When the Buffalo Bills finalized their 2017 NFL Draft class, the first under new head coach Sean McDermott, they established a clear prototype for his preferred type of player: a senior with strong character plenty of experience under his belt. Tre’davious White led the way, coming out of LSU with 47 career starts and the vaunted number 18 jersey given to an exceptional leader for the team. Following him were Zay Jones and Dion Dawkins, who both started over 40 games in the NCAA. Matt Milano, Nate Peterman, and Tanner Vallejo all appeared in a long list of games during their four year playing careers.
Keeping that in mind, here is a look at some rising seniors for the 2018 NFL Draft. Each of these players has already played 30 games in college, putting them above the presumed threshold for Buffalo’s new management. While the early entrants to the draft tend to carry the most “flash” in their scouting reports, this year’s senior class has several exciting talents to feature.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Chances are, Rudolph will be marked as the top senior quarterback available in this year’s draft class. Since being thrust into starting duty late in his freshman season, he’s incrementally improved while helping his team play at a high level. Rudolph is coming off a season where he threw for 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
Luke Falk, Washington State
Falk is the latest passer to come through Mike Leach’s high-volume spread attack. In three seasons, he has accumulated 89 passing touchdowns against 26 interceptions and crossed the 10,000 yard mark.
Matt Linehan, Idaho
Linehan is the prodigal coach’s son - his father, Scott Linehan, is the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. The 6’3” 220 pound passer is following in his father’s footsteps for the Vandals. After some freshman growing pains, Linehan has begun to blossom, with a 29/36, 476 yard, four touchdown performance last season against New Mexico State etching his name into the Idaho record books.
Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
Surprisingly, the most battle-tested quarterback available hails from Boone, North Carolina. Lamb is a three-year starter who already has 38 starts under his belt. The 6’2” 200 pounder has 63 touchdowns to 26 interceptions in his career, and is a dual threat who ran for 505 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
Royce Freeman, Oregon
Going into the 2016 season, it would have been surprising to expect Freeman to return for his senior year. But a leg injury in the third week of the year forced him to miss a game and hampered his effectiveness for much of the remaining season. With 4146 career rushing yards and 44 touchdowns, Freeman stands out for his outstanding production.
Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
Franklin has rewritten the record books for running backs in Kalamazoo while his teammate Corey Davis was doing the same for receivers. He holds the school records for rushing touchdowns in a season (24), rushing yards in a game (281), and career rushing touchdowns (41).
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Wadley sort of stands out on this list for his lack of impressive statistics - his 168/1081/10 junior rushing line was the first time he crossed 500 rushing yards in a season. Be prepared for his name to pick up steam this year, however. He runs like a carbon copy of LeSean McCoy.
James Washington, Oklahoma State
Rudolph’s favorite target is one of the contenders to be the first receiver drafted next April. Standing 6-0 and 205 pounds, Washington has caught passes for 2400 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns in the last two seasons.
Kylen Towner, Western Kentucky
The five-foot-eight 175 pound Towner is an explosive kick returner, owning the NCAA record for single-season kick return average with a ridiculous 40.3 yards per return last year. His receiving resume is limited to six catches, but with three kick return touchdowns to his name, he might just want to stick with what he’s best at.
Austin Corbett, Nevada
Corbett has started 36 straight games for the Wolfpack, with 24 at left tackle and the most recent 12 at right tackle. Having already earned his bachelor’s degree, Corbett hopes to one day become an orthopedic surgeon.
Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
Ragnow has a streak of 26 consecutive starts going for the Razorbacks, with 12 of those games at center and 14 at right guard. He also played some center for nine games as a true freshman. Ragnow is a favorite of the college crew at Pro Football Focus, being selected to their All-America first team and chosen as the Best Offensive Lineman and Best Run Blocker.
JaVon Rolland-Jones, Arkansas State
Rolland-Jones is the active leader for career sacks in the NCAA with 30.5 heading into his senior season. With 13.5 sacks in his senior season, he could match the record set by Terrell Suggs. He’d need a whopping 29 tackles for loss in order to match the record of 75 belonging to Khalil Mack and Jason Babin, however. Rolland-Jones was named Sun Belt Player of the Year in 2016.
Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
Haynes is an odd “tweener” for a defensive end, listed at six-foot-three and 222 pounds. He’s been a consistent playmaker for the Rebels in his three seasons, collecting 24.5 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss, and nine forced fumbles.
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Jewell is a tackling machine, already eclipsing 300 in the first three years of his career. Also effective against the pass, he broke up nine throws last year.
Auggie Sanchez, South Florida
Sanchez sits right behind Jewell with 297 career tackles. While Jewell has chops in coverage, Sanchez is more effective behind the line of scrimmage; in the past two seasons, he has accumulated 16.5 tackles for loss.
Darius Phillips, Western Michigan
Do you long for the days when Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish made Buffalo’s kicking game a terror to behold? The five-foot-ten, 179 pound Phillips is an electric playmaker with the ball in his hands. A converted receiver, Phillips has two receiving touchdowns, three kick return touchdowns, a punt return touchdown, and four interception return touchdowns to his name.
Rashard Fant, Indiana
If you can’t intercept a pass, the next-best thing you can do is knock it loose. Fant is the active NCAA leader for pass breakups with 44, including 39 in the last two seasons. He’s an undersized but tenacious defender.
Dominick Sanders, Georgia
Sanders has started 38 games for Georgia, and saw some spot duty as a team captain in last year’s season opener. He has 12 career interceptions from that span, and was named first-team All-SEC as a sophomore.
Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern
Igwebuike has been a swiss army knife for the Wildcats in his three year career. With 246 tackles, 15 passes broken up, four interceptions, and 11.5 tackles for loss, he plays an effective all-around role at the back end of the defense.