year losing key starters like Stephon Gilmore in 2017, who was replaced by Tre’Davious White, or Kyle Williams in 2019, who Ed Oliver was expected to replace.
The Bills did lose some players, like Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson, but they added veterans like Vernon Butler and Mario Addison to fill that need. The Bills coaching staff will likely lean on these players early on as rookies get acclimated to the NFL.
This leads into the second point which is these rookies are going to have a much steeper learning curve than year’s past. Due to the offseason restrictions put in place by the NFL, teams are not able to workout or practice in person and will be doing a majority of their work virtually.
The coaching staff is certainly going to do their best to get these players up to speed with the mental aspect of the game and learning the playbook but there is certain things that can’t be replicated, like working on timing with Josh Allen for Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins.
This is not to say that the rookies won’t contribute this year but it may be a slower integration into the rotation for these players. The coaching staff will need to pick their spots a little more on how they utilize the players.
For these rookies, if they want to get more snaps the shortest path to the field will be on special teams. Of the 22 players the Bills have drafted since 2017, only five players have not played a snap on special teams. That group included both quarterbacks drafted (Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman), running back Devin Singletary, linebacker Vosean Joseph, however he was placed on injured reserve before the start of his rookie season, and Austin Proehl, who was cut prior to his rookie season.
The Buffalo Bills have always seen early production from their rookies under Sean McDermott. However, with a more veteran roster and the fact that there will be limited offseason workouts, the path to the field is going to be much tougher for the rookies this year.