The 2018 NFL Draft is only a few days away. With six top-100 picks, the Bills are as well-positioned as they’ve ever been to address a whole host of needs for the roster, including the most crucial need of all: quarterback. Through the pre-draft process, we’ve come to hear about 24 of the 30 players Buffalo is allowed to invite to One Bills Drive. In our time-honored tradition, here’s a look at the players Buffalo met with, and what that portends for the selections this weekend.
Leveraging personal connections
In Sean McDermott’s first season as a head coach, he made strong usage of personal connections and working relationships to build his roster and staff. The Bills added a wide receiver coach from East Carolina University, then drafted a receiver he coached in Zay Jones. They added Dion Dawkins from Temple, in the backyard of McDermott’s hometown. Free agents like Mike Tolbert and Leonard Johnson joined the team because of past experience working with McDermott.
With Buffalo’s pre-draft visitor list, the team has continued leaning on those personal connections. This year’s group has connections with multiple draft picks from 2017: Defensive end Harold Landry was a college teammate of Matt Milano, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was the same for Tanner Vallejo, and the Bills have brought in three former teammates of first round pick Tre’Davious White, including another cornerback in Donte Jackson.
The Bills have a few obvious holes on their roster, and their pre-draft visitor list reflects a desire to deeply analyze and select potential fits for those weaknesses. Quarterback and cornerback stand out, with at least four private visitors for the former and five for the latter.
The team also hosted six linebackers of various types - Roquan Smith, Rashaan Evans, and Leighton Vander Esch are traditional middle linebackers, Fred Warner and Corey Thompson are potential WILL linebackers or big nickel hybrids, and Uchenna Nwosu would be able to flex between pass rushing and playing off the ball as a SAM linebacker like Lorenzo Alexander.
Smart school selections
This year, it seemed that the Bills did an outstanding job of targeting their pre-draft visits to schools that could address multiple needs. The Bills have three first-tier needs (QB, CB, LB) and a few secondary needs (DL, IOL, RB, TE). Only one school that we know of featured multiple top-30 visitors: LSU. The other schools were represented only by a single player.
The schools chosen were still an excellent cross-section of Buffalo’s needs. Take Georgia for instance. In addition to visitor Roquan Smith, the school features two top-class running backs, a defensive tackle, and an offensive lineman worth drafting. The team brought in a quarterback from Oklahoma State, but the school has two great wide receiver prospects. USC has defensive ends, a running back, a QB, and receivers. Oklahoma has a defensive end, a quarterback, and a cornerback. Alabama has defensive linemen, cornerbacks, linebackers, and a running back.
Even some of the schools that don’t feature a long list of prospects still fit neatly into Buffalo’s needs. Memphis only really has three good prospects this year, but they’re receiver Anthony Miller, quarterback Riley Ferguson, and linebacker Genard Avery. Indiana’s list is mostly limited to tight end Ian Thomas, wide receiver Simmie Cobbs, and cornerback Rashard Fant, but all three fit potential needs.
This is how pre-draft visits should be used - pick and choose schools and players in order to get the best combination of breadth and depth on the upcoming rookie class.
The connection rules
When tracking pre-draft visitor trends, I pay attention to three rules. First is that the first round pick comes from the pre-draft visitor list. While every regime is a little different, since the year 2010, I know of only one instance where the team drafted a first rounder who didn’t visit the team: defensive end Shaq Lawson. Tre’Davious White may also fit into this bucket, but we only know 14 of Buffalo’s visitors from last year, and we do know that he was a pre-draft visitor with the Carolina Panthers, whom Buffalo was essentially cribbing off.
Second is that if a player visits, his teammates are on the list. Last year the Bills brought in Haason Reddick and Nate Hairston for a visit and drafted their teammate Dawkins. In 2013, when the Bills drafted Kiko Alonso, a team official mentioned that they used their pre-draft visit with Oregon pass rusher Dion Jordan to get some insight into his teammate. In 2016, the Bills brought a slew of Ohio State players in for a group visit, and eventually drafted two of them.
Third is that if a team is targeting specific positions, other players of note at the position may be on the radar - either we don’t know of their visits, or the team was talking with them through other means.
2018 Pre Draft Visitor connections (V - Visit, T - Teammate visit, P - position visit)
|1||Sam Darnold||QB||USC||T, P|
|1||Minkah Fitzpatrick||CB||Alabama||T, P|
|1||Leighton Vander Esch||LB||Boise State||V|
|1||Harold Landry||DE||Boston College||V|
|1||Denzel Ward||CB||Ohio State||V|
|1-2||Calvin Ridley||WR||Alabama||T, P|
|1-2||DaRon Payne||DT||Alabama||T, P|
|1-2||Taven Bryan||DT||Florida||T, P|
|1-2||Sony Michel||RB||Georgia||T, P|
|1-2||Lorenzo Carter||LB||Georgia||T, P|
|1-2||Lamar Jackson||QB||Louisville||T, P|
|1-2||Derrius Guice||RB||LSU||T, P|
|1-2||Sam Hubbard||DE||Ohio State||T, P|
|1-2||Mason Rudolph||QB||Oklahoma State||V|
|1-2||James Washington||WR||Oklahoma State||T, P|
|1-2||Dallas Goedert||TE||South Dakota State||V*, P|
|1-3||Ronald Jones||RB||USC||T, P|
|2-3||Nick Chubb||RB||Georgia||T, P|
|2-3||Billy Price||OC||Ohio State||T|
|2-3||Mark Andrews||TE||Oklahoma||T, P|
|2-3||Ogbonnia Okoronkwo||DE/LB||Oklahoma||T, P|
|2-4||Anthony Averett||CB||Alabama||T, P|
|2-4||Josey Jewell||LB||Iowa||T, P|
|2-4||Arden Key||DE||LSU||T, P|
|2-4||Rashaad Penny||RB||San Diego State||V|
|2-4||Rasheem Green||DE||USC||T, P|
|3-4||Jamarco Jones||OT||Ohio State||T|
|3-4||Marcell Ateman||WR||Oklahoma State||T, P|
|3-6||Bo Scarbrough||CB||Alabama||T, P|
|3-6||Levi Wallace||CB||Alabama||T, P|
|3-6||Cedrick Wilson||WR||Boise State||T, P|
|3-6||Isaac Yiadom||CB||Boston College||T, P|
|3-6||Antonio Callaway||WR||Florida||T, P|
|3-6||Trenton Thompson||DT||Georgia||T, P|
|3-6||Simmie Cobbs Jr||WR||Indiana||T, P|
|3-6||Genard Avery||LB||Memphis||T, P|
|3-6||Riley Ferguson||QB||Memphis||T, P|
|3-6||Chris Herndon||TE||Miami||T, P|
|3-6||Mark Walton||RB||Miami||T, P|
|3-6||Chad Thomas||DE||Miami||T, P|
|3-6||Tyquan Lewis||DE||Ohio State||T, P|
|3-6||Jerome Baker||LB||Ohio State||T, P|
|3-6||Deontay Burnett||WR||USC||T, P|
|4-7||Brandon Parker||OT||North Carolina A&T||V*|
|4-7||Kalen Ballage||RB||Arizona State||V|
|5-UDFA||Shaun Dion Hamilton||LB||Alabama||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Robert Foster||WR||Alabama||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Kamrin Moore||CB||Boston College||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Rashard Fant||CB||Indiana||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Akrum Wadley||RB||Iowa||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Darrel Williams||RB||LSU||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Kendrick Norton||DT||Miami||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Braxton Berrios||WR||Miami||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Jordan Thomas||CB||Oklahoma||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Tre Flowers||S||Oklahoma State||T|
|5-UDFA||Jordan Lasley||WR||UCLA||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Steven Mitchell Jr||WR||USC||T, P|