Well another draft year is in the books, and Buffalo arguably managed to put together a more exciting draft weekend than they did with last year's EJ Manuel selection. The trade up for Sammy Watkins, a true top 5 talent in the draft, the Stevie Johnson and Bryce Brown trades, the selection of Cyrus "Knee-K" Kouandjio in the second round, the questioned choice of Preston Brown in the third, the alleged coup of Cyril Richardson in the fifth, and the troubled but talented Seantrel Henderson being added in the seventh - these were some moves with some serious hot takes, and the Watkins trade especially fired up the draftniks of the world.
Here's what I think.
Dan's Predictions: Hits/Misses
Before the draft, I made a whole lot of predictions, even going as far as to try and guess Buffalo's pre-draft visitors (that went really well). However, in the last couple of days before the draft, I made a series of specific predictions, both about the draft process as a whole, and about Buffalo's draft strategy. I also attempted to tie together my notion of Buffalo's "connectionz," a list of players who should be connected to Buffalo tangentially due to their relationship with the pre-draft visitor list. Here's how I did.
The biggest hit of all. This was powered mainly by Buffalo spending its first 4(!) picks on pre-draft visitors. Which annoyed me, as it made my formula seem like a lot of extra work while Joe Buscaglia could just link to the pre-draft visitor list and say "hey guys, here are the players Buffalo might draft." (No offense, Joe)
That being said, I successfully placed 5 of Buffalo's 7 draft picks on my list. In addition to the four visitors, I also included Cyril Richardson, the offensive guard from Baylor who was a teammate of pre-draft visitor Lache Seastrunk. So here are Buffalo's picks, their connectionz to people who visited, and if I was successful at putting them on my board:
Sammy Watkins (V)
Cyrus Kouandjio (V)
Preston Brown (V)
Ross Cockrell (V)
Cyril Richardson (T,P)
Randell Johnson (P)
Seantrel Henderson (P)
With the caveat that this year was especially high in pre-draft visitors being drafted, I think my methodology is sound, and I'll continue using it to predict Buffalo's draft in the future. 5/7 is a pretty good success rate, especially considering I narrowed the total number of potential picks to 65 names. My plan for the future is to further curate the list of potential picks downward without losing accuracy.
Hits are in bold.
Jadeveon Clowney is selected first overall.
Johnny Manziel is selected in the top 10.
Sammy Watkins is a top 3 pick.
Eric Ebron is not a top 10 pick.
Aaron Donald is a top 10 pick.
At least one team trades up in the first round to draft a wide receiver.
At least one team trades up in (or into) the first round to draft a quarterback.
CJ Mosley is not a top 15 pick.
Marcus Martin is drafted in the first 40 picks.
Dri Archer is drafted in the first 75 picks.
Justin Gilbert is not the first cornerback drafted.
Louis Nix is not drafted in the first round.
Derek Carr is drafted before Teddy Bridgewater.
David Yankey falls to the 5th round.
Aaron Murray falls to the 5th round.
Shayne Skov falls to the 5th round.
Troy Niklas is the second TE drafted.
Colt Lyerla goes undrafted.
Tajh Boyd goes undrafted.
Logan Thomas is drafted in the first 100 picks.
9/20: In short - don't quit my day job.
At least three of the players Buffalo picks will come from the above lists of "connectionz."
Buffalo's first pick will come from the list of Day 1 "connectionz."
Doug Whaley's favorite player in the draft is Jadeveon Clowney, and if he can get a reasonable offer to trade up to #1 (which will probably include next year's first round pick), he will do it.
Doug Whaley's second favorite player in the draft is Mike Evans, and he is willing to trade up into the 4-6 range of picks to select Evans. The sticking point is that Whaley wants to hold onto his second round pick.
Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins are both excellent players, but they don't perfectly fit Buffalo's needs (Mack being a best fit as a 3-4 OLB and Watkins being 6'1") so Buffalo won't trade up to the top 4 picks to draft one of them.
The Bills, if they can't get Clowney or Evans, really want a right tackle. They consider the need at right tackle to be something that will hold back the offense if it isn't fixed. Jake Matthews is their favorite player who could handle that. I don't know if they are willing to trade up for him.
If Buffalo does not trade up and Matthews is off the board, Zack Martin is their target. Eric Ebron is someone they're keeping in their back pocket, but I think they've come to a consensus that Mike Evans is the only tall receiving prospect they love enough to take in the top 10.
The Bills have floated some potential trade down options between Ebron, CJ Mosley, and Odell Beckham Jr. I don't see them trading down though, with teams likely not buying into Buffalo's claims this time around. And as we've seen, all the pre-draft talk suggests that Buffalo is working the phones to move up.
If the Bills don't get a right tackle in round 1, Cyrus Kouandjio is their player of choice in round 2, being very similar to Cordy Glenn.
The Bills will only draft a tight end if he is one of the top 4 consensus players in this draft: Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Troy Niklas, Austin Seferian-Jenkins. They have plenty of depth pieces behind Scott Chandler and Lee Smith but are interested in getting a big athletic guy. The most likely scenario would be in the second round after Buffalo drafts a right tackle in the first round.
Buffalo won't draft a running back until day 3 of the draft, if they draft one at all.
Buffalo doesn't perceive their safety need to be an issue as they have in-house options. They might draft a slower cornerback who could convert to safety, but they won't select any pure safeties unless it's their last pick and they're taking a flyer on a guy.
7.5/12 is better. A few of my predictions pre-draft were incompletes.
I'm going with the assumption that Jadeveon Clowney was not Whaley's favorite player, since he gave the impression that Sammy Watkins was their top guy. So let's count that as a no.
Much as I did last year, I kind of talked myself into a corner regarding Mike Evans. He was my favorite prospect and I knew Buffalo talked highly of him, so I put too much emphasis on the height and catch radius he offered as a receiver, ignoring that Buffalo really just wanted a #1 receiver.
I think two of my other predictions go in as incompletes, with it not being clear how much Buffalo valued right tackles at pick #9 or how much they would have wanted Eric Ebron, knowing that they ended up trading for Watkins anyways. If we throw out those 2, that makes my grade a 7.5/10, which is comfortably a passing grade. Most importantly, I locked on to the concept of trading up (although finding a partner, as it was in the real draft, was a crapshoot) for a wide receiver, and I locked on to the concept of drafting Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round.
Day 2 predictions
Following the first day of the draft, I made a couple quick guesses as to Buffalo's intentions on day 2. I went with what I knew and what my gut was telling me:
Here's my estimation of Buffalo's big board for round 2:
- Cyrus Kouandjio
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins
- Kony Ealy
- Joel Bitonio
- Troy Niklas
- Morgan Moses
- Antonio Richardson
- Jace Amaro
- Scott Crichton
That's 9 names and Buffalo has the 9th pick.
I think Buffalo will try to get an OT/TE in round 2 and then use the third round pick on defense. I think RT is the top priority but talent will play a factor.
Once again, I had my pulse on Buffalo's plans. With Ealy, Niklas, and Moses on the board, the Bills drafted Kouandjio. They also moved on to defense in round 3.
Buffalo's selections: Scouting notes
As you all know, I went down the board with most every player I could find film for and watched anywhere from 1-8 games of the player, taking notes on what stood out about his game and cross-referencing those notes with his workout numbers at the Combine and Pro Day. Those notes culminated in a final grade and a ranking, both within the position and overall (for my top 175 players, at least). I'll share my notes I had on the player, as well as my overall thoughts on the selection in the draft.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (#1 WR, #5 overall, first round grade)
Excellent speed and burst is his game. Like Percy Harvin, or if CJ Spiller played WR, he is dynamic both in his route and after the catch. Won't break a lot of tackles, but he'll break a lot of ankles with his cuts. Average size (6'1"), but makes the most of it and can catch some balls thrown off target. No trouble getting open in man, zone, press, off, whatever coverage. Good for reverses, screens, deep routes, whatever. He's the kind of game-changing talent that can be a #1 receiver in spite of his size. Arrested and suspended in 2012 for possession of pot and pills.
Dan's take: As a top prospect in the draft, Watkins was one of my very first players evaluated - I actually finished his evaluation during the college football season, and I failed to update it during the offseason as I worked on other players I considered more likely to be available for Buffalo. So I think I missed out on a large portion of Watkins' game in my notes - the physicality. While Watkins may not be Marshawn Lynch playing wideout, he seeks out contact and breaks through defenders much more than Harvin or Spiller do. The physicality is also evident as he gets open on pass routes. Watkins is a slam dunk of a pick, and worth the trade up. As much as I love Mike Evans, Watkins is just the better prospect - and he has room to grow.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (#6 OT, #44 overall, second round grade)
Great size, in the big, bulky Cordy Glenn tackle mold. Very strong, and punishing in the run game. Slow feet, has trouble with speed rushers. He may be forced to RT or LG in the future if he can't solve that problem. But has plenty of talent and athleticism to do so.
Kouandjio failed the physical at the Combine with an arthritic knee and ran the slowest OT 40 yard dash. There are concerns about his longevity at the position now.
Dan's take: Early on, Kouandjio was one of my favorite options for Buffalo as a mid-first round pick. I made the Cordy Glenn comparison back in October, and I'm sticking to it. Kouandjio has the huge size and raw physicality to be a great tackle, though his feet are definitely a little slower than Glenn's. While the arthritic knee is a concern, that can be treated with rest and with cortisone shots, and Kouandjio has been playing with it for years without missing games. If Buffalo's fine with it, I'm fine with it. I think he'll start at RT after about a week of training camp and won't look back.
Preston Brown, LB, Louisville (#6 ILB, #157 overall, fourth round grade)
A pretty standard 3-4 Mike or 2 down 4-3 MLB.
Strong, effective at stacking and shedding linemen. Rarely makes mistakes in the run game. Comfortable in coverage, but not very fast, so he's best in a zone setting. Lack of versatility hurts him.
Dan's take: Brown was one of my favorites, but I considered his value to be a 5th-6th round choice, with the steady devaluing of run defending linebackers. If he can cover adequately at MLB, I consider this a great pick, because his abilities in the run game are exactly what Kiko needs to be freed up at WLB. With that in mind, I had 4 other players rated above him who were still available, and at the very least I would have preferred to have taken Jordan Zumwalt instead, since I think he has more upside and versatility.
Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke (#14 CB, #133 overall, fourth round grade)
6'0" 191 lbs. Primarily a zone corner, has 4.48 speed which isn't conducive to deep routes but excellent short area explosion. Weak lower body, cannot anchor against a blocker and usually driven back 10 yards. Sticks well to receivers in his zone, sometimes watches the QB too much instead of the WR. Doesn't have great ball skills.
Dan's take: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder at cornerback, where 6 of the 13 corners I placed ahead of Cockrell were drafted after him. Ultimately, scheme fit is much more important in the secondary, where a bad play can result in a touchdown. I think Cockrell is a good player who can back up the outside and potentially start down the line. It should be noted that, though I said Cockrell "doesn't have great ball skills," he actually gets his hands on a lot of passes - he just flubs easy interceptions enough to get you frustrated.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor (#7 OG, #111 overall, third round grade)
Huge size, 6'5" 335 lbs. Good strength, can hold his own against most defenders. Slow feet, hobbles laterally. Good at identifying blocking assignments presnap. Doesn't really latch onto targets, just does a bunch of pushes with arms outstretched. Looks like he needs to be better conditioned. Good potential but a work in progress and won't fit every scheme.
Dan's take: If you swapped the Richardson and Brown picks, I'd probably have much less to complain about with this draft (at least, I think so). Richardson is a huge guy with tons of strength to work with. I think he often played just with the merits of his strength, and he struggled at times to keep up with Baylor's HUNH offense. If he gets more stamina and improves his technique, I see a multi-year starter at LG or RG.
Randell Johnson, LB, FAU (unscouted)
Dammit Dan, you had one job! Unfortunately, I source my film from the wonderful people at DraftBreakdown, who didn't have anything of the defender from Florida Atlantic - so he went under the radar on my board. I don't have enough time or patience to fast forward through three hours of game tape, so I can only observe prospects in the 5-15 minute bursts that I can find.
Dan's take: A seventh round flyer on an athletic small school linebacker doesn't really mean anything to me. I don't see anything that sticks out in reports of his play or the highlight videos I saw post-draft to indicate anything other than a special teams specialist. I'm hoping for the next Blake Costanzo.
Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami (#17 OT, outside top 175, fifth-sixth round grade)
Really really talented - a former #1 overall high school recruit. Questionable character - never really committed full-time to football, was suspended a few times for various things. Only ended up playing RT, probably only a RT in the NFL. Potential to be very good at that, but he might be a headcase before that happens.
Dan's take: I shouldn't have been surprised to see Buffalo go after Henderson late in the draft, considering that they took a chance with Kiko and Da'rick Rogers last year. I still was. Henderson is talented enough to play in the NFL for a long time and be an excellent starter. He could even daresay be a good left tackle, although I think it would be smarter to keep him at RT, where he played most of his career at Miami. At the very least, he could be a Langston Walker type, starting anywhere from 5 to 10 years at RT for a team. Ultimately, it comes down to how bad he wants it. Henderson has never shown any drive in his time at Miami - he was on cruise control every year, and I think his pot usage is more of a problem than a hobby at this point. He's on a short leash in Buffalo, and if being drafted in the seventh round was the wake-up call he needed, the Bills got a great talent at a premium spot on the line. That being said, I won't be surprised if he is cut by the end of training camp.
Trading up for Watkins
Disappointed to lose that first round pick because I would rather see Buffalo have options next year in case EJ doesn't make significant strides. I personally don't have much faith in him. But I don't fault Whaley for his process - he believes that EJ will not need replacing in a year, and Watkins is a special talent, and the 2014 draft was exceptionally good. He got Watkins, kept his picks in 2014, and ultimately only lost a single first round pick next year. If you look at the trade through the lens that we are finalizing the offense before making a playoff run in 2015, I think it makes plenty of sense.
Trading away Stevie
Again, this makes plenty of sense. Buffalo had serious roster crunch between Watkins (The clear #1 now), Robert Woods (Should be the clear #2), Stevie (the former #1 who is supposed to be the "slot guy"), Mike Williams (more talented than Stevie, more productive than Woods), Marquise Goodwin (Elite speed, another slot guy), TJ Graham (brings speed to any WR spot), Marcus Easley (athlete with special teams prowess), Chris Hogan (reliable slot backup and special teamer), and a slew of backup free agent types. They needed to clear space and make some salary room, and having just added Mike Williams, it was clear that Stevie had to go.
With that in mind, Buffalo got a great return for him. A 4th round pick which could become a 3rd rounder is great value for a wide receiver in today's market. And they were able to send him to a winning team near his hometown. Good move.
Trading for Brown
I hope Buffalo has a plan at RB, because I have no idea what it is. Brown is a very talented former #1 high school recruit who is only 22 and has very few career carries in college or the NFL. He could be a starting running back for Buffalo, for sure. But the Bills have been adamant that they are committed to CJ Spiller, refusing to trade him away even as his contract approaches the danger zone. We can assume that Fred will be retiring soon - how many 34/35 year old running backs do you know in today's NFL? So is the plan to platoon CJ and Brown in the future? Will they let CJ go (possibly using Brown as leverage) and make Brown the feature back? And where do Anthony Dixon and Frank Summers come in?
If Brown emerges as a 600-1000 yard rusher with Buffalo (or 1000-1400 if CJ leaves), then I think the trade was worth it, spending a 3rd or 4th rounder for a feature back or a dynamite #2. But I think there's a lot of uncertainty here, so I can't evaluate it yet.
Trading in general
Go for it, Doug. Make Buddy squirm. Just make sure you stick to your valuation and you know what you're doing.