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Predicting the draft using Buffalo Bills’ pre-draft activity

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We take a crack at predicting the Buffalo Bills’ draft using an analytics-based approach

As (arguably) the Buffalo Rumblings contributor with the least amount of attention paid to college football and draft prospects, I’m often a bit out of my element this time of year. On the other hand, psychology and analytics are right up my alley.

While NFL front offices have vast resources at their disposal, none of them can change time. The intense pressure of getting it right come draft time makes it unlikely teams can get too cute about creating smoke screens without significantly reducing the amount of time they can meet with draft prospects (that’s the psychology part). Let’s quantify the visits to create a rough parallel of time spent and see where the Buffalo Bills have been focusing their attention (the analytics part).

Note: This chart shows the number of visits/meetings by position group. Player counts are generally similar as the Bills didn’t meet with many prospects more than once. For example, the 14 meetings with receivers were spread out among twelve players.

Raw Numbers

The Bills have met with players from just about every position, but as the chart shows there are some wild disparities. Mitch Morse’s position at center seems even more locked in before for example. The lone quarterback was Tyree Jackson during a local workout. Will Casey Bednarski end up in Buffalo? It’s possible, but there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming desire to add a kicker.

Going strictly by numbers we can see wide receivers have had the most attention with 14 visits. This is followed closely by offensive tackle and defensive end, and then defensive tackle. If we consider scheme, the outside linebacker group could likely be combined with the defensive end group as an “edge rusher” model. Under that assumption this position group takes the lead.

Star Power

If you haven’t looked at Dan Lavoie’s visit tracker yet, do yourself a favor and check it out here. Opening this in a second tab is encouraged for quick reference. The data is a great start but if we’re worried about who the Bills will pick first it’d be helpful to see how many players in each group have generally received first round grades.

Feel free to peruse the names on the tracker linked above but, if you’d rather not, here’s a quick rundown. The offensive tackles group has a short list of prominent names. Compared to the wide receiver and edge rusher groups though, there’s no comparison. With multiple star power names on both of those lists, they would appear to be the first round targets.

School Spirit

Another potential purpose of meeting with players is to gain insight into a teammate. Seeing a school’s name repeatedly is a possible indicator of this behavior. Several schools come up a few times. The Bills met with three players each from Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma.

The top two, though, are Penn State and Ole Miss. Both schools had five players meet with the Bills. The names attached to Penn State don’t seem to suggest first round. There’s also the fact this school is considered local for the Bills and doesn’t count against their 30 visits. The high number could just be an indicator that Buffalo looked to take advantage of this fact.

The Ole Miss names stand out, though. In addition to D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown, the Bills met with a third wide receiver, a tight end, and an offensive tackle. I’ll let everyone come to their own conclusions, but it’s an intriguing list for a number of reasons. With two potential first-round wide receivers headlining the list there seems to be a little smoke in this direction.

Predictions

The Bills set themselves up well to take the best player available with the ninth pick. The two roles they look keen on finding a first-round talent are wide receiver and edge rusher. A lot of pre-draft conjecture suggests the Bills might need to trade up to land an elite edge rusher. Brandon Beane isn’t averse to making a deal. Buffalo also appears to be well-positioned in case a star defensive players slides down the board.

Based on the data, though, the safe money seems to be at wide receiver. In addition to the numbers game alone, the Bills seem to have been circling around a player or two in particular. D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown look to be likely targets.

Rounding out the list the Bills have done some homework on guards, defensive tackles, and cornerbacks. It shouldn’t be a surprise if the Bills exit the draft with players at these positions. A premiere tight end has been on many fans’ wish lists. It’s possible there’s a very specific target there (likely Noah Fant if so) or Buffalo didn’t feel meetings were necessary to gauge this group. Or alternatively it’s not as much of a priority to the team.

Feel free to revisit this after the draft to see if it pans out. Here’s the one from last year if you want to see how it went.