Buffalo Bills post-draft spotlight: Pass rush

They expected to be better even before adding Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham.
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Brandon Beane doesn't necessarily care whether the extra help comes from the perimeter or the interior or even from pass coverage.

All the Buffalo Bills general manager wanted heading into this offseason was for his defense to make life tougher for quarterbacks coming into this fall.

There's good reason to believe they were headed down that road even before taking defensive ends Gregory Rousseau and Carlos "Boogie" Basham Jr. with their first two picks in last weekend's NFL Draft.

They exhaled more than a month earlier, when they learned defensive tackle Star Lotulelei would be coming back after opting out of last season.

His presence in the middle affects everyone else, especially fellow starting defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who went from 43 tackles and 5.0 sacks as a rookie in 2019 to 33 tackles and 3.0 sacks in 2020 despite playing 22 more snaps with the defense.

Similarly, Mario Addison wasn't nearly as effective in his first year with the Bills last year as he was in any of his previous six seasons, all spent with the Carolina Panthers. His total of 5.0 sacks and eight quarterback hits was his lowest since 2013, when he was still feeling his way as a third-year player in the NFL.

The Bills also allowed defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who led them with 9.5 sacks in 2019, to depart in free agency, then got less than they were expecting from second-round draft pick AJ Epenesa (14 tackles, 1.0 sack).

They're not unreasonable to expect more from Epenesa in his second year.

What's more, all the linemen were working with a new position coach, Eric Washington, who landed in Buffalo when the coaching staff in Carolina was blown up following the 2019 season.

So there were a lot of moving parts to a pass rush that at least was better by the end of the season that it was at the beginning.

Now that Rousseau and Basham have entered the mix, there's more reason for optimism that the pass rush will trend back in the right right direction.

Rousseau opted out of 2020. But in 2019 he was second in the nation in Division I-A with 15.5 sacks. He's a freak at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds and a frame that allows for more bulk if the Bills see fit. They're still figuring all that out.

Meanwhile, Basham might be more ready to plug and play because he has so much more experience and didn't skip last season, when he produced 5.0 sacks and 28 tackles in six games.

Training camp should feature fascinating competition among the defensive end group, which also includes Jerry Hughes (4.5 sacks in 2020), Darryl Johnson, Bryan Cox Jr. and newcomer Efe Obada, signed as a free agent following a breakout season in which he had 5.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits for the Panthers.

The Bills know they can't go any further in the playoffs without making quarterbacks more uncomfortable.

Now they have a fighting chance.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro.