It's not easy to find an immediate starter on the third day of the NFL Draft. Teams have to decide how best to use their picks: draft a specialist or niche player, draft an overachiever who might not be talented enough for the NFL, or draft a "project" player who flashes talent, but isn't ready to start (and might not ever be)? With Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson, Doug Whaley added two players to the Buffalo Bills who need some polishing before they get on the field. Can they eventually impact Buffalo's lineup?
You have probably heard the backstory on Henderson by now. The 6'7", 331-pound tackle was rated the top recruit in all of high school football, with prototypical tackle size and the athleticism that coaches dream of. His college career at Miami was underwhelming, as he dealt with occasional injuries and was suspended several times for failing drug tests. He never became the star left tackle his coaches were hoping for, instead spending his time on the right side. Is that talent still workable in the NFL?
The short answer is yes; Henderson has shown plenty of NFL ability on film. He's a work in progress, but his upside is that of a great starting left tackle. His size and wingspan is top-class, and he's remarkably light on his feet, with a clean and easy kick slide off the snap. He has the ability to easily get up to the second level and make a block, something many linemen struggle with. While he's a work in progress with his arms and hands, he usually does a good job with using his sheer size to get in the way of defenders, even when he makes a mistake.
There are still areas of Henderson's game that need work, and he would probably be challenged if he had to start an NFL game right now. In spite of his size, the core strength is merely average for a NFL lineman. You rarely see him blow an opponent off his feet or push him five yards downfield. With his build, he should be able to do that sort of thing, so he probably needs some time in the weight room. His hand and arm usage is unrefined; he'll make several different technical errors with them throughout the game, and it's frustrating because the times where his hands are up and his arms are inside are when he looks like a fantastic player. He has similar inconsistency issues with his stance, usually if he is caught off guard by something unexpected, like a blitzing defender. When that happens, he widens his base, spreads out his arms, and leans towards the defender, losing balance and often ending up on the ground at the end of the play. While he has more than a few flaws, these are all mechanical issues, which means they are correctable. If he fixes those, Henderson can be a great NFL player.
Of course, there's one more element necessary to thrive in the NFL, and it has to do with a player's personality on and off the field. On the game tape, Henderson is a fine team player, never taking plays off, pulling his teammates up after a tackle, and running down to the end zone on a long touchdown to celebrate. If he makes a mistake, it was usually a stupid error, not because he wasn't trying. Off the field, though... there's a reason he fell to the seventh round. Henderson was suspended numerous times for smoking marijuana while in college, and also failed the drug test at the Combine for the same reason. At this point, it could probably be considered more of a problem than a hobby. While the topic of marijuana usage is a hot debate item these days, as long as the NFL keeps suspending players who smoke it, fans should be concerned about players with that habit, if only so that their starters can keep playing in games. Along with the drug usage, Henderson also had a disappointing college career, never emerging as the star he might have been, and it ended with an ugly pro day. There are questions of maturity, and questions of work ethic, and it's possible that maybe Henderson just needed to move on from Miami and get to a new social environment. Only the future will show what he can do in the NFL.
In Richardson, the Bills invested in a 6'5", 329-pound offensive guard with a whole lot of core power. When he squares you up on a block, he's not moving backward - usually, you are. Not every lineman can generate movement in the running game, and Richardson has no problem doing that. That being said, he's at his best when that movement is straight ahead, and he has trouble when it isn't.
Richardson played his senior season in the neighborhood of 345 pounds, and that really impacted his game in Baylor's hyper-fast, no-huddle offense. He often ran into trouble in situations where he needed to turn or move laterally, and gave up a few pressures and sacks because of his slow movements. When he was on his game, the pass protection was excellent and the rushing attack went through him. When his conditioning was off, he failed to finish blocks and let defenders by in spite of his height and his 34.6-inch arms. Despite coming into his final season as a consensus All-American and first rounder in mock drafts, he didn't really live up to those expectations, culminating in the Senior Bowl when he got dominated in a breakout performance for eventual Top 15 pick Aaron Donald.
With great raw tools in place, Richardson made a commitment to slimming down after the Senior Bowl, weighing in at 329 pounds at the Combine. He didn't always give the best effort on the field, although it's tough to say if he was being lazy or just getting winded by the pace of the Baylor offense. If he continues to slim down to around 325 pounds and improves his footwork, he can be a starting NFL guard. But that will take time and effort by both him and the coaching staff.
While both Richardson and Henderson are big names who might have fans clamoring for playing time early in their careers, neither one is ready to begin starting games yet. Both are also likely too talented to be cut, and will be competing to be one of the backups on the 53-man roster. With the team likely to keep either eight or nine linemen, and Eric Wood, Cordy Glenn, Kraig Urbik, Chris Williams, and Cyrus Kouandjio considered locks, Richardson and Henderson need to show that not only do they have latent potential, but that they can fill in for spot duty if needed. They'll be competing against names like Erik Pears, Chris Hairston, and Doug Legursky, all experienced veterans who might be cut for young talent in the end. They'll also have to outshine J.J. 'Unga, Mark Asper, and Antoine McClain.
Assuming both players improve through camp, they should make the opening day roster. They're all about projection, and the ceiling is probably higher than almost every backup currently on the team. Richardson could eventually emerge as a starter, depending on how Chris Williams and Kraig Urbik play this season. Henderson's path to a starting job is a little more nebulous, even as he opens camp as the by-default first team left tackle, but he has the talent to earn it. With those two picks on the last day of the draft, Whaley showed that his selections weren't just about winning now - he was also looking to the future.