Everyone's predicting the Buffalo Bills will take [insert name of Syracuse player] in the draft. These are the five names you should be studying in that light.
From the moment that the Buffalo Bills introduced head coach Doug Marrone on January 7, the Syracuse-to-Buffalo pipeline has been flowing freely.
Seven of Marrone's assistants at Syracuse - headlined by offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett - are now assistants with the Bills. Beyond Hackett, that list includes running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, tight ends coach Greg Adkins, defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson, defensive quality control coach Jason Rebrovich, special teams assistant John Anselmo and strength and conditioning assistant Hal Luther.
Naturally, the next question to ponder is which Syracuse prospects the Bills might pursue in the 2013 NFL Draft. You know the big name - mostly because he's a quarterback - but there are five prospects of various reputations worth keeping an eye on.
Ryan Nassib, quarterback: The hype machine is working overtime right now for Nassib, the 6'2", 231-pound three-year starter under Marrone. Nassib has a lot of what teams look for in a quarterback - size, a good arm, toughness, some good intangibles and solid production within an NFL-caliber offense - but there are holes to his game, chiefly his touch and accuracy. ESPN's Mel Kiper says Nassib is worthy of discussion as a second-round pick at the moment; you'll probably see Nassib gone with the No. 8 overall pick in countless mock drafts between three weeks ago and late April.
Alec Lemon, wide receiver: A mid-round prospect (6'2", 205) that lacks top-end speed but does everything else pretty well, Lemon recorded 140 receptions, 1,904 yards and 13 touchdowns in his last 24 games at Syracuse. Buffalo needs a starting-caliber receiver more than it needs a depth-type player - which Lemon will be as a rookie - but Lemon has the look of a receiver that could stick around in the league for a while.
Marcus Sales, wide receiver: Right now, it's looking like Sales (6'0", 195) might make it as a late-round draft pick thanks to a solid senior season (64 receptions, 882 yards, eight touchdowns). He's got less size than Lemon and may not even be as fast, though, so he's looking like a permanent depth option at the NFL level. If he goes undrafted, keep an eye on Sales as a potential undrafted free agent signing in Buffalo.
Justin Pugh, offensive line: The gem along a solid offensive line coached up by Marrone and Adkins, Pugh was Syracuse's left tackle. The 6'5", 301-pound prospect may wind up playing inside at guard, however, given his lack of top-end size as a tackle prospect. Pugh does not fit the profile of "find the biggest human alive and let him block" that GM Buddy Nix seems to prefer, but Marrone knows offensive linemen, and he's familiar with Pugh. Buffalo's interest in Pugh may increase if left guard Andy Levitre can't be re-signed.
Shamarko Thomas, safety: The Bills were looking for a reliable fourth safety as far back as last summer, and never could find that guy. The 5'10", 210-pound Thomas - a strong safety by trade - is therefore a name to keep an eye on, particularly with Jairus Byrd an impending free agent. Thomas is another mid-to-late round prospect with unspectacular production (84 tackles and two picks as a senior), but he'd fit right in as a fourth safety type with some upside to grow into a starter down the line.
For those of you who've seen these players extensively (or for those of you bold enough to pick favorites without having watched any of them), which Syracuse prospect is your early favorite?