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2018 NFL Draft: Buffalo Bills player comparisons, projections

The best, worst, and “average projection” for each of the Bills draft choices.

One of the things NFL Draft prognosticators typically harp on is a player’s “floor” or the player’s “ceiling”. What’s the player’s maximum potential? If this player never improves, how bad are they going to be? Are they a safe prospect?

Here ae the comparables for the Buffalo Bills’ 2018 NFL Draft class.

Josh Allen

Floor: Jake Locker
Ceiling: Ben Roethlisberger
Bell curve middle: Joe Flacco

We’ve hashed through Allen’s major boom-bust nature plenty, and it’ll keep coming up through his whole career. His potential outcome could track through a wide swath of outcomes. At his worst, he could end up like a similar athletic project QB in Jake Locker. Locker played four seasons, never developed into an effective passer, struggled with injuries, and lost his love of the game. At best, Allen’s imposing stature in the pocket and rocket arm could lead him to a Big Ben-esque career, assuming he works with an accommodating coaching staff and roster that help him grow his traits.

The most likely result might be a career similar to Joe Flacco’s - solid-average production, a higher-than-desired interception rate, and occasional stretches of brilliance, sustained over several years of starting.

Tremaine Edmunds

Floor: LaVar Arrington
Ceiling: Brian Urlacher
Bell curve middle: Nick Barnett

Another physical freak, Edmunds has the speed and strength to match up against almost any offensive threat, but he’s extremely young, and it’s unclear how he’ll adjust when playing against a higher level of competition while his body still grows. At a minimum, Edmunds should be able to equal the career of former second overall pick LaVar Arrington, another outstanding athlete who played a few great seasons before lower body injuries, conflicts with coaching staffs, and a motorcycle accident ended his career. If Edmunds makes good on his potential, his ceiling is sky-high: Brian Urlacher was a 6’4” 258 pound former safety, and one of the greatest linebackers of the 21st century.

The middle outcome to look for is a player like Nick Barnett. Through eight years in Green Bay and two in Buffalo, Barnett was a three-down middle linebacker who started 139 of 160 possible games. He wasn’t as athletic as Edmunds is, but there’s no shame in a ten-year starter at linebacker.

Harrison Phillips

Floor: Marvin Austin
Ceiling: Ahtyba Rubin
Bell curve middle: Stephen Paea

Remember that third-round picks are essentially a 50-50 shot to stick as a long-term starter. While Phillips has the athletic ability and mentality to outdo the odds, a realistic projection should consider that he might not pan out in a big way. In the worst case, Phillips could end up like Marvin Austin, a powerful nose guard from a dominant UNC line who was drafted in the second round, but never managed to start a game before washing out of the league. On average, we can expect Phillips to stick in the league as a rotational lineman like Paea, who started three seasons at nose tackle and accumulated a decent sack record before retiring in 2017.

Assuming that Phillips’s college production and Combine results are the real deal, and he’s a more dynamic athlete than scouting services gave him credit for, his best case is a career like Ahtyba Rubin’s. At the peak of his 11-year career, Rubin was hitting more than 80 tackles per season, and he racked up 15 total sacks despite his role predominantly as a run-stuffer.

Taron Johnson

Floor: DeAngelo Smith
Ceiling: Leonard Johnson
Bell curve middle: Bene Benwikere

Johnson had a strong starting career at FCS Weber State, and though he doesn’t measure up as a great size or speed specimen, he’s similar to both E.J. Gaines and Tre’Davious White in his athletic profile. If he pans out, he’d be a good fit for Sean McDermott’s defense. In the best case, he can develop into a useful slot cornerback with a few seasons of starts like former UDFA Leonard Johnson. On average, we could expect Johnson to have a quiet career as a reserve and special teams stalwart, albeit one who might be pressed into duty for a season or two like Bene Benwikere was. Benwikere’s career took a step back when he moved again to the reserves in 2016, and he has mostly bounced around waivers since then.

There’s also a decent chance that Johnson simply doesn’t pan out. While he’s playing in McDermott’s system, he has a chance to grow his role, but if he’s knocked to a new roster, it’ll get more difficult. A similar player with that sort of career outcome was DeAngelo Smith, a 5’11” 191-pound fifth-round pick from the 2009 draft. Smith was a three-year starter at Cincinnati (the university) with similar athletic testing to Johnson, and he only appeared in seven games during his career, with six tackles to show for it.

Siran Neal

Floor: Crezdon Butler
Ceiling: Justin Bethel
Bell curve middle: Darrell Stuckey

Neal has a few positive indicators for his career - he has a nice build that would work at either cornerback or safety, standing 6’0” 206 pounds with 31-inch arms and nearly 10-inch hands. He’s an explosive athlete, managing a 40.5-inch vertical leap. He has experience and versatility, having played safety, slot and outside cornerback, over multiple years of starting. He was also a Senior Bowl invitee. He’s still a fifth-round pick from an FCS school, so we have to couch our expectations accordingly. At the best case, he could develop into a valuable special teams player and part-time starter in the secondary, a career trajectory like former sixth-round pick Justin Bethel. In the worst case, he may never stick on a 53-man roster for a significant amount of time, but he’ll bounce around the league, like former fifth-round pick Crezdon Butler. On average, with coaching stability in Buffalo, we could see a career like Darrell Stuckey’s - no starts, few opportunities to see the field, and occasional bursts of impact as a reserve over several years.

Wyatt Teller

Floor: Julian Vandervelde
Ceiling: Marshall Newhouse
Bell curve middle: Joe Looney

Some scouting services, like Pro Football Focus, Inside the Pylon, and Optimum Scouting, believe the Bills came away with a fifth-round steal when they added Virginia Tech’s Teller. While Teller has a physical, bury-you mentality, started 43 games, and showed off above-average athletic talent, his expectations need to be measured against the standard of a fifth-round selection.

At the worst case, Teller never really catches on to the NFL speed, and fails to break into the offensive line depth chart out of training camp. Take Julian Vandervelde, for instance, who struggled for five years to emerge with the Philadelphia Eagles, only sticking on the roster for 17 games over those five seasons.

On average, we can expect Teller to wind up as a reserve and decent spot starter for several seasons. Think of Duke Preston, or Ryan Groy, or current Cowboys lineman Joe Looney, who has spent 3.5 of the past 4 seasons on Dallas’s active roster, starting 13 games in that stint.

In the best case, the traits that had those scouting services excited about Teller pay off, and he winds up starting for several seasons over a long career. Marshall Newhouse is one such example. Though he has issues with slow feet and looks mismatched on the perimeter, he’s still entering his eighth season in the league, with 70 starts under his belt to this point.

Ray-Ray McCloud

Floor: Robert Herron
Ceiling: Dexter McCluster
Bell curve middle: Keenan Howry

McCloud was a surprise early entrant into the draft, less productive and less well-known than his teammate Deon Cain and previous teammates from the Clemson receiver pipeline. Small and not a great speed metric player, McCloud’s style of running after the catch made him an effective punt returner at Clemson.

If everything works out for this player, he might end up with a career like Dexter McCluster’s. McCluster was more well-regarded out of college, drafted in the second round, but in his seven-season career, never developed into a starting receiver. He did make All-Pro once as a punt returner, and was a decent gadget runner-receiver for his teams.

On average, McCloud might manage a few seasons as the primary return man for a team, but not really break into the offense. One player who fit that mold was Keenan Howry, who returned 49 punts in three seasons while only recording three receptions.

In the worst case, McCloud just gets lost in the shuffle of receivers at training camp and ends up a one-and-done player. Robert Herron was a sixth-round pick who managed seven touches in his rookie season, but never re-emerged from the waiver wire after that.

Austin Proehl

Floor: Devon Wylie
Ceiling: Jarius Wright
Bell curve middle: Jordan Shipley

Proehl had a decent career for the Tar Heels, spending most of that time as a reserve. He missed much of his senior season with a shoulder injury, but recovered in time to attend a regional scouting combine in March, where he reportedly impressed scouts with his refined catching technique. The son of a longtime NFL wide receiver, Proehl is hoping to break camp on an NFL roster despite the thin resume.

Proehl has a classic slot receiver build and plays with good awareness in his route-running. If he’s not physically outmatched and his injury issues end here, he could develop into a consistent #4 receiver, like Minnesota’s Jarius Wright. It’s also possible that his career doesn’t last quite that long - Jordan Shipley had a small flash of production, but concussions were the culprit that ended his career after three seasons. In the worst case, Proehl gets lost in the mix and only ever delivers a couple of token touches over a short career, a la Devon Wylie.