We're about one month out from the 2016 NFL Draft. Who knows the Buffalo Bills' targets? We've looked over all the information from this offseason, and we're here to tell you there's no solid answer - yet.
Doug Whaley is really good at giving truthful non-answers to reporters
You have to admire the Bills' general manager for his composure, even if it makes him frustrating to analyze. He has memorized the organization's one-liner answers, and is an expert at saying what reporters think they want to hear, without saying anything.
Will he pick a quarterback in the first round? Sure, if the opportunity presents itself, it's a guy we like, and he's at the top of our board. You ask him the same question about linebacker, cornerback, defensive tackle, he will give you the same response.
Does he think Kevin Hogan is the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft? Kevin Hogan is the most pro-ready quarterback relative to Buffalo, because his college offense is very close to Greg Roman's offense. This point is true, but also doesn't reveal anything about Hogan. If Juice Williams were the quarterback at Stanford, that might still make him the most pro-ready quarterback relative to Buffalo. It doesn't reveal anything more than that.
Will he target the best player available? Whaley has two non-answers ready for that one. Either he says that the team has a ranked board and their job is to pick the best player, knowing they have the depth to pick the best player, or he says that any position could be conceived as a need and therefore picking the best player available addresses a need regardless. Either way, he has told you nothing about what positions Buffalo desires.
What does he think of [insert any player name]? Depending on how this question is phrased, this is the best chance to hear real insights from Whaley. He's careful with the information he shares, but traits and opinions sometimes come through that reveal his intent.
If there's one thing we know, the Bills will draft a quarterback
Whaley has been very straightforward in acknowledging that the team needs to add a third quarterback to the roster. Tyrod Taylor's contract expires next year, and there's no chance that the Bills pick up EJ Manuel's fifth-year option to pay him $19 million in 2017. While Whaley is on record saying the extra quarterback could come from anywhere, let's be realistic: thanks to economics, he's coming from the draft. The going rate for a veteran quarterback has skyrocketed in recent years, while a third-round quarterback will only cost the team $2 million for four years of service.
The Bills want to draft Jared Goff
Goff is in the running for the first quarterback off the board, but that doesn't make the Bills like him any less. They interviewed him at the Combine, and sent Whaley and Kelvin Fisher to his pro day. Whaley shared his thoughts on the event, saying "... You saw everything you want to see from this guy." Whaley avoided specifics, but implied in an interview with SiriusXM that his team would sure be happy with Goff if he miraculously fell to No. 19.
The Bills want to draft Carson Wentz
Sure, a lot of teams would like to have the 6'5", 235-pound, two-time FCS champion quarterback. But if teams deserved to pick players based on attention lavished, rather than a pick order, the Bills would be at the front of the line for Wentz. Remember the report from January, where his quarterbacks coach mentioned that Buffalo was among the teams that visited the facilities the most?
The Bills want to draft Paxton Lynch
Buffalo has been keeping an eye on Lynch throughout the process. Back in November, they were one of three teams who called up his high school coach to do a bit of a background check. They also interviewed him at the Combine. If the Bills draft him, it probably takes their first-round pick.
The Bills want to draft Kevin Hogan
Tony Pauline, a draft insider who was pretty much the only person who reported that the Bills were interested in Manuel pre-draft, was the first on board with information that they liked Kevin Hogan this year. Whaley, in his "answer the exact question that was asked without giving away more intentions" manner, acknowledged Monday that Hogan would be the most "pro-ready" quarterback for the Bills, thanks to his familiarity with Greg Roman's offense. The team met with him at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, and Whaley attended his pro day.
The Bills want to draft Dak Prescott
While he lost the momentum he was building as the premier character guy in this group of quarterbacks after being arrested for DUI, Prescott still makes a lot of sense for the Bills. He's a dual-threat quarterback, but is more durable than Taylor, and he's incrementally improved as a pocket passer every year that he's played at Mississippi State. He's one of three players we know of to schedule a private workout at One Bills Drive.
The Bills want to draft Christian Hackenberg
Hackenberg is the ultimate reclamation project in this year's draft. A 6'4", 235-pound five-star recruit with a rocket arm and the ability to figure out Bill O'Brien's complicated pro-style offensive scheme, he immediately regressed when his coach was replaced by James Franklin and his simple spread attack. Hackenberg carries tremendous upside, and as a Penn State prospect, he's definitely on Terry Pegula's radar. The Bills reportedly sent a large contingent to his pro day.
The Bills want to draft Cardale Jones
If you want to talk about potential, Jones may be at the top of this year's quarterback class. Standing 6'5" and weighing in at 250 pounds, he has the best arm talent in the group, and has flashed more pocket presence in his small sample size than more established quarterbacks. His time as a starter at Ohio State went sort of like Sammy Hagar's with Van Halen - aside from a few good moments, Urban Meyer realized that he needed his David Lee Roth (J.T. Barrett) to have his team working the way he wanted. Jones would make a lot of sense for Buffalo as a developmental project, and they sent Greg Roman and David Lee (not the Van Halen singer) to his pro day.
We really don't have many clues on Buffalo's first-round pick
More than ever, this year is very difficult to pin down, because the Bills were so quiet in free agency. Depending on how you assemble the depth chart, the team has major needs at linebacker, edge rusher, and defensive line, they need immediate depth at quarterback, safety, and cornerback, and they could sure use another offensive lineman, wide receiver, and tight end. Good luck narrowing down those needs.
By far the biggest predictor for Buffalo's eventual first-round choice is the list of players they bring in for pre-draft visits. Buffalo's first pick visited One Bills Drive every year since Buddy Nix took over in 2010. Last year, the Bills made an effort not to report these visitors, forcing reporters to rely on sources and hearsay. This year we only know of three such visitors so far: Prescott, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, and Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
Plug Ragland and Rankins onto Buffalo's short list, then. You can contemplate the notion of adding some names that Buffalo met at the Combine, most of which are defenders:
- Mackensie Alexander, the Clemson cornerback who never gave up a touchdown in his college career (but never recorded any interceptions, either);
- Kevin Dodd, a 6'5", 278-pound defensive end, also from Clemson (the Bills met with every Clemson player at the Combine);
- Shaq Lawson, the other Clemson defensive end, and a better overall prospect than Dodd (albeit one who might not slide to Buffalo's pick);
- Emmanuel Ogbah, a defensive end from Oklahoma State who runs hot and cold on the field;
- Noah Spence, a defensive end who moved from Ohio State to Eastern Kentucky to go through rehab for a drug problem;
- Charles Tapper, a defensive lineman at Oklahoma who gained about 50 pounds during his college career, while managing to retain his impressive speed;
- Su'a Cravens, a linebacker-safety prospect from USC who currently profiles as a day two selection;
- Josh Doctson, a 6'2", 200-pound receiver out of TCU who tested as the most athletic receiver in the draft, and probably the best jump-ball receiver in the group.