It's understandable if you're a little behind on the draft research. The 2012 season ended just over two weeks ago, and we're already just days away from the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
My, how quickly the offseason moves along.
How about a quick way for a Buffalo Bills fan to get up to speed on the most important prospects to watch?
Glad you asked.
Positions of Need
We've heard all the talk about finding the franchise quarterback of the future (which has pretty much signaled that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not), and the numbers certainly state the case for moving in another direction.
The problem is, this year's crop of quarterbacks is highly questionable. There are a few teams in front of the Bills who could take a quarterback—the Chiefs, Raiders and Cardinals all come to mind—so if they all pass on Geno Smith, it could create an interesting situation where the Bills would have to choose between the consensus top quarterback in the draft and the player they coached for four years at Syracuse in Ryan Nassib.
After pulling $117 million out of the piggy bank to sign Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, some Bills fans may be upset if the team were to draft a defensive end. The Bills could use a three-down defensive end, however, as Anderson continues to struggle against the run.
This year's group of defensive ends is considered incredibly athletic, and while there are a few who rush the passer much better than they stop the run, there are plenty of players who can do both equally well. Look for the team to be linked to Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and LSU outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, with Jordan being the most complete of those prospects.
The Bills have invested heavily in their defensive line, but their linebacking corps has struggled to stop the run and to cover tight ends. They released linebacker Nick Barnett recently, and were in need of depth at the position before that anyway.
There are also significant doubts as to whether linebacker Kelvin Sheppard is the answer in the middle.
Behind Stephon Gilmore, the Bills have an incredibly shaky situation at cornerback. Of Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers, none have distinguished themselves as the starter opposite Gilmore.
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is expected to be a top-10 pick, but there is some work to do in developing his overall technique. The Bills should take a hard look at his cover drills to determine how much work needs to be done.
The Bills will be getting wide receiver David Nelson back after losing him in Week 1 of the 2012 season, but they have already announced they will not renew the contract of wide receiver Donald Jones.
The Bills should be looking for depth at wide receiver unless they're confident they can get the most out of T.J. Graham and that he'll make big strides in his second year. They have a lot of speed with Graham and Nelson, they just need to learn how to use it.
Recent Mock Draft Selections
If you want to familiarize yourself with the top dogs drawing connections to the Bills, a good place to start is with recent mock drafts.
Here are the predictions of five draft experts who think they've found the perfect fits for the Bills:
- Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
- Mel Kiper, ESPN (Insider content): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
- Todd McShay, ESPN: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
- Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State
- Russ Lande, NationalFootballPost.com: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
So, three experts agree that the Bills should spend their top-10 pick on a quarterback. None, however, agree on who that quarterback should be. That's the type of consistency we love around the combine.
All three agree that Geno Smith should be the top quarterback taken, but after that, complete disagreement. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said the inconsistency of this year's crop of quarterbacks has him hesitant to rank any of them in the top 20 besides Smith and USC's Matt Barkley.
If head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are planning to run an offense that looks anything like the one they ran at Syracuse, they can be sure that Nassib's transition will be smooth. That being said, the Bills already have a head start on the competition in their evaluation of Nassib, so if they don't think he's an NFL-ready prospect, they can spend their time scouting others.
The projection of Cordarrelle Patterson is no surprise; the Bills were heavily projected to take a wide receiver with their first-round pick last year, with most expecting them to take Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. Patterson is a great downfield threat, which is a component that has been missing from Buffalo's offense for years.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compared Patterson to Browns receiver Josh Gordon for his ability to threaten a defense vertically. Patterson would be a solid choice, but from this perspective, the lack of a deep passing game has had more to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick's lack of a deep throw than the Bills' lack of speed at receiver.
Ogletree's not the first college player to get in trouble before the draft (see Dennard, Alfonzo) and he won't be the last, either, but that doesn't mean his stock won't tumble a bit as a result. Certainly, it would be a surprise to see him taken in the top 10. That being said, the Bills should still investigate Ogletree at the combine with a private interview (more later).
His athletic ability is something the Bills are lacking at the linebacker spot, and he is versatile enough to play multiple roles in Mike Pettine's hybrid defense. There's a lot of pressure on the linebackers to run and cover in his system, and he never had a cover linebacker like Ogletree when he was with the Jets. Pettine would certainly love to have that capability at his disposal in the AFC East, home of two of the best tight ends in the NFL in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
As mentioned above, Ogletree's interview will be important. He has to prove to NFL teams that he still has a good head on his shoulders after his recent arrest on DUI charges.
If he passes the sniff test, though, the Bills should be intrigued by his athleticism.
And how could we talk about linebackers with an important interview without talking about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o?
In early projections, Te'o was seen as a potential fit for the Bills with the No. 9 overall pick, but after the news of his fake dead girlfriend Lennay Kekua, it's hard to tell exactly where he'll be drafted. Much of what made him such a highly regarded prospect was his status as a leader of men. That status was called into question with the news.
We won't know the stock of many of these players until their names are called. That is especially true of Te'o.
Who Are Fans Watching?
In polling Bills fans on Twitter as to who they'll be watching, a wide range of answers were received.
Jack Gavin says he'll be watching Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Wilson has a bigger arm than Fitzpatrick (not a difficult task to achieve, but Wilson is regarded as having a cannon), but he still possesses that same ability to deliver head-scratching throws into coverage due to his confidence in that arm.
Tyler Wilson is one of the toughest players in college football, and when you look at his arm strength and that ability to get up even after the hardest of hits, it's easy to see Jay Cutler...In Wilson, we see a guy at 6'2" and 220 pounds who's a bit undersized but makes up for it because he's not afraid in the pocket, and he has the arm strength to compensate when things do break down.
CBS Sports compared his game to Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, and said: "Each quarterback has the talent to make the dazzling throw but will occasionally get too greedy and throw the ball up for grabs."
There's not much the Bills can learn about Wilson on the field, most of what they'll want to know about him will come in their interview with him—should they choose to have one.
Bernie Lomax has his finger on the pulse of the team, and knows that GM Buddy Nix has already expressed concern over the tight end position with regard to Scott Chandler's recent knee injury.
If the Bills want a receiving tight end, they could target Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce. At 6'5" and 255 pounds, he's three inches taller than Aaron Hernandez and is a similar prospect in that he's not a great blocker, but does show the effort.
He shows a lot of quickness in his route running—in fact, too much at times. Unfortunately, we won't get to see whether he's progressed in that area because an abdominal injury will prevent him from working out at the combine (according to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports).
Ryan Reynolds mentions Rice tight end Vance McDonald as one specific tight end he's watching this weekend. His measurables are great, with 34 3/8" long arms and 10-inch hands. Teams will love his athleticism—he was a multi-sport athlete in high school. He has great route-running ability and lined up out wide for the Owls, but the question is whether he can block consistently.
B/R Bills correspondent Robert Quinn takes us home with a laundry list of prospects he's watching.
We've touched on Jordan, Patterson and Kelce already here, so I'll focus on two other names from this list that stand out: Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene.
Hopkins doesn't have imposing size and doesn't have blazing speed, but he has great short-area quickness and burst to help him get open. That doesn't sound exactly like the kind of wide receiver the Bills need, so they will want to check out his 40-yard dash time to see how explosive he truly can be (or can't be) off the line.
Greene is a former safety, so his experience in coverage will be of big value to a team that ranked 26th against running backs out of the backfield. He will not get smoked by tight ends like, say, Nick Barnett before him. His abilities in coverage would make him a great fit in the nickel defense.
Teams are going to want to check out his medical information at the combine, after he suffered an ankle injury in 2011. They'll also want him to show some toughness in pass-rushing drills.
Who are you watching at the combine? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand or via team press releases.