Dan here, back with more draft talk! I'm trying to ramp these up over the next four weeks, because it'd be nice to finish with a 12 o'clock Mock the day before the draft where I try to actually predict what Buffalo will do. Of course to get there means I have to write more and watch more film! Let's talk about the Mike Williams trade a bit, then I'll step through some rankings and finish with a mock draft.
Mike Williams Trade
I admit to being totally blindsided by this trade. Up until late last week I was under the assumption that the Bills were heavily targeting Mike Evans, and the idea of Buffalo trading for a receiver pre-draft didn't even enter my thought process.
My initial reaction was to think that Doug Whaley came away with a massive steal. 6th round picks usually result in training camp fodder that never sees the field. Arthur Moats is one of the few exceptions, and he'll never be a full-time starter. Getting a player who put up 65/964/11 in his rookie season and 63/996/9 two years later for one sixth round pick was a fantastic move. Making things better is his contract (thanks, Tampa!), which leaves Buffalo with plenty of flexibility. Per Spotrac, Williams' guaranteed money breaks down to:
2014: $1.2 million salary, $600k workout bonus, $1.8 million for being on the team this year
That's it. Nothing else is guaranteed on the contract. The Bills can cut Williams if he doesn't work out in 2014 and will suffer a $5.2 million cap hit if they cut him in 2015, but nothing after. The biggest hit of his contract is in the 2018 season, when he has a $4 million roster bonus come due on top of his regular salary, but if he's cut before the league year begins it doesn't matter.
This gives Buffalo a trial period with a talented receiver. They can use him for one year and cut him. They could use him for two years and cut him. They could use him for 4 years and cut him right before his bonus comes due in 2018. Or they could keep him the whole way if he justifies his contract. The cost structure means that picking a wide receiver is still an option for Buffalo. They could draft a guy in the first round, and make Mike Williams and Stevie Johnson battle for the "veteran" position in 2014, with the loser being cut by 2015. Or, you know, stack talent on talent. Why not have Williams, Johnson, Evans, Woods, and Goodwin? The top 4 receivers would all be on par with any other team's #2 target or better. As long as it's affordable, it's an interesting option to have.
As for the impact on the draft, Buffalo's situation hasn't changed all that much - they only lost a 6th round pick, and Mike Williams shouldn't be seen as the solution to the big play problem at receiver yet. The obvious change is that Tampa desperately needs a wide receiver. The question is if they are planning to draft one at 7, and which one it would be. If Buffalo is targeting Mike Evans still, they have to hope for Sammy Watkins to fall to 7, which would be the best chance for Tampa to leave Evans on the board. It's entirely possible that Tampa may see the WR depth in this draft as a reason to take Jake Matthews or even trade down, though (especially if they think Buffalo is no longer a threat to draft Evans with Williams on the roster). In that case, Whaley may get his guy in the face of the smokescreen he set up. I think the Bills have sent out a lot of signals that they like Mike Evans in this offseason, and I don't think trading a 6th round pick for Mike Williams has changed that mindset yet. This will be an interesting draft.
Let's do two groups today! First, the tight ends. These are going to be a bit wonky because I have a special case guy in here, so I'll explain my methodology after the list.
- Eric Ebron (1st round)
- Jace Amaro (1st round)
- Troy Niklas (2nd round)
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2nd round)
- Colt Lyerla (1st round)
- CJ Fiedorowicz (4th round)
- Arthur Lynch (4th round)
- Crockett Gilmore (5th-6th round)
- A.C. Leonard (5th-6th round)
- Chris Coyle (5th-6th round)
- Blake Annen (5th-6th round)
- Xavier Grimble (5th-6th round)
- Jacob Pederson (5th-6th round)
- Alex Bayer (5th-6th round)
- Marcel Jensen (7th-undrafted)
- Richard Rodgers (7th-undrafted)
- Joe Don Duncan (7th-undrafted)
- Jake Murphy (7th-undrafted)
- Nic Jacobs (7th-undrafted)
- Justin Jones (7th-undrafted)
- Cameron Brate (7th-undrafted)
- Ted Bolser (7th-undrafted)
- Rob Blanchflower (7th-undrafted)
- Jordan Najvar (7th-undrafted)
Spotlight 1: Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
I dump on Eric Ebron quite often, so you may be surprised to see him at the top of my rankings. Let me explain where he fits in. I think Ebron has been oversold as a prospect every step of the way. He's not performing as well as everyone says he can, and for some reason no one cares. We were told he was an outstanding receiver who could catch anything and make big plays, but he drops more than 1 out of every ten passes thrown his way. We were told he was a dominant athlete on par with Vernon Davis, and he turned in a good, but not outstanding Combine workout, getting beaten by guys like A.C. Leonard, Jace Amaro, and Colt Lyerla in those workouts. And then he pulled out of any positional drills due to "tweaking his hamstring." Yet everyone talks about how Ebron had a fantastic Combine and cemented himself as the top TE prospect in years. It's just confusing.
I just don't like guys who are the product of massive hype when I don't think they deserve it. Ebron is who he is - An average-sized tight end with outstanding separation skills and body control, who doesn't have good hands and isn't going to be a good inline blocker. He is probably going to end up like Vernon Davis in the NFL, collecting yards and touchdowns but not quite reaching that Jimmy Graham/Rob Gronkowski tier in which speed, size, and raw power are combined into a dominating target. That's fine, that still makes him a first rounder. I just don't put him on a pedestal. The guy has flaws, just like Marqise Lee and Taylor Lewan and Blake Bortles and other guys who are expected to go in the first round. Would I draft him? No, I hate receivers that drop lots of passes. Do I think he's a bad prospect? No. Do I think he's worth the storm of hype that surrounded him since the college football season ended? Hell no.
Spotlight 2: Colt Lyerla, TE, No School
Colt Lyerla is a special case in my rankings, one of very few odd placements (Dri Archer is another, which I'll explain in another post). I have him rated as a first rounder, but he's placed 5th on my list, behind two second rounders.
The short answer is that I have stratified my tight end rankings into two groups of prospects: the guys who I think can be future impact starters, and the guys who I think will never be more than a Scott Chandler type of player in the NFL. Lyerla has a ton of issues, but a ton of talent, and that means that I would rather spend a draft pick (though probably a 7th rounder) on him before I'd consider drafting CJ Fiedorowicz or Crockett Gilmore.
The appeal on Lyerla is clear. With a 4.61 40, 39 inch vertical leap, and 10'8" broad jump, he's in the elite tier of tight end athleticism. He's 6'4" 242 pounds, which places him in the same size tier as Eric Ebron. He's plenty strong and as a blocker will gladly push a guy 5-10 yards downfield. Dangerous after the catch, he's fast, agile, and difficult to bring down. He doesn't have any injury concerns. But he's raw as a pass catcher, looking out of practice during the gauntlet drill at the Combine. He dropped some passes and generally looked choppy during the catching motion. And there are the obvious concerns in place about his cocaine habit, as well as any other behavioral issues which have come up in the past. Lyerla may just be a troubled kid, like Marshawn Lynch, who needs to find a structured environment with a good coach to keep him in line. Or he may be the next Aaron Hernandez. I don't know because I can't talk with him. I do know that Lyerla is probably the last possible Pro Bowl tight end in this class, and so that's why he gets ranked where he is. On my Big Board, he's the 100th overall prospect.
Next, let's do offensive tackles! Note: Guys with a star next to their names are guys who I think might eventually profile as guards. They are in that tweener size range of 6'3"-6'4" and 310 lbs where they might not have the length to be full-time tackles, or they don't have the fleet footwork to handle an edge position comfortably.
- Greg Robinson (1st round)
- Jake Matthews (1st round)
- Taylor Lewan (1st round)
- Zack Martin* (1st round)
- Morgan Moses (1st round)
- Wesley Johnson (2nd round)
- Cyrus Kouandjio (2nd round)
- Joel Bitonio* (2nd round)
- Billy Turner (3rd round)
- Antonio Richardson (3rd round)
- James Hurst (3rd round)
- Michael Schofield (3rd round)
- Ja'Wuan James (3rd round)
- Cameron Fleming (3rd round)
- Justin Britt* (4th round)
- Laurent Duverney-Tardif (5th-6th round)
- Brandon Thomas* (5th-6th round)
- Seantrel Henderson (5th-6th round)
- Jack Mewhort* (5th-6th round)
- Cornelius "Luke" Lucas (5th-6th round)
- Matt Hall (7th-undrafted)
- Donald Hawkins* (7th-undrafted)
- Jeremiah Sirles (7th-undrafted)
- Charles Siddoway (7th-undrafted)
Poor Brandon Thomas. Tore his ACL last week. He was my 8th-ranked prospect, but needing a full year to rehab an ACL injury is going to drop him down the boards quite a lot. Before the injury there was some talk that he might be picked in the second round.
Spotlight 1: Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt
I was really surprised when I turned on Johnson's tape against Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina defense. What I saw was a left tackle who kept Clowney to 0 sacks and 0 TFL for 3 quarters of the game. In the other quarter, Clowney just switched to the defensive left side, essentially avoiding this lineman altogether, and he finally made plays. I had literally heard no hype for this player at all, but what I saw was someone who looked like an NFL left tackle.
Johnson is a 6'5" 297 pound Swiss Army lineman from Vanderbilt. He played LT, RT, guard, and center for the team, and spent his last two seasons as the starting left tackle. In those two seasons, he only gave up two sacks, and in his career he never was called for holding until midway through his senior season. On tape, I see a strong player who is quick on his feet, pushing defenders out of the way in the run game and sealing the edge in the pass game. The only area of his which is problematic is a tendency to play high instead of with his knees bent, which negates some leverage. But seriously, I'm trying to see why this guy isn't getting talked about at all, because I was really impressed. Anyone know more about Vanderbilt football and want to confirm/deny what I saw?
Spotlight 2: Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
If you're looking for the point of demarcation for "potential starting RT" versus "backup/project who probably won't start ever," I think Fleming is the last one in the former category in my rankings. Other than a strange inability to successfully cut block, Fleming gets the job done despite a lack of athleticism. He's strong, a skilled handfighter, and keeps a wide base that helps him against faster rushers. Assuming Buffalo passes on a tackle in round 1, I think round 3 is the sweet spot for picking up a guy, unless some talent falls to round 4. Look for one of the guys between Billy Turner and Cameron Fleming on my list to be targeted by Buffalo.
I think I'm overdue for some trading, don't you? Let's play the "what-if" game!
Buffalo trades their first, second, and fourth round picks and a 2015 first rounder to St. Louis for the 2nd overall pick in the draft.
Round 1: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
It's about freaking time, right? Let's have a d-line with a first, second, and third overall pick on it! I don't need to say much about Clowney - he's the perfect combination of need and value for Buffalo. The best player in the draft.
The only way I think Buffalo should go about getting Clowney is to trade with St. Louis. I don't think they should talk to Houston. Reason being, it's ultimately fruitless. Houston is picking first in the draft. They've had months to decide who they want first overall. If they want Clowney, Buffalo won't be able to pry him away without a ridiculous RG3 scale deal, or maybe not at all. If Houston were willing to trade Clowney, that means that they're probably willing to let him drop to 2nd overall, because the mindset is so different between wanting to draft Clowney and wanting to draft a QB or Khalil Mack. So Buffalo should focus its negotiations on St. Louis and hope Houston isn't 100% sold on drafting a talented guy who isn't a QB and doesn't fit their 3-4 scheme.
The cost is pricey for Buffalo. Their draft class this year will be gutted. Next year they're missing out on a first round pick, so they'd better hope that EJ Manuel gets his crap together this year, because they won't be getting a replacement QB.
The return is worth it, though. Jadeveon Clowney is a generational prospect, the perfect fit at RDE opposite Mario Williams. He comes to an extremely talented line, creates a "super unit" of physicality on the d-line, and can take the defense up to a Seattle Seahawks/Baltimore Ravens level of notoriety. There has been a lot said about Clowney, so I won't say any more. He's amazing, and if Buffalo gets him, Bills Backers everywhere should be celebrating.
Round 3: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
When you trade up in the draft, you need to ensure that you maximize the impact in each remaining pick. You're only going to have a few picks left, and if you don't want the entirety of your draft to hinge on the success or failure of one man, you need to hit on those picks. Buffalo has to try to come up with one more starter in the draft. The 6'3" 336 pound Jackson is one of those possibilities who could be available in the third round.
Jackson's not going to blow anyone away with his athleticism, as his 5.51 40 can attest. What he does bring to the table is plenty of core strength and the savvy that comes with having started 52 games in college, for 4 years. He has well-developed technique and good awareness around the line, and doesn't give ground on his blocks. You might be concerned about his weight, which could hurt his agility and longevity. I am, a bit. That might cause him to drop into the third round. Still, it's rare to find offensive linemen who could start and immediately play at a league-average level in the third round of the draft, and Gabe Jackson is one of those. With Clowney and Jackson, the pressure would be off of Whaley heading into day three, allowing him to get creative on his last picks.
Round 5: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT, McGill
Here's a guy who has been catching some buzz lately. Unless you're keysh67 or CanadianBillsFan, you probably didn't hear about this guy until he got a brief mention in one of the daily links posts two weeks ago. Out of McGill University in Montreal, Duvernay-Tardif is a 6'5" 300 pound tackle considered the best football prospect in Canada. If he were to make it to the CFL draft, he'd be the surefire #1 overall pick. However, he's in line to get exported to the NFL before that happens.
One thing that stands out about LDT is his athleticism. Not invited to the Combine, he worked out recently at a personal pro day. He put up 34 reps on the bench press, a 31.5 inch vertical leap, a 9 foot 6 inch broad jump, and a 4.95 to 5.05 second 40 yard dash. His workouts would've put him in the top 5 of the offensive linemen to work out at the Combine.
On the field, it's kind of hard to judge his performance, since he played against the equivalent of FCS or possibly Division II talent. However, he dominated there. He's a fighter who plays through the whistle, blocking a guy 5 yards downfield or down to the ground if he can. The only film out there is his own collection of highlight tapes on Hudl, so it's hard to get a sense of his weaknesses. In general, it seems like his technique is hurried and unrefined, and he leans forward a lot. LDT needs some practice and training, but he has the athletic profile to become a future starting LT or RT, and coming out of Canada his stock arrow is definitely pointing up. The Bills want offensive line depth, and if they feel comfortable starting Erik Pears or Chris Hairston for the foreseeable future, they can develop this guy to eventually become the starter.
Round 7: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
Sometimes, you take a chance on a guy with an injury in hopes that when he recovers, you get back more value than your initial investment. Colvin could be one of those times. Having torn his ACL in the Senior Bowl, he'll probably be rehabbing until midseason, so it's probably in his best interests to redshirt this year with whichever team he lands on. That drops his value in the draft pretty significantly. I had him as a 3rd round grade before the injury, and afterwards he fell into the nebulous round 5-7 range. I'm not sure where he'll go in the draft, so he might not be there in round 7. But you never know with an injured player.
Colvin the player was an interesting guy with some flaws. He was a bit of a gambler with a high football IQ, preferring to give up some space and then react to make a play on the ball. With average size and a skinny build, Colvin was already susceptible to injuries even before his ACL tear. He's a bit high in his backpedal, and tackles the legs way too often. I think he has upside though. The question is if his injury rehab will prevent him from reaching it.
Coming out of this draft, the Bills didn't really gain much depth, with a project tackle and injured project CB as the only notables. They also lost next year's first round draft choice. However, they added a starting guard, and more importantly, the best player in the draft. EJ might not have gotten any targets upgraded, but with Clowney on the defense, he won't have nearly as much pressure to try too hard to win games. He can game manage his way to the playoffs.