Draft day gets ever closer, and I get ever more anxious that the Bills will either do something amazing or do something incredibly stupid. We've all been there. In this installment, I'm opening up the draft board and doing a straight 7 round mock as if I were in charge - the players I would pick. For this draft, I'll be working off of a mock that Walter of Walter Football did on April 29th - not because I think it's the most accurate mock, but because it goes out 6 rounds, which is hard to find unless you go to one of those draft programs that have Kyle Van Noy and Brandin Cooks going in the top 8. First up, some rankings!
This time around, I'll be covering safeties. This is a pretty good safety class, but in my opinion it's lacking a top 15 talent to make it great. I have 30 safeties ranked, and they're split into FS and SS. I've marked players I think could flex between one or the other with an asterisk, but I placed them with what I considered to be their best fit.
- Jimmie Ward (1st round)
- Lamarcus Joyner (2nd round)
- Terrence Brooks* (2nd round)
- Dontae Johnson* (3rd round)
- Daniel Sorensen* (3rd round)
- Jemea Thomas (4th round)
- Ed Reynolds (4th round)
- Jonathan Dowling (4th round)
- Marqueston Huff (5th-6th round)
- Sean Parker (5th-6th round)
- Nickoe Whitley (5th-6th round)
- Alden Darby (5th-6th round)
- Brock Vereen (7th-undrafted)
- Tre Boston (7th-undrafted)
- Avery Patterson (7th-undrafted)
- Isaiah Newsome (7th-undrafted)
- Hakeem Smith (7th-undrafted)
Spotlight 1: Daniel Sorensen, S, BYU
My spotlight series often focuses on guys who pop out when I turn on their tape. In his game against Houston, Sorensen stood out with 6 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and an interception. He showed excellent instincts - something I value highly in a safety - and a strong ability to make plays on the ball.
He's not an athletic prospect by any means. He ran a 4.6X 40 at the Combine and a 4.5X 40 at his pro day. But he's a solid tackler, has special teams experience, has good ball skills (12 PD / 2 INT this year), and made the defensive calls in the secondary. The 6'1" 205 lb guy is probably a best fit as a hybrid safety who doesn't quite have the range to play FS and doesn't quite have the bulk to play SS. But I'm a fan. If Jairus Byrd can be an All-Pro safety without elite athleticism, I think Sorensen could be a very good one.
Spotlight 2: Marqueston Huff, CB/FS, Wyoming
In my viewing of the 5'11" 196 pound Huff's film, I felt like he may have been miscast as a safety his senior season. Huff played corner for three years before switching to safety this year, and he seemed to be struggling with the zone defense - he didn't keep his eyes on the QB and had trouble maintaining his coverage through the zone. That being said, he has a good build for corner or safety, a 4.49 40, and plenty of explosion and fluidity. He's raw coming out of a small school like Wyoming, but is a good developmental option at safety or corner.
- Deone Bucannon* (1st round)
- Calvin Pryor* (1st round)
- Craig Loston (2nd round)
- Haha Clinton-Dix* (3rd round)
- Dion Bailey (3rd round)
- Isaiah Lewis (4th round)
- Ahmad Dixon (4th round)
- CJ Barnett (5th-6th round)
- Vinnie Sunseri (5th-6th round)
- Christian Bryant (7th-undrafted)
- Nick Addison* (7th-undrafted)
- Ty Zimmerman (7th-undrafted)
- Kenny Ladler (7th-undrafted)
Spotlight 1: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
I should note that Bucannon and Pryor are essentially 1A and 1B on my board - on my final big board I've assembled, they are 22 and 23 overall. I really like the 6'1" 210 pound Bucannon, who hits almost as hard as Pryor and seems to always be in on the play.
While I like my free safeties to stand back and have excellent insight into where the play is going so they can steal the ball or break up the pass, I want the strong safety to be the enforcer who is always on the ball and reminding the runner that it's going to hurt to carry the rock. With 114 tackles (78 solo), Bucannon was basically in on every play he could be. He's a good tackler who keeps his feet under him and wraps up with the arms, and he hits hard enough that he's rarely if ever driven back after initial contact. As a bonus, he's athletic and effective in coverage, putting together 5 interceptions this season. If there's a weakness to his game, he needs to be more physical in man coverage rather than giving a player a free release on his route, and he didn't play the "coach on the field" role you'd like a talented safety to do, so I wonder a bit about how much of his game is built on knowledge as opposed to instincts. With that being said, rangy, hard-hitting safeties are at a premium, so Bucannon (and Pryor) should be hot commodities on draft weekend
Spotlight 2: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Oh, Ha ha... Where to begin...
Alabama players. I'm nervous about Alabama players. For a team which has won so many national championships and had so many players go in the first few rounds of the draft, they really seem to have an issue with guys not meeting expectations. Injuries, motivation, or just not playing well - it's practically a trend these days. Let's talk about the disappointments:
In 2013 we had Dee Milliner (benched three times during the season for bad play), Chance Warmack (really underwhelmed after all the pre-draft hype), Barrett Jones (Lisfranc injury, played through it in two games at Alabama, couldn't work out at Combine), Jesse Williams (lingering knee injury kept him out of his rookie season altogether). On the good side, DJ Fluker and Eddie Lacy both lived up to their draft status, playing well.
In 2012, there was Trent Richardson (you know how that went), Mark Barron (Has mostly just been "adequate" as a starter despite his 7th overall billing), Dre Kirkpatrick (3 starts in his first two seasons), and Courtney Upshaw, who despite starting 22 games in his first two seasons has only put together 90 tackles and 3 sacks in that time. Then you have Dont'a Hightower, who has played well with the Patriots. 1/5, arguably 2/5 if you consider Upshaw to have been successful.
In 2011, Marcell Dareus and Julio Jones both lived up to their high draft status, but their teammates in the first round James Carpenter and Mark Ingram can both be considered wasted picks - that's 2/4.
Finally, 2010. We have Rolando McClain (is he retired or did he unretire again? I don't remember), Kareem Jackson (played like a hot mess for years), Javier Arenas (traded for a fullback and signed a one-year contract this offseason), Terrence Cody (21 starts in 4 years, only 4 starts in the last two years), and Mike Johnson (1 career start). That's 0/5.
So in summary, despite their high prestige, very few of the Alabama players come out of the draft without either getting injured, having a bad attitude, or failing to play well. In the last 4 seasons, only 6 of the 18 Alabama players drafted in the first 3 rounds lived up to their billing. Obviously the draft is never a sure thing, but a 33% success rate? (And for 2nd and 3rd round picks, success mostly comes down to "are they starting games by now") Makes you nervous.
So allow me to be skeptical when I see Clinton-Dix enter the draft with hype, after playing on yet another amazing defense and racking up fairly pedestrian statistics (50 tackles, 30 solo, 3 PD, 2 INT). On film, I don't see a top-15 talent like others see. He's athletic, sure. But the play recognition and instincts are pretty mediocre, and I saw several QBs fool him with their eyes. He has sloppy technique mirroring routes in man coverage, doesn't have natural ball skills, and struggles to shed a block in the run game. Lastly, I saw the guy jog several times when the play was going away from him. Hello!!! You're the last line of defense! Get your ass over there!
My opinion is just one opinion. But I reeeeeeeeaaaaaallllly am not a fan of Ha ha Clinton-Dix. Just like I reeeeeeeeaaaaallllly was not a fan of Dion Jordan last year. I'm too skeptical of too many things. I fear he's the latest Alabama bust waiting to happen.
As I said above, this is my own draft, done from the WalterFootball mock draft as a template. I didn't look ahead, so I don't know who's going to be available at my next pick.
The first 8 players to go in the draft were Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans, Greg Robinson, Blake Bortles, and Anthony Barr. That made my first pick pretty easy:
1. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
There's not much to say about Matthews, who is everything you could look for in a tackle. I've recently decided to move him up above Greg Robinson for my final rankings (Matthews is 2 and Robinson is 3 overall), because you really can't go wrong with a guy who has perfect technique and good athleticism like Matthews. He might not be pushing a guy downfield 10 yards like Robinson can, but he can start immediately, play any spot on the offensive line at a high level, and do so for 10 years. Robinson could be the next Walter Jones. But there's always the chance that, in spite of his physical talent, he isn't able to master pass blocking enough to be a reliable left tackle. For that uncertainty, I have him slightly lower. But on my actual drafting big board, he's higher, because of that potential. Go figure.
But back to Matthews. The Bills have to take him if he's available and Watkins/Evans are gone - the guy will lock down a tackle position for you. Personally, I would even play him at left tackle over Cordy Glenn, because I think Matthews has a level of technical perfection that Cordy just can't match, despite his very good skills. If Buffalo takes Matthews, it's up to them where he plays, but he played at a superb level on the right side for two seasons as well, so there's nothing wrong with moving him back there.
2. Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
The second round saw a bunch of potential targets I wanted go, but I still had several options available to me at 41, especially at TE and S. In the end, I decided safety wasn't a priority. It was a tough choice between the route-running, pass catching abilities of Amaro, the raw physical potential of Niklas, and the former top prospect Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was rumored to have shown off exceptionally good athleticism in recent workouts, though he has been dogged by reports of low motivation at college.
Ultimately, I went with Niklas. I can't shake the Gronk comparisons in my head, and although he's undeveloped, the physical ability, combined with the natural body control as a pass catcher and the excellent mental makeup/bloodlines had too much upside to pass on. Niklas might not start immediately, but he'll break into the lineup in short order with his talent. Let's reunite the cousins.
An interesting note is that so far, my picks have lined up exactly with Walter's. Makes me feel kind of like I need to take a shower.
3. Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
The lead-up to this pick annoyed me. In the span of three picks I lost Deone Bucannon, Dominique Easley, and Kyle Van Noy, all who would have been fantastic value in the third round, and I had Austin Seferian-Jenkins still sitting there at 73, taunting me for taking Niklas a round earlier. This pick was sort of difficult to make, with a bunch of second round talents still on my board but not all of them great fits for Buffalo's schemes (Jarvis Landry for example). Ultimately I went with the athletic cornerback from Rice for my third pick.
Rice is a 6'0" 193 pound corner with nice 32" long arms. He's super fast, with a 4.38 40 time, and has fluid hips and smooth flexible motions. He follows the QB and the ball very well, defending 18 passes in 2012 and 13 in 2013 (4 of his 13 passes defensed were interceptions). Those 13 defensed passes came on only 40 targets, and his 3.08 passes per defensed pass rate was the second lowest of any of the top corners in the draft, behind only Jason Verrett. There's an excellent article on Behind the Steel Curtain breaking down Gaines' game, so I'd encourage you to check it out. Gaines isn't very physical and needs to get better at man coverage, but is already an excellent zone corner and has the athletic profile to handle man with more experience.
For the record, Walter gave Buffalo CB Bashaud Breeland here.
4. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Buffalo has made it apparent that they want a running back, so I've kept an eye out to see if any good value comes up. In round 4, I see Carey still available, whom I have a second round grade on, and I pounce. Carey is a 5'9" 207 pound back who I consider to be a smaller version of Eddie Lacy in this year's draft. He's a relentless runner who bounces off most tackles and loves using the spin move to gain extra space from a defender. He had an outstanding career, rushing for 3800 yards and 42 touchdowns in the last two seasons. He's the type of back who loves to grind down a defense with continuous tough running, and that's what Marrone and Hackett are looking for. I have to mention that Carey has had a few off-field incidents in his time at Arizona, including (dropped) misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges from an argument with an ex-girlfriend, and getting suspended for one game after an altercation with a campus security officer during a basketball game. But between Fred and CJ, Carey would be entering one of the best environments of any position group on the team. I'm not worried about the off-field stuff, especially not in the fourth round.
Walter gave Buffalo LB Preston Brown. And just my luck, Phillip Gaines went in one of the last picks of this round. That's life!
5. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
Surprisingly enough, Gardner's teammate David Yankey was still on the board in the 5th round, and I thought for a long time about the possibility of adding him as a developmental guard. Ultimately, I just don't think I really like Yankey as a prospect all that much - he moves too slow and doesn't seem blessed with tremendous core power. It was a real disappointment to see Furman OG Dakota Dozier go about a dozen picks earlier - he would've been outstanding value as a 5th rounder.
But back to Gardner. He's a guy I like, as the Bills look for defensive end depth. The 6'4" player can maintain any weight between 260 and 290 comfortably, allowing you to project him anywhere along the d-line, though I'd probably have him play at around 270 pounds. Gardner was a member of the highly disruptive Stanford defensive line until he tore his pectoral on Halloween, and he's been recovering since then, which dropped his stock a fair amount. But pec injuries are simple to recover from (Mario hasn't had any issues since his in 2011), and Gardner has plenty of upside to show. With a 39.5" vertical at his pro day, Gardner has showcased an excellent closing burst, allowing him to chase down quarterbacks if he gets free and finish the sack. He has great core strength, managing the lineman effectively with his hands to find an opening and burst through. The one thing that's a downside for him is that he seems to run hot and cold. Not his motor, mind you, but his production. He'll have a string of plays where he's nigh-unblockable, and then a series where he just gets stuck to the lineman like glue. But in the fifth round, I think Buffalo is getting a guy with second or third round talent, who can rotate immediately at DE.
Walt gave Buffalo GSU RB Jerick McKinnon here.
7. Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt
As of the end of his 6 round mock, Walt left David Yankey on the board. I'm going to assume the guy just forgot about him, or else Yankey has murdered somebody and I didn't hear about it. Either way, though Yankey would be theoretically on the board in the 7th round for my final pick, I just can't bring myself to choose him due to the ridicule I'd get for mocking such an "unrealistic" scenario. Instead, I go look at my board and see who the best available are:
Wesley Johnson - I have a second round grade on him, which I consider an "INCOMPLETE" because I was only able to watch one game in depth - though it was against Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina defense.
Andre Hal - I have a second round grade on this cornerback with outstanding technique but some shortcomings in size and speed.
Isaiah Crowell - the talented but troubled running back is a 3rd round grade on my board.
David Yankey - I have a third round grade on him and he is technically still available, but I can't bring myself to make that pick - it feels like a travesty of mocking.
Shaquil Barrett - the DE/OLB is a third round grade on my board.
Colt Lyerla - I have a first round grade on Lyerla due to his talent alone, but because of his issues I consider him undraftable.
After going through that list, I crossed off Crowell since I already filled my need at RB, and Hal because I drafted a corner. Yankey is off the list as I mentioned, and Lyerla just doesn't seem trustworthy enough (plus I added a TE). That left me choosing between Johnson and Barrett. Ultimately, I went with the offensive lineman, because I think Barrett would struggle to adjust to a 4-3.
Johnson is a 6'5" 297 pound do-everything offensive lineman. He has started games for Vanderbilt at guard, center, and tackle, 51 games in total, and spent his senior season at left tackle. He has good strength and understanding of how to block down in the running game, generating more push than I was expecting. He's also pretty agile on his feet, which speaks well for either his ability to play tackle or act as a mobile guard. I do think he plays too high, which negates some of his leverage. His kick slide is also a little sloppy, and I noticed him having some trouble against Kony Ealy while I watched Michael Sam's tape. There are also concerns about if he can maintain a good playing weight - he came to college at 235 pounds, and has bulked up to 300, but he might struggle to get up to 310 and stay there. But getting a guy who could back up any of the 5 positions, and possibly start at any, in the 7th round? That's the kind of production we need.
If you'd rather pretend I drafted David Yankey in the 7th round, that's your prerogative. Thank Walt.