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Carucci Take 2: If nothing else, the Bills get high marks for selecting O’Cyrus Torrence

WGRZ Bills/NFL Insider Vic Carucci says the Florida lineman appears to have everything necessary to be a fixture for the Bills for many years to come.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five thoughts on the Buffalo Bills’ 2023 draft:

1. If the Bills did nothing else during the two nights and a day of selection, they deserve high marks for what could qualify as a huge steal by picking Florida offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence in the second round.

Everything about Torrence screams first-round value. He has a massive physique, larger than typical interior offensive linemen, yet also has fluid movement and athleticism that belies his size.

That should, as it did in college, help him to excel in pass protection, something the Bills sorely need to improve. Additionally, Torrence is a powerful and physical player who can block well for the run, another area the Bills need to show improvement.

Though he only spent one season at Florida after three years at Louisiana, Torrence made an easy transition to the SEC, the closest to competing on the NFL level.

He appears to have everything necessary to be a fixture on the Bills’ offensive line for many years to come. Love this pick!

How much did General Manager Brandon Beane believe the Bills needed an upgrade at guard? After signing free agents Connor McGovern and David Edwards, and drafting Torrence, they quadrupled down by making Nick Broeker of Mississippi their seventh-round choice. As Beane put it, the Bills added “some beef up front.”

2. I’m still conflicted over what the Bills did in the first round. I understand the idea that they set out to add offensive weapons in this draft and firmly believe Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid can make a big impact as a slot receiver and intend to use him in that and other roles beyond the traditional places tight ends play.

However, I can’t get past the notion that this feels like something they are going to force rather than it being a natural, organic fit to the offense. The validation of picking a tight end in the first round when you already have Dawson Knox, to whom you gave a large contract extension last September, and trading up two spots to get Kincaid sounds a bit too manufactured for my taste.

That seems particularly true with the comparisons with Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, the game’s best at the position and a terror in the middle of the field. Keep in mind, though, that Kelce went from consistently impactful to the most dynamic pass-catcher for the Chiefs after Tyreek Hill was shipped to Miami last year. The Bills still have a guy named Stefon Diggs.

In addition, the Bills primarily have used one back and one tight end (Knox, who is under contract through 2026) with three receivers. If they’re going to get any value from Kincaid, he’ll have to regularly be one of those three receivers, and they seek coverage mismatches mostly in the middle of the field.

But where does that leave Diggs, their primary playmaker who does the most to take advantage of Josh Allen’s ultra-talented arm on longer throws? Where does that leave Knox, who is another of Allen’s favorite targets? Where does that leave Gabe Davis, who is likely to remain the Bills’ No. 2 receiver? No matter how they use Kincaid, he will still be listed as a tight end and presumably be the No. 2 man at the position behind Knox.

My sense is Kincaid’s best work — especially as a rookie — could come in the red zone, where he had plenty of success in college. However, that still leads to questions about Diggs and the others if they become less targeted for touchdowns.

3. I can’t say this enough: The Bills need this year’s draft to provide immediate impact, as in at least two starters with the first two picks and steady contributors from the remaining rounds. It’s vital, given the team’s inability to make any sort of splash in free agency this year or next year (and possibly 2025) because of salary cap issues. The Bills need these and other core players under cap friendlier rookie contracts to deliver.

Regardless of whatever misgivings anyone has with the decision to make a tight end the first-round pick, he must be highly impactful right away. He must be the missing ingredient — a consistently reliable over-the-middle target — the Bills identified to make the strongest part of their team significantly better. That has to come in the form of moving the chains and catching touchdowns.

Torrence must step in right away as a starter, along with McGovern at the other guard spot, and show the remarkable talent he displayed at Florida. The only attention he can draw is contributing to rock-solid pass protection and busting open huge holes in the running game rather than picking up penalties that often kill drives.

Despite not being a middle linebacker they needed to replace Tremaine Edmunds, who they lost to Chicago in free agency, the Bills did select a linebacker in the third round, Dorian Williams of Tulane. If Williams isn’t going to start as a rookie, the Bills have got to at least get strong special-teams production from a player who is an outstanding athlete and highly physical.

No one has to tell any of this to Beane. He understands what is on the line. The Bills are still a contender, but the window might not be as wide open as it once seemed, especially with other AFC teams getting better and the Bills’ recent drafts not providing great results.

But Beane doesn’t want the in-coming rookies to be concerned with that.

“The message has been just come in, get to work, keep your head down, learn from the right veterans, and everything here is earned,” he told reporters. “No promises for starting roles or anything like that. But we think we got guys that will come in and, whether they start or whether they back up or, I’ve mentioned special teams, finding a way and explain to them how they can earn a jersey.”

4. How badly did the Bills miss the boat by focusing more on offense than defense?

Pretty badly from where I sit.

I respect Beane’s work in putting together one of the better teams in the NFL. I respect that he and his personnel created a draft board with their own grading of players and stuck to it. And sticking to that board resulted in going with offense over defense with their first two selections.

Still, I think, if the Bills were going to be aggressive in the first round, from a trade standpoint, it should have been for one of the higher-end defensive players. If Beane didn’t see the benefit of such a move, so be it.

I maintain the Bills’ priority entering this draft should not have been adding playmakers to an offense that makes plays, enough of them to average 28 points in eight of their final 10 games. It should have been defense, and I think throwing more assets at an area that has let them down too often in the postseason — to the point where Sean McDermott will take over signal-calling from former defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier — was the necessary swing-for-the-fences approach.

5. I know there’s continued buzz over the possibility of the Bills acquiring unhappy wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Arizona Cardinals. I’m not holding my breath on that.

My understanding is that Hopkins’ financial demands are unrealistic for a player whose current team would have no problem showing him the door. The Bills do not have the cap space to accommodate a massive salary for which the Cardinals are unlikely to help reduce for Buffalo’s sake by picking up a substantial portion.

Perhaps, as the start of the season gets closer, the Cardinals will simply cut Hopkins and that could open the door to him being in play for the Bills. But I don’t get the sense that Hopkins, who represents himself, would settle for a deal that would be a comfortable cap fit in Buffalo.

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