Over the past several days, I have received several emails from readers inquiring about the progress of the Buffalo Bills' current group of drafted rookies. (I also got a very flattering email from my pals out in California. This is your shout-out.) Naturally, I found the discussion topic compelling; even if it's far too early to judge the Bills' eight draft picks from this year, we can, at a bare minimum, throw out everything that has been observed about these players over the first couple weeks of camp.
Round 1, Pick 11: Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State. We can only assume that Maybin is in fantastic shape, because he's currently on Day 13 of a contractual holdout. The sad part is that, as far as we can tell, very little has changed on the negotiation front over those thirteen days. Blame it on Michael Crabtree. Blame it, also, on his agent, Eugene Parker. Right now, however, it doesn't look like Buffalo's speedy defensive end will be in camp any time soon. That can change in a heartbeat, however.
Round 1, Pick 28: Eric Wood, OG, Louisville. Wood missed the start of camp, but when he did hit the practice field, he'd taken all first-team reps at right guard away from veteran within a day. No rookie has impressed to date the way Wood has. This guy's got it all - talent, tenacity, charisma, and leadership qualities. If he stays healthy and his rookie season goes as expected, don't be surprised if we're talking about Wood being the key young building block on our offensive line, nor as if he's the best player on it.
Round 2, Pick 42: Jairus Byrd, FS, Oregon. Ah, yes - the pick that everyone loves to hate. Right now, mitigating circumstances haven't changed that opinion much; Byrd missed several days of camp, and upon finally signing his rookie deal, he was promptly put on the shelf for two weeks as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. As a result, not even Buffalo's coaches have seen Byrd on the field since early May. Byrd's been in camp a while now, so he should be catching up on the classroom side of things. But a rep's a rep, and Byrd has zero thus far. He's got a long, long way to go before he sees the field this season.
Round 2, Pick 51: Andy Levitre, OG, Oregon State. Just like Wood, Levitre has already nailed down a starting job; he is now taking the lion's share of first-team reps at left guard ahead of veteran , who is seeing reps at tackle. Levitre came into camp smaller than anticipated - he weighed in at just 297 pounds - but the guy is strong as an ox. He's been moving people well in the run game despite his "light" weight, and his pass protection is improving. Many consider Levitre the weak link on the offensive line considering his status as a rookie second-round pick; I assure you, if there are breakdowns, we'll be complaining about other people before Levitre. He'll be fine.
Round 4, Pick 121: Shawn Nelson, TE, Southern Mississippi. Nelson missed the first practice of camp while his contract was being finalized. He then missed several more practices dealing with an ankle injury. When he's been on the field, however, it's been difficult to not be impressed with Nelson. His natural talent is undeniable; he runs very well, has great size (6'5", 240), and has pretty soft hands. Right now, the team is grooming his blocking while using him as a slot receiver in first-team red zone packages. It's still unclear just how much he'll contribute as a rookie, but for now, it appears the Bills have finally found themselves a tight end that can "do it all," as they say.
Round 5, Pick 147: Nic Harris, LB, Oklahoma. Many thought that Harris would push for the starting job at SAM linebacker. That's not going to happen - Ellison has that job locked down, and Harris isn't a serious contender - but that doesn't mean that Harris hasn't played well. He's taken the majority of his reps as Ellison's understudy, and he's coming along nicely as he makes a position switch from college safety to NFL linebacker. He still plays tentatively at times, but has also had some nice hits in practice. He's quite good in coverage. If Ellison goes down, the Bills will be fine plugging Harris in.
Round 6, Pick 183: Cary Harris, CB, USC. Easily the biggest disappointment of camp to date. The guy we'll discuss next is a big reason why; Harris' mini-camp injury didn't help either. Harris has been at or near the bottom of the cornerback ladder thus far in camp, and when he's seen reps, he's been worse than underwhelming. He's got a good program pedigree and some talent, but right now, his chances of making the roster appear astronomically small.
Round 7, Pick 220: Ellis Lankster, CB, West Virginia. Lankster has been everything that Harris has not been this pre-season. While Harris toils away at the bottom of the depth chart, Lankster has a morer-than-legitimate chance to make the roster. He's a tough tackler and has been making plays (i.e. interceptions, those rare, rare commodities in Buffalo) left and right. He offers the team special teams ability, both as a gunner and as depth in the return game. This guy is just too talented and has made too many plays to not keep around.