For very good reasons, the bulk of the discussion surrounding new (reportedly; not yet confirmed by the team) Buffalo Bills Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Dave Wannstedt has centered around his potential impact on not only the team's defensive coaching staff, but on the defense as a whole.
We'll continue to have those conversations, of course, but it's also worth noting that Wannstedt - who served as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh for the last six seasons - has coached six prominent 2011 NFL Draft prospects, and could give Bills GM Buddy Nix valuable insight into those players as the scouting process wraps up.
By far the best Pitt prospect available this year is junior wide receiver Jon Baldwin. A unique talent with a rare size-speed combination (6'5", 230 pounds, will likely run in the 4.4s at the Combine), Baldwin nonetheless had a disappointing junior season catching passes from freshman quarterback . After hauling in 57 passes for 1,111 yards and eight scores as a sophomore, Baldwin had his effort and dedication questioned while producing 53 catches, 822 yards and five touchdowns as a junior.
Baldwin's work habits, and the work habits and character of the five other Pitt prospects listed after the jump, will be of particular relevance to Nix should he seek to pick Wannstedt's brain.
Jabaal Sheard, a senior defensive end, ran into a spot of legal trouble prior to the 2010 season when he was arrested following an altercation in which he threw a man through a glass door. Sheard didn't miss any playing time, Wannstedt backed him after the dust settled, and Sheard went on to have a surprisingly effective senior season, finishing with career highs in tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (9). The 6'4", 260-pound Sheard would be an outside linebacker in Buffalo's hybrid scheme, but doesn't possess the elite athleticism to excel in this role. He probably belongs in a 4-3, where he might eventually become a nice rotational player.
Jason Pinkston finished his career with a couple of nice seasons as Pitt's left tackle. He has nice feet and a considerable amount of talent to work with, but some scouts that don't like his overall size and length (6'4", 305 pounds) believe he'd be a better fit inside at guard. Still, he's a solid athlete, and it's no secret that the Bills need line depth.
Greg Romeus entered the 2010 season as one of the top defensive line prospects in the nation, having picked up at least 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in each of his first three years under Wannstedt. That enthusiasm quickly dissipated, however, as Romeus got off to a slow start and missed the vast majority of his senior season with a serious back injury. He's now considered a mid-to-late-round prospect, but the potential is there. At 6'6" and 270 pounds, Romeus is another guy that is likely only going to fit in a 4-3 defense.
Dion Lewis was sensational in 2009 as a redshirt freshman running back, running for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns as he replaced current Eagles starter LeSean McCoy in Pitt's backfield. Many considered him as worthy for early Heisman Trophy discussions. Pitt struggled to a 7-5 finish, however, dulling another strong season from Lewis (1,061 yards, 13 touchdowns). Scouts do not like his size (5'8", 195 pounds) or power - and he doesn't have the game-breaking speed to compensate for that - which will likely relegate him to the middle, or even late, rounds.
Dom DeCicco is a 6'4", 230-pound safety (and he may get a few looks as a Tampa 2 linebacker) that is a very marginal draft prospect, but who was a team leader and very productive defender under Wannstedt. In his last three seasons at Pitt, DeCicco accumulated 238 tackles and 12 interceptions. He has the look of a late-round pick or a priority free agent that teams will target because of his intangibles and special teams upside.