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Bills' GM feels 'evil eyes' of critics after draft, but trusts run game, cornerbacks

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the wake of the 2021 NFL draft comes a new influx of speculation regarding roster plans, and the Buffalo Bills are no exception.

General manager Brandon Beane spent the weeks prior to the draft answering questions about his strategy as honestly as he could -- and backed up his statements with the players he selected.

Before anyone gets too far ahead of themselves as rookie minicamp opens Friday, here's what Buffalo's draft means for a few position groups:

Running backs

The idea of the Bills drafting a running back was a popular topic (cue the, "we're all trying to find the guy who did this" meme), and Beane did little to extinguish that flame during his pre-draft news conference, saying that if a running back added an element the Bills didn't already have, he would consider that player with the team's No. 30 overall pick.

But Beane said after the draft the team was never targeting a running back, despite rumors the Bills were attempting to trade up for Clemson's Travis Etienne.

Buffalo signed Matt Breida this offseason and seems content to move forward with the tandem of Zack Moss and Devin Singletary. As it turns out, his comments about needing to improve the team's 26th-ranked rushing offense without necessarily making a change at running back were true.

"It's so unfair to look at the running backs to point blame on the running game," Beane said in January. "Running the football is very complex, and it's obviously the O-line, it's the tight ends, it's the receivers and if one guy doesn't make his block the play's probably dead. And so, there were times this year where we're one [block] away.

"I'm not saying there's no blame [on the backs], sometimes the running back missed the hole, but ... I'm not looking at Devin Singletary and Zack Moss and thinking those guys came up short for us."

Offensive line

Based on Beane's actions with this group, it's clear he believes injuries were behind the Bills' rushing woes.

Buffalo used three draft picks on offensive linemen after re-signing starters Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams in March. Coupled with the return of left guard Cody Ford from a torn meniscus, the Bills are poised to return their top five offensive linemen from a 2020 season in which those five never played a snap as a unit.

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That means third-round pick Spencer Brown and fifth-round pick Tommy Doyle, in particular, and seventh-round pick Jack Anderson to an extent, likely represent an investment in the future rather than players expected to contribute immediately.

"We feel like [Brown and Doyle] have the ability to be both left and right tackles," Beane said. "We wanted to make sure, should something happen to Dion [Dawkins] or Daryl, that we have a guy to step in and protect No. 17 [QB Josh Allen] and block for those running backs."

Don't expect either rookie to start, barring injury. Dawkins is arguably the most locked-in Bills starter not named Josh Allen or Tre'Davious White, and Williams just signed a three-year, $24 million deal. However, the team now has inexpensive options should it need to move on from the contracts of Williams, Felicano and center Mitch Morse next offseason, if for example, the league's salary cap fails to rise enough to keep all of the veterans.

Cornerbacks

Beane told local radio station WGR 550 he felt the "evil eyes" during his post-draft news conferences when reporters asked why the team hadn't drafted a cornerback during the first three rounds. But he previously said he was content with incumbent starter Levi Wallace and 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson, and based on his actions, the Bills' situation at cornerback wasn't dire enough for him to reach for one.

Buffalo drafted Wisconsin's Rachad Wildgoose in the sixth round, adding him to the mix with White, Wallace, Jackson, Cam Lewis and Taron Johnson. Although the Bills have ample faith in the players previously on their roster, Wildgoose's ability to play outside corner and nickel made him an appealing value with the No. 213 overall pick.

"Levi's shown it since he got here as an undrafted free agent, and then obviously we took Dane last year and every chance Dane got in the game, it wasn't too big for him," Beane said. "He made plays and he's dependable. ... So, we're very confident in those two guys and some of the other guys on the back end. Cam Lewis is a young guy who got hurt. I think he started a game. But we still believe in Cam in the mix, and we got a guy late in Wildgoose that, he's versatile.

"We love versatility as much as we can get it. So ... just because we didn't get a corner high doesn't mean there's not other options later, too."

With White established as a perennial Pro Bowler and locked into a five-year extension he signed last summer, Buffalo still needs a long-term starter opposite him. It also needs one at nickel corner, as Johnson's contract is up after the 2021 season and the Bills might not have the salary-cap space to sign him to anything long-term. Although he will always be remembered in Western New York for his 101-yard interception return against the Baltimore Ravens in last season's playoff win, Johnson had an up-and-down season and was replaced at one point by Lewis in the starting lineup, only to regain his spot when Lewis was injured.

If Wildgoose can develop as the Bills' answer at either position, Beane will look brilliant for waiting until Day 3 of the draft to take a cornerback.