Bills follow draft board, get a glut of edge rushers: What's the plan?

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- To no one's surprise, the Buffalo Bills selected a defensive end -- Miami's Gregory Rousseau -- with the No. 30 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft.

With veterans Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison entering the final year of their respective contracts in 2021 and few other building blocks at the position, it made sense for general manager Brandon Beane to invest another premium pick into an edge rusher.

But few, including ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., expected Beane to double down and draft another defensive end -- Wake Forest's Carlos Basham Jr. -- with the team's second-round pick. Less than 24 hours after calling Rousseau and 2020 second-round pick AJ Epenesa the Bills' hopeful starters of the future, Beane added another name to the defensive line room.

When Beane told reporters before the draft he was interested in drafting the best player available, it was no smokescreen; even with a perceived need at cornerback, Beane has never been in the habit of passing up talent in favor of filling a need.

"Obviously we took Rousseau last night, you're not anticipating taking another pass-rusher. But Carlos was the best player on our board, and so we just, we followed that," he said. "Again, you can never have enough pass-rushers.

"So, yeah, you'd love to sit here and say, 'I'm gonna fill this need, fill this need, fill this need,' each spot along the way. But you don't pass up good players to drop down [your board] to handle a need."

Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa (No. 54 overall in 2020) represent three premium draft picks spent on defensive ends over the past two years, although the Bills' pass rush has been respectable.

Since 2019, Buffalo owns the fourth best pass rush win rate in the NFL according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and ranks eighth in both sacks and quarterback hits. Hughes, in particular, owned the best individual win rate in the league last season. Buffalo's issue, however, was it struggled to provide adequate pressure against quarterbacks who excelled at extending plays outside the pocket. Players such as Arizona's Kyler Murray, Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill and, most notably, Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, beat the Bills by evading their rush and finding holes in their secondary.

One of the tipping points in Beane's decision to add at least one pass-rusher in the draft was watching how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thwarted Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.

"Tampa did a heck of a job against Kansas City in that game and really did a nice job of making Mahomes move off his spot," Beane said. "That was probably as big a difference as anything in the outcome of the game and we wanted to definitely get better there this offseason. We've added to the competition."

Along with Addison, Hughes, Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa, Buffalo has Darryl Johnson, Efe Obada, Mike Love and Bryan Cox Jr. in its defensive ends room -- nine players at a position where the Bills have only kept four or five players under Beane.

So, who are the odd men out?

Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa are locks for the final 53-man roster, and Hughes is about as close to one as you can get. Addison restructured his contract this offseason, resulting in a lower cap hit in 2021, but his contract now expires at the end of this season instead of next. The Bills also like Johnson, selected in the seventh round in 2019, as a rotational pass-rusher and special teams contributor.

It's possible Buffalo does something it has never done before and keeps six defensive ends. Obada signed with the team this offseason and could be traded if he doesn't beat out Johnson in training camp; neither are likely to clear waivers and return to Buffalo's practice squad if cut at the end of camp.

But it sounds like Beane has a plan to keep at least Rousseau, Basham, Epenesa, Hughes and Addison based on his comments following the draft.

"Mario is great, he's already texted [coach] Sean [McDermott] and I," Beane said. "He's a big-time leader, one of the first things he said is 'I can't wait to meet these young guys, I'm gonna show him the ropes' -- and that's why you have to have guys on your roster that can teach the young guys. This is a big transition and so, one of the things I thought, Mario played a higher snap count last year than he did in Carolina, even the years he got higher sack production.

"He had to play more of the first and second downs, versus just going on third or obvious pass down[s]. So, the goal would be to cut his reps back a little bit and let him be fresher on the money downs, so to speak."

Beane also said the rookies Rousseau and Basham are in Buffalo's future plans, and he expects them to compete for a starting job this season -- or at least a regular spot in the rotation.

Either way, the Bills have more options than ever on their defensive line and have high expectations for their next generation of pass-rushers.

"I think I fit in. You know, young guys coming in, just want to learn and just want to play football," Basham said. "There's definitely going to be a lot of competition. I was friends with AJ last year when he was going through the process, just keeping in touch with him. And then me and Greg, we're cool now, too.

"Get all three of us in that system, that's pretty good."