Bills gave rookies chances in 2018, providing hope for 2019

Taron Johnson, a fourth-round cornerback from Weber State, had 42 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble before a season-ending injury in December. Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

In a season that quickly went sideways because of chaos at quarterback, the Buffalo Bills made a transition away from some veterans and began integrating younger players into the lineup. Contributions from their rookie class, which played the fourth-most total snaps of any team's rookies, have contributed to a sense of optimism around the team for 2019:

Grade: Above average

Best rookie: CB Taron Johnson. A year after finding a starting linebacker in 2017 fifth-round pick Matt Milano, the Bills found a starting-caliber defensive back in Johnson, a fourth-round pick from Weber State. Johnson, the Bills' slot cornerback, injured his shoulder in the season opener but played through the injury until Week 14, when he had season-ending surgery. He played Buffalo's ninth-most defensive snaps through Week 13 and was Pro Football Focus' 45th-graded cornerback this season.

Most improved rookie: QB Josh Allen. The No. 7 overall pick had a 31.6 Total QBR (31st in the NFL) when he was injured in Week 6 and had a 64.6 mark (15th-best) in his final six games after returning from the elbow injury. Safety Micah Hyde said Allen made "huge strides" from the wild inaccuracy he showed at times over the summer and showed an infectious level of confidence. He finished his rookie season by throwing for three touchdowns and running for two more in a blowout win over the Dolphins, completing the second-best Total QBR (92.5) in a game by a Bills quarterback since ESPN introduced the statistic in 2006. Allen's 52.0 Total QBR for the season was second-best among rookie quarterbacks to Baker Mayfield's 53.9.

Jury is still out on ...: Allen and LB Tremaine Edmunds. Singling out either of the Bills' first-round picks -- Allen at No. 7 and Edmunds at No. 16 -- as needing to improve is fair. Both must still justify over their careers the considerable investment Buffalo made to trade up for them. Allen aptly described his rookie season as being neither great nor terrible, while general manager Brandon Beane detailed some of Edmunds' ups and downs. "Similar to Josh, he’s come a long way," Beane said of Edmunds, who played 91 percent of defensive snaps at middle linebacker. "I think everybody forgets ... that he’s 20 [years old]. He's still growing into his body, believe it or not. But mentally, this was a big step. A lot asked of him that was not asked at Virginia Tech. For all that was thrown at him, I thought he really progressed. I thought [in the season finale] we saw a guy that just pulled the trigger faster than he had pulled it all year."

Undrafted rookie evaluation: The Bills received among the league's best contributions from their undrafted rookie class in part because of the opportunities they gave those players. Wide receiver Robert Foster played the second-most offensive snaps (429) of any undrafted rookie this season, rising from the practice squad to earn a starting role after the release of Kelvin Benjamin. Foster led qualifying NFL receivers with 20.44 yards per catch from Weeks 10 to 17. Foster's former Alabama teammate, Levi Wallace, became the Bills' starting cornerback in Week 10 and finished the season as Pro Football Focus' fourth-ranked cornerback in the NFL. His 399 defensive snaps were the third-most among undrafted rookies.