Where that article was meant to be more of a conversation-starter, this is an opinion piece. The Combine kicks draft season into high gear, and while we're still in the information-gathering phase of the season (pre-draft visits start soon!), this is also a time where fluid opinions start to solidify. We have hard data on prospects now, and I'm feeling the urge to start paring down the list of potential first-round picks for the Bills.
Mind you, when I say "paring down," I don't really mean that at all. My first rule of following the draft is to keep an open mind. The Bills pick ninth; I have 13 names below, and there are quarterbacks and defensive tackles that should be in the conversation as well that I'm excluding because the Bills don't have anything close to a pressing need to draft early at those positions. (That actually isn't true at quarterback, but we also know they're not going to pick a quarterback.)
What that all is trying to say is this: these are, in my opinion, the 13 best fits for the Bills in the 2014 NFL Draft class. We have more than two months to take closer looks at all of these names, and perhaps even add another name or two if things change, but every single one of these players would help the Bills in a significant way. These are the names that Bills fans should be discussing most thoroughly right up until May 8.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
He may not be a true No. 1 receiver, but Evans has skills and traits that the Bills desperately crave to help their young quarterback: elite ball skills, size and an overall physicality to his game. Buffalo's passing game is entirely finesse; Evans would change that almost instantly. He alleviated some speed concerns in Indianapolis, too. Even if he's not a No. 1, he's a uniquely skilled No. 2 that would perfectly complement Buffalo's underrated receiving talent on hand.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins is not the "size" receiver that Bills fans craze, but he doesn't need to be. When a player is this talented, rationalizations about how he fits into the status quo don't matter. Watkins would step into Buffalo and be the team's go-to receiving target from the start.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Proponents of the Bills adding a big receiver should not forget about Ebron, even after Evans' strong Combine performance. Ebron confirmed his top-notch athleticism, and is fairly universally considered the top tight end available this year, and a legitimate candidate to be taken in the top half of the first round. Whether or not the Bills (or the league, for that matter) value this position enough to pull the trigger that early is the big question.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The next two names on our list command many more headlines, but Lewan was always very close in terms of on-field performance, and he proved in Indianapolis that he may even be better athletically. Lewan is a legitimate Top 10 prospect that can play either side of the line, and has the type of athleticism that the Bills sorely lack along their offensive front.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Everything said about Lewan applies to Matthews, who has the additional benefits of NFL-caliber bloodlines (his father is Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews) and a squeaky-clean image off the field. Matthews' athletic numbers paled in comparison to Lewan and the next name down, but his tape is better than both, his athletic numbers are very good in their own right, and he remains one of the safest investments in this year's draft class.
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
It's not difficult to imagine Robinson becoming a fan favorite in any fan base of a line-needy team, because he's the type of physically imposing tackle that blue-collar football fans adore. Seriously, watch this guy play sometime; he's the type of prospect that's fun to watch on any given down, because he's capable of so utterly demolishing his competition. There's a bit more risk/reward with Robinson, but it may not matter, because this guy belongs in the Top 5.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
I can't tell you anything about Clowney that SB Nation's Stephen White hasn't covered in thorough detail already, so just read that, and understand that athletes of this rarity belong at or near the top of every team's big board. Defensive end, by the way, is an underrated positional need for the Bills.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Buffalo's need for linebacker is more of the inside variety, and while Barr is more of a pass-rushing outside linebacker prospect, he's also a special case. He's only been playing defense for a couple of years after switching over from an offensive receiving position, and his athleticism is top-notch. He'd be more of an experimental Top 10 draft pick, but his talent is clearly worthy of that potential landing spot in the draft.
Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Mike Mayock blew the barn doors open on Mack's draft stock when he said he'd take him No. 1 overall; now viewed a Top 5 lock, Mack will likely take his highly versatile and coveted set of skills to another NFL city, and not to the same NFL city in which he played college ball. Still, he belongs on our list, and will be interesting to discuss as a theoretical complement to Kiko Alonso.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Mosley did not participate in every drill at the Combine, including the 40-yard dash, but watching him for 10 seconds during field drills confirmed what was obvious from his college game film: he's an outstanding athlete, and exactly the type of scheme-versatile, three-down linebacker that is coveted in today's NFL.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
He flew under the radar for a long time, mostly because this year's cornerback class does not necessarily feature a blue-chip prospect, but Dennard is going to be picked early in May. He's a press corner - Seattle's defense has turned press corners into the hottest commodities in the NFL outside of quarterbacks - with size, good enough speed and a lot of quality experience in big spots.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Dennard and Gilbert will duke it out to be the top cornerback selected in the first round, but Gilbert is unequivocally the higher-upside player. He has prototypical NFL cornerback size with better-than-prototypical athletic numbers. His speed will allow him to cover a lot of early-career mistakes, and you can bet there are several teams in the Top 15 that would be willing to live with growing pains to bet on his upside. Athletes of his caliber do not last long on draft day.
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Out of every name on this list, Pryor's Combine performance was perhaps the most pedestrian. His 40 time and other athletic numbers won't wow anyone, and when it comes to Bills safeties, most fans are adamant that the team should just pay Jairus Byrd and scratch the position off of their needs list. Pryor will continue to be overlooked, but he shouldn't be. He's a dynamic player, able to make plays against the run or the pass, match up with certain athletes, and that diverse skill set is not easy to find at the position.
|Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M||6046||231||35-1||9-5||4.53||12||37||7.00|
|Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina||6043||250||33-2||10||4.60||24||32||10|
|Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M||6054||308||33-3||9-7||5.07||24||30.5||8-9||7.34|
|Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina||6052||266||34-4||10||4.53||21||37.5||10-4||7.27|
|Darqueze Dennard||CB||Michigan State||5110||191||30-2||9||4.51||15|
|Justin Gilbert||CB||Oklahoma State||6000||202||33-1||8-5||4.37||20||35.5||10-6|