What does Gregory Rousseau bring to the Bills?
By: Louis Damiano
The Buffalo Bills knew that they were going to have to be patient during night one of the NFL Draft, and they were as they stayed at 30 and selected Gregory Rousseau, who they believe was the best player available. The first thing that stands out with Rousseau is his size and length. Rousseau’s measurables are everything you look for when you select a raw player at 30. He comes in at 6-foot-6 1/2, 266-pounds with 11-inch hands, arm length of 34.375 inches, and a ridiculous 83 1/4-inch wingspan.
Rousseau will not be a finished product day 1, and it may take a year or two to reach his full potential, but it was his sack production that Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said you just can’t ignore. “You don’t just luck into 15.5 sacks,” Beane said. It’s hard to find the perfect pass-rushing prospect if you are not picking in the top 5, and it’s even more difficult if you are picking at 30. This is a calculated risk for Beane and his staff, and it is one that he is willing to take if it means they find the feared pass rusher that everyone knows this team has lacked on the defensive line.
How Rosseau Fits
Leading up to the draft I mentioned that the Bills needed to add to their edge-rushing room and taking Rousseau fulfilled that need. The Bills also used their second-round pick on Carlos Basham who looks to be more NFL-ready than Rousseau. But now with the Bills using their top two picks on pass rushers, what was once a position that lacked youth, looks now to be set for the foreseeable future. So, with an overcrowded room, how will the man nickname “Groot” fit?
Rousseau will enter day 1 as a situational pass rusher with the hope that he and A.J. Epenesa can be the future starting defensive end pairing after 2021 with Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison getting up there in age and on expiring contracts. Rousseau was never going to get 100% of the snap share in year 1 even if he were NFL ready, and probably won’t in his career as a Buffalo Bill because Sean McDermott and Leslie Fraizer use a defensive line rotation. Rousseau, who welcomed himself onto the scene in 2019, with 15.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in just 13 games played, will have the opportunity to pick the brains of the veterans on the team and not be pressured to make an immediate impact right away.
Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season because his mother is a nurse and was working on the frontlines, so he wanted to be able to help his family. In his time off he was able to add 20 pounds to his lean body and remained in close contact with his teammates and coaches. Rousseau is a swing for the fences pick, his traits jump off the screen, but he is still underdeveloped as a pass rusher which comes as no surprise since he mainly played safety and wide receiver in high school.
Patience. The Bills know that they need to be patient with Rousseau to let him reach his full potential. He will be in a position where he won’t be asked to play more than 40% of the snaps. The hope is that he can continue to learn from the vets in the room and that he will make his true impact as a pass rusher in years two, three, and four.
The Bills entered the draft with no real glaring needs, but they knew that if they weren’t smart, they would have some big needs to fill with not a lot of money to spend next year with Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds ready for huge contracts. The Bills were smart, and sometimes it is hard to be discipline at the draft when you go for big boys at the line of scrimmage on defense and offense instead of the sexier positions like running back or wide receiver.
Now with the arrival of Rousseau and Boogie Basham, Buffalo now has five significant resources at the defensive end position. Hughes and Addison will enter camp as starters, with the youth of Rousseau, Basham, and Epenesa right behind them, and then you have guys like Darryl Johnson who they like and Efe Obada who they signed this offseason as a free agent and had success at the end of his season in Carolina.
The Bills will be able to keep five of those guys on the roster, a sixth would be a big number to keep, but they can probably find a way to do that. But that still means that one or two of the names I mentioned above will not make the roster. Maybe the Bills will trade one of them to get more assets in the draft or they can trade one for a player at a position they did not address in the draft like tight end Zach Ertz. Beane admitted at his press conference that this team would think more long term than short term and Rousseau along with the rest of the 2021 draft class for the Bills shows that Beane was telling the truth.