It's been a while, hasn't it?
With the busy season of the Combine and the BROP competition management, I decided to let my mock drafts take a back seat for a month or so. With free agency winding down, I think now is a good time to re-evaluate things and ramp up before the NFL draft, which is (only) 1.5 months away. First I'll give my thoughts on Buffalo's new order of needs, do a bit of player ranking, and then throw out the newest mock draft.
Needs post-free agency:
I'm not totally sold on Buffalo's free agent class yet. Corey Graham was a good signing, if a bit overpriced for a nickel corner. The Spikes signing was only one year, which is a bit odd for a player who has shown he has talent (punk attitude aside). Chris Williams and Keith Rivers both feel like gambles that aren't going to pay off, but that's just my opinion. Meanwhile, the Bills let Jairus Byrd leave and aren't even going to get a compensatory pick for him. With that in mind, here is how I would rank Buffalo's needs heading into the draft season:
- Offensive Tackle - With Cordy Glenn at LT, Erik Pears (who is a potential training camp cut) at RT, and Chris Hairston (hasn't played in over a year) as the only backup, there is a serious lack of depth here. Buffalo should add at least one potential starter in the draft, or maybe two if they can.
- Defensive End - Mario Williams can play 90% of snaps on one side, but I am sold on neither Jerry Hughes nor Manny Lawson on the other side. And the depth behind them doesn't exist. Buffalo needs to find another guy.
- "Open when he's covered" WR/TE - after OT and DE, the depth is reasonable in other positions, but there is a lack of exceptional talent. One of those positions is the WR/TE spot, where we are lacking size and explosion. A new guy to play that role could significantly impact the offense.
- Safety - Aaron Williams is one starter, and we have Da'Norris Searcy, Duke Williams, and Jonathan Meeks platooning the other side. If the Bills are in line to draft a potential impact starter, they have to seriously consider it.
- MLB/SLB - While the Bills added two free agents who are in line to start, the reality of the situation is that Keith Rivers is far from a sure thing and Brandon Spikes is only on a one year deal. Buffalo should be trying to add to the depth there.
- Offensive Guard - Not a hugely important position, and the Chris Williams signing adds another not-really-competent player who can start instead of Doug Legursky. But adding an impact player would be nice.
- Depth (in no order): QB,DT,CB,DE,LB,OL - these positions should have enough starters by the time depth is being addressed, but it can't hurt to add talent here or there.
As I've been going through my pre-draft scouting, I feel like I've assembled enough data on some positions that I can give a full ranking of the position's prospects and how optimistic I am about their NFL success. I'll include one set of player rankings so you can see where I stand, and as I post future mock drafts I'll keep adding new rankings, and possibly a link to my entire scouting notebook. First up: Quarterbacks.
- Teddy Bridgewater (1st round)
- Blake Bortles (1st round)
- Johnny Manziel (2nd round)
- Jimmy Garoppolo (2nd round)
- Derek Carr (2nd round)
- AJ McCarron (3rd round)
- Zach Mettenberger (3rd round)
- David Fales (4th round)
- Brett Smith (4th round)
- Aaron Murray (4th round)
- Tom Savage (5th-6th round)
- Keith Wenning (5th-6th round)
- Connor Shaw (5th-6th round)
- Tajh Boyd (5th-6th round)
- Logan Thomas (7th round-UDFA)
- Stephen Morris (7th round-UDFA)
- Jordan Lynch (7th round-UDFA)
- Jeff Mathews (7th round-UDFA)
- Bryn Renner (7th round-UDFA)
- Keith Price (7th round-UDFA)
In the case of Logan Thomas and Jordan Lynch, both are only ranked as high as they are because of their physical talent and potential to have an impact if they switched positions and played something else (TE for Thomas, RB for Lynch). If you have a question about a QB or want to know my scouting notes, let me know.
DanRoc's 1st round Big Board
Last thing before the mock draft - here is my current Big Board as if I was picking for Buffalo today. It's my own player rankings based on how well they fit Buffalo's needs, and I'd go down the list in order if I was in the draft. If I might trade down? It would probably be after the 7th player on the list, which would happen if fewer than 3 quarterbacks were selected at the top of the draft. 9 names, because Buffalo drafts 9th.
- Jadeveon Clowney - Best player in the draft, and he fills a major need at DE. This is a no-brainer.
- Greg Robinson - Ahead of Jake Matthews for me because of raw physical talent and the run blocking dominance he would bring to playing RT for the Bills.
- Sammy Watkins - A game changing wide receiver, which Buffalo definitely needs.
- Teddy Bridgewater - If he's still on the board, and the top 3 guys aren't, I want to pick him. A much more advanced prospect than EJ Manuel with incredible football intelligence and great accuracy.
- Jake Matthews - Could've been the number one overall pick last year. As polished a prospect as you'll ever find, and able to lock down RT or LT for a decade, no problem.
- Khalil Mack - I have vacillated on Mack's fit in the Jim Schwartz defense, but ultimately I believe he would be successful as the SAM linebacker, where he's skilled and athletic enough to cover the pass, stop the run, and rush the passer. He's just too talented to fail.
- Mike Evans - He's not the dynamo of ability that is Sammy Watkins, but no one wins the catch point better than Evans. He's the receiver with a big catch radius that is exactly what EJ needs.
- Aaron Donald - Yeah, he's a BPA type of pick, but I'm fine with that. Donald has earned comparisons to Geno Atkins and Warren Sapp for his incredible athleticism, strength, and technical polish, and is the type of player who can legitimately earn ten sacks per season from the defensive tackle position. If the top needs aren't there, I'll happily draft Donald just to add talent to the roster.
- Taylor Lewan - I would like to know more about his character, but the guy has great size, is plenty athletic, and his play on the field backs up the measurables. He's a player that could play LT or RT at a high level, and you don't want to sleep on that ability.
No theme for this mock draft - just rebooting the prospect rankings now that the offseason has continued and some players have improved their stock.
Round 1: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
You know, a week ago I started writing this thing all set to give the Bills Jake Matthews. But with Oakland managing to lose their franchise LT in free agency, I can't see them passing on him at #5, and I think Greg Robinson goes before Buffalo picks as well. Overall, the shift in needs could cause Mack to drop to 9, where he would simply be too talented to ignore. Mack can start over Keith Rivers and give Buffalo a dominant front seven alongside Kiko and Spikes. He's an all-around linebacker talent that is like a more polished, less athletically freaky Von Miller.
Round 2: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Of course, choosing Mack in the first round hurts Buffalo because they haven't addressed any of their top needs and the depth will start to drop off. In the second round, they address their biggest hole with Moses, a 6'6" 314 pound tackle with massive 35 3/8 inch arms. He has started 43 games in college, 12 at LT and the other 31 at RT. He has a strong core and wins plenty of battles with his handfighting. Is a bit inconsistent at times, lunging when he blocks out in space and sometimes being a bit slow to move, but he could start at RT for Buffalo and potentially LT as well, and that's a player worth picking.
Round 3: Kareem Martin, DE, UNC
Kareem Martin is the latest of a seemingly constant stream of North Carolina linemen who come into the NFL ready to make plays. At 6'6" 272 pounds, with 35 inch arms and 10 inch hands, he's a prototypical 4-3 DE, just in the mold that Jim Schwartz likes. Martin is explosive for his size, putting up an excellent 10'9" broad jump and a 35 inch vertical leap. He was a 3 year starter at UNC and a team captain. He has shown excellent ability to both stop the run and get after the quarterback, with an impressive burst, a push-pull move, and other hand techniques that let him disengage from blockers. His weak points appear to be conditioning-related. His pad level gets too high at times, and he varies from going all-out to jogging when the play goes away from him. If you can build up his stamina and keep his technique from getting sloppy when he tires, you have a starter across from Mario. Even as is, Martin can rotate on the d-line, which should keep him fresh and allow Jerry Hughes to play a part in the defense.
Round 4: Dakota Dozier, OG, Furman
With their 4th pick, the Bills take a small-school guard prospect who has shown some big-time skill. Dozier was the left tackle at FCS Furman university, and projects to LG/RG in the NFL. Dozier is 6'4" 313 lbs with 33 7/8" arms, and looks like a powerfully-built offensive lineman. He has a strong core and few technical flaws in his game, allowing him to handle most any defender one-on-one without giving ground. He was a 4 year starter in college and still has room to grow as he improves his footwork, and if you're looking for a road grader to plug in to a guard position, Dozier is a good choice.
Round 5: A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
Buffalo's round 5 pick is a flier on a potential move TE with excellent athleticism. Leonard ran the fastest TE time at the Combine this year with a 4.50 40, and had a 10'8" broad jump as well. At 6'2" 252 lbs, he's a well-built but not very tall guy that should be used more like Aaron Hernandez than Rob Gronkowski in his offense. On tape, Leonard is a very fast and explosive player, slippery after the catch, and shakes off tackles to keep moving forward. When separating, Leonard is not very physical, and he can be pushed off his route by a big safety or linebacker. Another concern is the "loaf of bread" manner in which Leonard carries the ball, in one hand away from his body. It gives him a notable fumble risk. As a blocker, Leonard is inconsistent, but experienced inline, and though his size doesn't help him against an NFL defensive end, he should be at least replacement-level while blocking. One other note to consider is that Leonard transferred out of Florida after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge in 2012, relating to an altercation with his live-in girlfriend at the time. Assuming Leonard has learned from that incident, he represents an athletic talent which opens up the playbook for Buffalo's tight ends.
Round 6: Tom Savage, QB, Pitt
It's time for Buffalo to upgrade on Jeff Tuel. The 3rd string QB was severely lacking in name grission - I mean really, do you really want a tool as your backup QB? I don't think so. Now Tom Savage, that's a man's backup quarterback name. That has "4th and 12 touchdown pass with 8 seconds left and a broken pinky finger" written all over it.
But seriously, if Buffalo finds themselves at the back end of the draft and wants to address the depth at quarterback, they may find Tom Savage to be the best fit for their needs. Savage has excellent size for the position at 6'4" 230 lbs. He has excellent arm strength, and we know Doug Whaley loves the size and arm strength on his quarterbacks. Coming from a pro-style offense, Savage already has experience taking snaps under center and making multiple reads. He also has the surprising benefit of being somewhat of a blank slate - he had to miss two years of playing time due to NCAA transfer rules. He transferred from Rutgers to Arizona after losing his starting job following his true freshman year, then had to sit out a year because of that transfer. Then he tried to transfer out of Arizona because Rich Rodriguez became the new coach and brought in a spread offense, and again had to sit out a season before being allowed to start at Pitt. He hasn't had much experience working in a college program and playing in a lot of games, so there is potential there to correct his technical flaws and get a better player.
And there are definitely some flaws to work on. Savage is unafraid to challenge a defense with his throws, but they miss the mark more often than you'd like. He stares down his receivers on occasion, and needs to speed up his progressions. But Savage also flashes the toughness and "challenger's attitude" to develop into a Ben Roethlisberger-esque player. I think he fits well with the philosophy that Doug Marrone and Doug Whaley are installing on this team.
Round 7: Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska
With their final pick, Buffalo picks up a WR with starter upside. Enunwa is 6'2" 225 with long arms; a 21 year old senior graduating from Nebraska. He started 34 games in college and was a team captain. He has 4.45 speed, an excellent motor, and great awareness and smarts on the field. He's a strong player that uses his size to get open and can get up tall to make a catch. Enunwa needs to get better at catching the ball with his hands instead of his body, but he is the kind of athlete who can be drafted knowing he has a place on special teams and the upside to become a contributor down the line.
Coming out of this draft, the Bills have added talent to their defense in Mack and Martin while overhauling the offense, with a new RT, a potential starting LG, and developmental prospects at QB, TE, and WR. They're still missing an impact "big" target for EJ Manuel, and the safety position is unchanged, but the depth hasn't suddenly fallen apart despite the shift to the Jim Schwartz 4-3. The team can compete for playoffs in 2014, and with few free agents approaching in 2015, will be able to tackle the few remaining needs at that point.