As a draft prospect that has for an entire off-season been linked to the Buffalo Bills, Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly did his best to burn part of that bridge today, as he worked out for the first time in front of scouts at Oklahoma's Pro Day.
Or maybe it was Oklahoma itself burning the bridge.
Kelly ran a disappointing 4.68 second 40-yard dash on Wednesday, part of a workout that leaves the player's first-round prospects in serious doubts. Kelly's 32-inch vertical leap left something to be desired as well; though reports have indicated that Kelly looked solid in positional drills, the soon-to-be-rookie was less than thrilled with his performance.
The problem is, Kelly didn't put the blame on himself. That was laid directly on the shoulders of his alma mater. In a move that can be construed to be "me-first", Kelly blamed Oklahoma officials for his poor performing after the venue for the workouts were switched without Kelly's knowledge Wednesday morning.
It is difficult for an NFL Draft prospect to slide too much in today's NFL based on one workout. NFL teams, especially the Bills, base the majority of their scouting on game film. Still, this was a monumentally disastrous day for Kelly, and for a player considered a reach at #11 before he fell flat on his face, this does nothing for his chances of achieving that honor.
Who Becomes the First-Round Favorite?
Let's make two things clear right off the bat: it was highly debatable whether Kelly deserved to be Buffalo's first-round pick before today, and the likelihood of Kelly slipping very far on Buffalo's draft board is minimal. There's still a very good chance that Kelly is drafted by Buffalo; the chances of that happening in the first round, however, are lower than ever.
Many will claim that a trade down in the first round is the best route for Buffalo, and for now, I'll agree with them. But trades are very difficult to pull off on draft day, and it will be made more difficult this year as the NFL transitions from a 15-minute choice period to a 10-minute period this year. So let's assume that the Bills are forced to choose at #11. With Kelly seemingly out of the picture, where do the Bills look? Below are the four players that I believe to have the best shot at being Buffalo's top pick come April, order specified:
1. Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State - MSU's explosive receiver and kick returner (for one season, at any rate) has been on Buffalo's radar for quite some time now. With Kelly's stock slipping on boards league wide, Thomas' stock by default rises. If the Bills want to secure the one player most likely to become their top WR prospect should Kelly fall (they're reportedly not interested in Limas Sweed, and 11 is far too high for James Hardy), they'll need to do it here. It's even risky expecting to be able to trade back up into the first round.
I fully expect Thomas to be the team's top target, whether or not he's selected at 11. There's a chance that the team drafts a non-WR at eleven and immediately look to move back up, much like they did with Paul Posluszny last year after drafting Marshawn Lynch. Thomas is the one receiver that can make an immediate impact outside of Kelly; it's now almost imperative that the Bills find a way to lock Thomas up.
2. Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona: Call this another one of my crazy gut feelings if you like, but Cason has "Donte Whitner" written all over him. The stigma of supposedly poor straight-line speed is dropping Cason's draft stock, but he ran a 4.48 at the Combine - very good speed for a Cover 2 corner. Cason is a smart, tough player and has outstanding intangibles and leadership skills. He's also a playmaker, as he possesses great hands and excellent ball skills. He's the type of player that defenses are built around. This is completely guesswork on my part, but I wouldn't be shocked to hear after April that Cason was one of Buffalo's top two rated corners.
3. Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida: The Buccaneers, pioneers of the Tampa 2 defense, are enamored with Jenkins. He's fast, aggressive, tough, and will be at his best in the NFL as a Cover 2 corner. His speed is slightly better than Cason's (4.4), but his ball skills are not as great and he's more of a liability against the run. Jenkins would definitely be a fit in Buffalo, but again, I'll reiterate: I truly believe that Cason ranks higher on Buffalo's board.
4. Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida: A favorite of the Buffalo Rumblings community for a number of months, Harvey would provide excellent value at #11 were he to still be available. He is a slightly better athlete than Virginia's Chris Long (though he lacks the intangibles of Long) and is slightly more well-rounded than Ohio State's Vernon Gholston at this point (though he's not explosive). He has the ability to claim a starting spot from Chris Kelsay by season's end, but two big questions linger: How serious are the Bills in upgrading their DE position? Does Harvey have enough "football smarts" and instincts to be a truly dominant player at the next level?
So there they are. The four players who are, in my opinion, most likely to be targeted by Buffalo on draft day. Discuss - and add names if you like.