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Previewing the Buffalo Bills offseason: 2019 NFL Draft options

Who will the Bills target in April?

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills, through their bye week, sit near the bottom of the AFC with a 3-7 record and a top-ten draft pick in sight. Their schedule eases up over the home stretch, but Bills fans are already looking ahead to the off-season. With ten games played, the roster has a few clear needs. Here’s how those positions stack up against the 2019 NFL Draft class.

X Receiver

The X receiver, or split end, sets up on the line of scrimmage. That exposes him to press coverage. This is the position generally thought of as “number-one wide receiver”—a player who either has the techniques or raw physical talent to get open and catch the ball in crucial situations. In Buffalo’s offense, that role has been Kelvin Benjamin’s in 2018. The upcoming draft doesn’t have any outright elite players in this arena, but a few merit mention.

Kelvin Harmon (NC State)

Harmon’s a junior, but the 6’3” 215-pound wide receiver was recognized with the seniors in NC State’s final home game, so expect him to jump to the NFL. Harmon’s been the top target for Ryan Finley over the past two seasons, topping 1,000 receiving yards in 2017 and 2018.

With D.K. Metcalf’s injury (we’ll cover him below), Harmon has a shot to be the first receiver selected in April. He’s an agile mover considering his size, but is also exceptional as a contested-catch receiver—not quite as effective as Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers on those back shoulder throws, but in the vicinity. He’s also a savvy route runner, showing an understanding of coverage details and helping out his strength-limited quarterback by gaining separation.

Hakeem Butler (Iowa State)

Butler is one of my draft crushes—a player who wins downfield because he physically dominates during and after the catch point. At 6’6” and 225 pounds, Butler has rare size that puts him into Mike Evans territory. While he isn’t the most fluid receiver, he has enough speed to threaten man coverage downfield—and he leads the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in yards-per-catch among players with at least 25 receptions this year.

Butler’s an absolute bear to try and stop. He owns contested catches, and drags defenders along with him once he’s running with the ball in his hands. With Butler, you’re getting a receiver who’s more one-dimensional than other candidates for an X—his route tree will be limited due to his lack of great agility—but he’ll be nearly elite in the traits you wanted when you drafted him.

N’Keal Harry (Arizona State)

Harry’s jump-ball prowess was already well known after a great 2017 sophomore season. The 6’3,” 216-pound receiver is a great athlete in space, with long strides and strength to spare.

This year, ASU has targeted Harry on shorter routes, and he’s struggled at times because his route releases aren’t great—and he isn’t especially effective sifting through coverage to find an opening. Despite that, and a few minor injuries, Harry’s still topped 80 yards receiving in nine of his 11 games, proving he can only be held back so long.

Other notable X-receiver names

D.K. Metcalf (Ole Miss)

Metcalf might be the most talented of the whole group, with a fantastic combination of size and speed—but a neck injury ended his 2018 season. If he declares, the injury might hold him out of pre-draft workouts.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside (Stanford)

6’3” and 225 pounds, but plays like he’s 6’ 6”. Arcega-Whiteside is a post-up monster, and will probably have a 40-inch vertical at the NFL Combine.

David Sills V (West Virginia)

The onetime quarterback recruit is Will Grier’s favorite target. In 22 games together, they’ve connected for 1677 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (Texas)

The junior receiving tandem of Johnson and Humphrey each possess a rare combination of length and fluidity—and both started delivering on their potential for the first time this season.

Z Receiver

The Z, or flanker, lines up behind the line of scrimmage—this allows the tight end to be an eligible receiver. Because of his positioning, the Z doesn’t deal with press coverage, giving him room to eat up the cushion in front of him. He also has better positioning for jet sweeps and other plays that use motion. Right now, the Bills are trying a mix of Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, the newly-signed Deonte Thompson, and other players in this role.

Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (Oklahoma)

Hollywood, Florida is home to Brown—the next fast, explosive playmaker ready to join the ranks of the NFL’s diminutive receiving dynamos. While Brown only measures 5’10” and 165 pounds, time will tell if NFL teams have learned their lesson—courtesy of Tyreek Hill and Tarik Cohen—that speed and vision trump traditional size metrics.

Brown has elite speed and fluidity. He’s one of the best deep threats in college football, but you can hand him the ball on a jet sweep and he’ll turn it upfield with haste. He’s a slippery runner with the ball in his hands, and his route-running maturity has developed during his college career. The only knock on him is his lack of size—it gives him fewer opportunities on contested catches, and it means he can’t contribute as a blocker. Teams might also worry about injuries. That could drop Brown to the second day of the draft—where a team will be lucky to snap him up.

Emanuel Hall (Missouri)

When he’s healthy, Emanuel Hall is the explosive playmaker who unlocks big-armed Drew Lock’s passing potential. Maybe he can do the same for Josh Allen’s cannon. Hall has a second and third gear that allows him to easily accelerate past most defensive backs. He has great releases off the line of scrimmage, which combine with his long speed to make him one of the best deep threats in the upcoming draft.

Hall has had drop issues in the past. He improved his catch rate this season, but still suffers the occasional face-smacking dropped catch. When he played in an Air Raid offense, Hall ran a limited route tree, and he missed four-plus games this year where he could’ve had more exposure to a pro-style offense.

Other notable Z-receiver names

Anthony Johnson (Buffalo)

For two years, Johnson’s been a big-play machine for the Bulls. His route running needs a lot of work, but he gets by on natural speed and his ability to track the ball—even in tough, over-the-shoulder situations.

A.J. Brown (Ole Miss)

A different style of “Z”, Brown’s a 6’1” 225-pound receiver with strength and yards-after-catch (YAC) abilities. He worked out of the slot in college, which means he doesn’t have much experience facing press coverage. His route running needs more development.

DaMarkus Lodge (Ole Miss)

Lodge is overlooked behind the top two Ole Miss receivers, but the receiver has still put up a respectable 1521 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons. His route running is very refined, but he has occasional drop issues.

Offensive Tackle

Jonah Williams (Alabama)

Williams produces an offensive-line-clinic tape each time he steps onto the field. Beginning with his freshman season, as the starting right tackle and a freshman All-American for the Crimson Tide, he caught the collective eyes of offensive-line gurus around the league. Now he’s playing like an All-American on the left side.

Williams has exceptional hand-eye coordination, consistently winning hand-fights with his opponents. He displays good lateral movement, and plays on his toes with a clean kick slide. Many offensive linemen struggle to develop consistent technique, but Williams has it. That should give him a high talent floor, with a Bryan Bulaga-like career as an apt career projection.

His downside is his size—“only” 6’5” and 301 pounds. Some teams won’t be comfortable staging him at left tackle with that length. The Bills start 6’4” Dion Dawkins at left tackle, so they’d be comfortable with Williams.

David Edwards (Wisconsin)

From the offensive-line factory in Wisconsin, meet the 6’7,” 320-pound redshirt junior Edwards. He came onto campus as a 240-pound tight end, and now he’s the starting right tackle for the Badgers. He’s a mauler in the running game, turning his core power into open lanes for Wisconsin’s rushing attack. A good athlete who can reach the second level of the defense, Edwards also has excellent length to help him around the edge.

He’s still learning the nuances of the position, with his footwork and his ability to react to pass-rushing moves being two notable weaknesses. Some teams might also be unsure about his ability to swap to the left side of the ball in the pros.

Other notable offensive tackle names

Yodny Cajuste (West Virginia)

An athletic tackle with consistent pass protection technique, Cajuste isn’t a dominating blocker—but he has excellent fluidity in his pass sets. He’d be a natural left tackle for a team.

Dalton Risner (Kansas State)

Risner’s a longtime starter from a program known for producing solid professionals. Risner’s a mobile and sturdy player with great technique, but he’s an older prospect, and his lack of elite length will have teams looking at moving him inside to guard.

Greg Little (Ole Miss)

Little has the ideal build for an offensive tackle: 6’5” and 325 pounds with long arms—and he’s an explosive athlete for a lineman. His technique is still in development, and that makes him a risky prospect as an offensive lineman.

Interior Offensive Line

Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin)

Will the 6’3,” 322-pound redshirt sophomore manning the pivot for the Badgers go pro? It doesn’t look likely, but anything could happen. Biadasz has outstanding power in his body, with a rock-solid anchor and torque in his hips. He’s a great mover in space, with the vision to take excellent blocking angles. He also blocks through the whistle—always something to appreciate. If he declares for the draft, he’d likely be the first center selected and land in the first round.

Chris Lindstrom (Boston College)

Standing 6’4” and 310 pounds, Lindstrom is closing out a starting streak that currently sits at 47 consecutive games. He has played both right guard and right tackle for the Eagles, and starts at right guard today for the team. Lindstrom’s technique is textbook—from the way he balances his anchor in a pass set to the way he climbs to the second level for a block on a linebacker.

Lindstrom effectively targets his hands on an opponent’s pads while run blocking, then translates that grip into a leg drive through his hips to forcefully open gaps. He fights through the end of a play and finishes blocks into the dirt. Offensive guard isn’t the sexy pick for a team (unless that guard is Quenton Nelson), but Lindstrom will make a coach happy with the way he effectively does his job every rep.

Other notable interior offensive line names

Ross Pierschbacher (Alabama)

With 53 starts and counting, Pierschbacher is in striking distance of J.K. Scott’s record of 56 starts for the Crimson Tide. With clean technique and body control, Pierschbacher holds his own in pass protection, but he lacks functional athleticism, and needs to improve his hand placement against faster players.

Nick Harris (Washington)

Harris began starting games as a true freshman, was the starting right guard as a sophomore, and is a starting center this year as a junior. He has a powerful, compact build, but plays too aggressively sometimes and can lose to a savvy pass rusher. He may not declare for the draft.

Elgton Jenkins (Mississippi State)

Jenkins is a smart, strong center who helps anchor Mississippi State’s offense. He moves well in space, and has good hand-fighting technique. One downside is a lack of a mean streak—he rarely takes initiative in one-on-one battles, and isn’t a punishing power blocker.

Darryl Williams (Mississippi State)

The road grader for the Bulldogs, Williams is a powerful offensive guard. He has an excellent anchor and a lock-tight grip, always looks for work, and blocks to the ground against his man. Williams might fall in the draft due to a lack of great athleticism—he may not be well-suited to all blocking schemes.

Defensive Tackle

Quinnen Williams (Alabama)

Before this season, Williams was a redshirt freshman with 20 tackles (6.5 tackles-for-loss) for the Crimson Tide. In his first season as a starter, Williams has exploded onto the scene, with 14 tackles-for-loss and five sacks in the first ten games. His hand-fighting is immaculate, and he has the power-speed combo to win against double teams. This is a special player developing in front of us. If Williams enters the draft, he’ll be a top-five pick before the end of the process.

Ed Oliver (Houston)

Oliver was a consensus top high school recruit—the first five-star prospect to commit to a G5 school like Houston. As a freshman, he won the Bill Willis trophy as the nation’s best defensive lineman. As a sophomore, he won the Outland trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman. Oliver’s always seemed destined for greatness, and he declared for the draft before starting his junior year.

With outstanding strength, elite burst, and crazy agility, coupled with an incredible motor, Oliver has rare upside as a defensive tackle. He could have a Gerald McCoy-type career in the NFL. The only question marks are his lack of developed pass rush moves, and his size (Oliver’s rumored to weigh under 285 pounds). Teams should see the big picture, though, with Ed Oliver—he is a top-five talent in the draft.

Other notable defensive tackle names

Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State)

Simmons will have to own up to his past: He punched a woman who was in an altercation with his sister and the incident was recorded on video. If he can answer for that and convince NFL teams he’s remorseful, having learned from it and changed, he has first-round talent. Simmons has outstanding power and can take on multiple blockers, and moves well for his 6’4” 310-pound frame. He’s also developed a few go-to pass rush moves.

Rashan Gary (Michigan)

Is he a defensive end or a defensive tackle? The 6’4” 281-pound Gary is a tweener with powerful hands, great burst and flexibility. Though a five-star pedigree, he’s never managed to reach Oliver’s massive level of production, and his production runs hot and cold.

Gerald Willis III (Miami)

Willis had a rocky past, transferring from Florida after multiple suspensions, and spending the 2017 season away from his team to try and set his life straight. Returning in 2018, Willis has been the core disruptive force on the Hurricanes defense. He has 17 tackles-for-loss, showing his burst, flexibility, and pass rushing technique are for real.