With the Senior Bowl over and some time before the Combine, I wanted to get in another mock draft to share my current draft barometer. The theme for this draft is "guys whose Combine performance will make or break them." Where they're being drafted here represents the middle of their potential range. If everything goes perfectly for them, they might not even be on the board when Buffalo drafts. If things go poorly, the pick might be looked at as a reach, in spite of what the film might indicate. With that being said, let's move right into it!
Round 1: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
I've already made my opinion on Mike Evans apparent, and suffice to say, I believe he's a future WR1 who fits the "open when he's not open" receiver prototype that the Bills have been talking about for years.
At the very least, Evans is a player with a large catch radius and a stellar ability to high point the ball, with excellent blocking ability to boot. The question is if he can gain separation in the NFL without resorting to offensive pass interference - in other words, if he is fast and explosive enough to be more than a possession receiver.
Evans has been training with James Lofton prior to the draft with a focus on explosion. He's looking to run a 40 in the 4.4 range. If Evans performs well in the 40 yard dash (for raw speed) as well as the broad jump and 10 yard split (short area quickness and burst), his stock will likely jump to the top 10 picks. If he instead runs a 4.57 or has a short broad jump (9'9" or so), he may get pigeonholed as a #2 possession receiver and fall to the mid twenties.
Assuming Mike Evans doesn't totally screw up at the Combine, it's clear that he fits a need on Buffalo's offense - for a big target with good hands and great blocking.
Round 2: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
A year ago, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was the consensus top tight end in the 2014 draft, getting projected as a possible top 15 pick. Unfortunately, a rather bland final season seen against the backdrop of some crazy receiving seasons by Jace Amaro and Eric Ebron has pushed ASJ to the third horse in the race.
Jenkins is a 6'7" 270 pound classic tight end; an excellent blocker with experience running a route tree and catching passes around the field. This season, Jenkins had a lower than expected receiving statline essentially across the board, and that had some people concerned that he was mainly a blocking tight end in the NFL.
That being said, there are some questions about how legitimate the knocks on Jenkins are. For one, the passing offense regressed this year as Keith Price emphatically proved to everyone that he had no business being considered an NFL quarterback prospect. In addition, ASJ's role was greatly diminished in the passing game, as the offensive scheme called for him to be run and pass blocking much more often than he was running routes.
With those notes in mind, it's possible that Jenkins is flying under the radar as a pass catching prospect right now. We know he's a great blocker. We know he has good hands. The question is on his ability to get separation. Much like Mike Evans, people are going to want to see the 40 time, 10 yard split, and broad jump to see if Jenkins is faster than he seemed to be in the offensive tape from this year. The expectations are lower, so if Jenkins runs a 40 in the low 4.6 range, it will be a good sign. Likewise, as long as the broad jump is close to or within the 10' to 11' range, it should satisfy the scouts.
The need for a good upper-echelon tight end is another long-term issue the Buffalo offense has had. If ASJ pans out as a Gonzalez/Gronkowski-lite, they will have finally satisfied that need. As an added bonus, the Bills could combine Jenkins and Evans for some devastating run blocking at the edge.
Round 3: Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
Zumwalt has gone a bit under the radar because he plays for a UCLA defense in between stars like Anthony Barr and Myles Jack. While those guys get the press, Zumwalt has been a strong contributor who helps intimidate opponents and comes up with big tackles.
At 6'4" and 235 pounds, Zumwalt is built similarly to Kiko Alonso, and he could bulk up by a few pounds without affecting his build too much. The first thing that's apparent about Zumwalt's game is that he is the enforcer on the defense. He can hit hard, and knocked Virginia Tech's quarterback Logan Thomas out of the game on a particularly hard (but not cheap) shot this season. This is the part where I remind you that Thomas is 6'6" and 250 pounds and built like a bulldozer. Zumwalt is explosive out of his stance, but lacks a bit of top end speed which will likely limit him in coverage. He has a strong upper body, and is skilled at stacking up linemen and shedding blocks. Zumwalt is also a versatile player, seeing playing time at ILB, OLB, and DE, as well as on special teams return units as a lead blocker. Zumwalt's downsides are that he can be overly aggressive, resulting in him taking a bad angle to a play, and that he's slow to diagnose pass plays as they develop. He's the kind of player who prefers to pin his ears back and hit somebody.
Zumwalt has something to gain from the Combine because he needs to get out from the shadow of Jack and Barr. Putting up numbers in the top 10 of linebackers in drills like the 40, the vertical leap, and the bench press would help his cause. If he fails to distinguish himself athletically, he might slip to the 5th round and the "organizational filler" category.
Round 4: Trai Turner, OG, LSU
Turner is a player who is running under the radar right now. Props to boomsauce who was the first person I can think of who highlighted this player. In a class containing some highly touted guards (David Yankey, Xavier Sua-Filo, Gabe Jackson, Cyril Richardson, Zach Martin), Turner hasn't gotten much press. It doesn't help his cause that, as a redshirt sophomore, he hasn't had as much exposure to the scouts as other, longer-tenured players. The guard depth in this class could end up pushing Turner to a place in the middle rounds, from where he could emerge as a long-term starter in this league.
Turner was a well-thought-of offensive tackle recruit coming into LSU, but a bit overweight at 6'3" and 330 pounds. The conditioning program at LSU cut him down to a well-built 315 pounds, where he's at right now. He moved inside to guard, and has been playing well there recently. He gained accolades in LSU's bowl game this year when he managed 10 pancake blocks against the Iowa defense.
The first thing that I notice with Turner's tape is how mobile he is. Turner has very quick feet and is often used as a pulling guard. He gets to the second level with ease, and moves comfortably around the pocket. The second thing I notice is how strong he is. When run blocking, he squares up his man and often drives him downfield a few yards. He's the type of player who shouldn't get pushed back on the field.
The downside is that he lets his pad level get too high in pass blocking situations. This causes him to be pushed back into the pocket, in spite of his strength. If Turner can improve his technique, he has the athleticism and physicality to be an excellent guard.
Right now, Turner is in the 4th to 5th round range. When he goes to the Combine, the thing everyone will be watching for is his performance in the individual one-on-one drills. Much like how Aaron Donald and Cyril Richardson had their stock impacted by the one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl, a good set of drills showcasing Turner's athleticism could push him up to the third round, or even the second round. If he's still raw, he'll likely remain a mid round pick. Either way, if Buffalo picks him up, Marrone and his crew can get to work on refining the technique, and they should end up with their new starting guard.
Round 5: Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
In a bit of an odd circumstance, I've slotted 3 redshirt sophomores in this draft between Evans, Turner, and Bibbs. Looks like the CBA is definitely having an influence on players' decisions to enter the draft!
For those who might not know, Bibbs exploded onto the scene with a ridiculous rushing season in his first year at Colorado State after transferring from junior college. He finished with 1741 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns - the third player to ever get 30 or more rushing touchdowns in a season, after Montee Ball and Barry Sanders. And he did it playing for a team that isn't considered to be all that great.
Bibbs immediately declared for the draft, and, like Turner, he's probably suffering because scouts haven't done any work on examining him yet (scouts aren't allowed to officially "scout" underclassmen until after the Super Bowl). Right now he's slotted way behind various highly touted senior running backs who have put up good numbers for 2 or 3 years. The question is if Bibbs is talented enough to be better than those players.
This pick is a bit of a gamble on my end, because like those scouts, the amount of tape I have available to me on Kapri Bibbs is pretty small. Therefore, the slotting of Bibbs as a 5th rounder is contingent upon him impressing scouts at the Combine. It's their first chance to really see him as a player, so they'll want to see the complete package - top 10 athleticism, smooth running in positional drills, and a good interview. Somehow, I don't think Bibbs is going any higher than the 3rd round (with the running back position being devalued as much as it is), but assuming he puts up good numbers in the workouts to go with his awesome stats, I would be happy to draft him as the heir apparent backup to CJ Spiller with very little tread on his tires.
Round 6: Boseko Lokombo, OLB, Oregon
And you thought Kiko Alonso had an awesome name. Bo Lokombo comes from the Congo, which his family left in 1996 during a civil war. They moved to Canada, where he grew up, until he went south to Oregon for university.
Lokombo is one of those players who should distinguish himself at the combine as a certifiable athletic marvel. Like Zaviar Gooden did last year, expect Lokombo to be a leading candidate to pace the rankings in most drills. He's 6'3" and 235 pounds, and reportedly can run a 4.5 40. On the field, his speed and burst are apparent - he moves like a safety, very fast and fluid. He played mostly a 3-4 strong side OLB, although he flexed to and from the weak side or an inside position - I also saw him a few times playing off a receiver or tight end (couldn't really tell which) in the slot.
The question with Lokombo will be if he can ever manage to translate his athleticism into a tangible impact on the playing field. He has been a star on the practice field, but never really emerged as a 10 sack or 100 tackle player in college. His senior season was his best season, with 63 tackles (7th on the team), 7 QB hurries (1st), 7 TFLs (1st) and 3 sacks (3rd).
Currently, Lokombo is projected as a 6th to 7th round player. If he blows away the Combine though, he might carry some hype up to the 4th round. I don't see him going any higher than that, though. Zaviar Gooden and Martez Wilson were both recent examples of players who paced the Combine drills after coming into the Combine with a lot more hype, and they were third round picks (plus, neither has done anything of note on the NFL field). If his workouts are average, he could go undrafted, and he has an open invitation waiting for him with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League.
Lokombo makes a lot of sense for this Bills squad. His athleticism can be put to use on the special teams units immediately. The depth at linebacker is thin all around, especially if Jerry Hughes is flexed to defensive end. Lokombo can back up his college teammate (Alonso) as a weak side OLB, and is versatile enough to back up MLB or SLB as well. He could probably be a third safety as well in a pinch. And if he gets coached up, Buffalo will have an athletic LB to take advantage of in different personnel packages.
Round 7: Colt Lyerla, TE, No School
I almost don't want to put this player here, because I mostly believe he isn't draftable. Still, if there's one player whose career might be defined by how his Combine goes, it's this guy.
For the uninformed, Lyerla is a tight end prospect, formerly of Oregon, who quit the team at the beginning of the season this year for no real known reason. He was later arrested for possession of cocaine (which is a felony in his state). He is currently dealing with the trial for that, and he rejected a settlement that included sending him to a drug rehab clinic. This has a lot of people justifiably concerned. I've heard a couple people suggest that Lyerla's behavior is indicative of bipolar disorder, which if untreated can lead to some inexcusable actions. However, treatment is also available if that were the case. Regardless, Lyerla is currently dealing with a major legal issue, and there are concerns that he may go wild if not kept strictly under supervision.
Now with that in mind, the reason anyone would care about Lyerla is that he is the most talented tight end in the draft, easily. If I were to describe him in a sentence, it would be "Rob Gronkowski without the injury concerns." At 6'5" and 260 pounds, he has typical tight end size, which goes along with a roughly 4.55-4.65 40 time. He's a monster blocker whom I've seen routinely push guys 5 yards downfield on tape. Though he has only 30 career catches (because he was used sparingly in the Oregon offense outside of blocking), he uses his body well with a good catch radius, and is excellent after the catch, fast and agile with strong legs that let him run until 4 guys drag him down. An offense with Evans, ASJ, Lyerla, Woods, Goodwin, Johnson, Spiller, and Jackson has just so many skilled options that it's nigh-undefendable. The catch, of course, is understanding how likely Lyerla is to Ryan Leaf himself out of football.
So the Combine has no bigger influence for anyone than Colt Lyerla. He's going to need to show up on time, prove his athleticism (considering he has spent half the year not playing football, teams want him to be conditioned), sit down in meetings, explain his behavior, and prove that he really wants to be a football player, not a deadbeat sitting in a jail cell. If it goes well, Lyerla will still be no higher than a 6th round pick, because teams should still be hesitant to invest too much in a player with so much baggage. If it doesn't, Lyerla will go undrafted, and he'll have a lot of time to think about what he should have done differently, because no teams will be giving him a call.
Coming out of this draft, if the players meet expectations, things are a lot more potent on the offensive side of the ball. They get four new starters, with Evans as WR1, Lyerla and ASJ as bookend tight ends, and Turner as the new starting LG. They also have a talented backup RB in Bibbs. On the defensive side, Jordan Zumwalt is the new starting MLB, and the team gets an athletic LB who can join his college teammate as a backup WLB with Boseko Lokombo. This is a team with very few holes, which is ready to explode into a ten win season with one or two key free agent signings.