It seems like every football content creator on Earth is making draft predictions. But what’s a guy to do when he knows next to nothing about the college game? Well, the thing I’ve been doing the last few years—turn to analytics!
The premise is simple. Not even billionaires have enough money to purchase extra time. With a vast number of draft-eligible players to look into, teams must use this limited resource wisely. While the occasional smokescreen move surely occurs, there’s nothing to suggest this tactic is ever a major component of draft preparations.
In its simplest form the premise is simple. Using resources like the draft visits tracker at WalterFootball.com, can we make good guesses on a team’s intentions during the draft by analyzing how they spent their time?
This is about as straightforward as it gets. Teams have multiple opportunities to meet with players and will sometimes take advantage to get to know a player better than a single visit would allow. Much like a job interview (which it is), the theory here is that teams won’t bother to talk to someone more than once unless there’s something they like.
As of this writing, I found information suggesting the Buffalo Bills met with 39 different players. Of these, only four are confirmed to have met with Buffalo more than once. They are:
Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
Winfrey met with the Bills twice (combine and a private workout).
Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia
Twice here as well with a private workout and a private visit.
Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming
The Bills met with Muma three times (workout, visit, and combine).
Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State
Leading them all, Buffalo met with White four times (virtual visit, combine, private workout, and Senior Bowl).
This data point clearly trends toward Rachaad White being a target, with Chad Muma in the same mix. Neither are projected to be first-round selections, making it weird there’d be so much time spent on what could be a likely Day 2 pick. Good thing there’s more to be looked at.
Let’s face it, even though a lot of fans clamor for a “Best Player Available” approach, there is no such thing in a pure sense. There’s always the connotation of what I call “BPAFU.” That stands for “Best Player Available For Us.” Buffalo met with a quarterback. While a flier on a possible backup guy is certainly possible, does anyone really think the Bills are investing much time in quarterbacks? Exactly. Let’s look at the first of two charts tracking visits by position.
The first shows data for every visit. In this chart Muma counts for three, White counts for four, etc.
For this view, Buffalo seems hyper-focused on tight ends. Surprisingly, running back is a pretty close second, with linebacker a respectable third. I’m not in love with this representation as I think it weighs White and Muma too heavily. Not that they shouldn’t be weighted to some degree. If you’re interested in those positions you’d naturally be more inclined to have follow-up visits with players you like.
That said, let’s look at the same data but only counting unique players (Muma and White count only once here).
Tight end is still glaring. As noted, only Jelani Woods had more than one meeting with Buffalo. With White and Muma only counting for one visit each on this chart, corner and wide receiver now stand out.
Other things of note, the two lines saw some attention when combined, but each position was close to neglected in comparison to the skill positions on offense and the defensive backs/linebackers. This does seem to match some common-sense thinking as Buffalo spent a lot of time/attention in the trenches already this offseason.
Similar to White/Muma above though, the tight end group is currently seen as leaning more toward a Day 2 pick. It’s possible that Buffalo won’t be stretching too much with their pick in Round 1 being later. Buffalo has met with a lot of the top tight ends (Jelani Woods two meetings, Jalen Wydermyer, Trey McBride, Isaiah Likely, Cade Otton, and a few others). Let’s look at one more thing.
The idea here is that meetings aren’t always about the player you’re speaking to. Teams reportedly often use their time with players to get to know about that person’s teammate. Let’s see if there’s certain schools the Bills keep sniffing around. For our first chart, we’ll do the reverse of how we looked at it by position. Here’s the unique look, with player such as White/Muma only counting once.
Unlike by position, I prefer the total count we’ll get to in just a minute. I can elaborate in the comments section if anyone cares as this is already approaching the 1000-word mark. Tangent aside, this looks at how many players per school Buffalo has met with.
Oklahoma is the standout here, with four unique players. Washington, Georgia, and Alabama are next up on the list. Now here’s the chart with players able to count more than once.
Arizona State nearly comes up to match Oklahoma in this look. Wyoming also creeps up in the standings here. Both these additions are odd as they’re the Rachaad White and Chad Muma repeat visitors. And that’s it. Either Buffalo really likes those two guys, or they’re great conversationalists.
Things start to get interesting with this chart. Both Perrion Winfrey and Nik Bonitto from Wyoming have met with Buffalo. Both are projected to be potential first rounders. All four players that Buffalo has met with from Oklahoma are on defense. Winfrey was a two-meeting player as noted above.
Washington might be some real smoke. In addition to Cade Otton who might be a Day 1 stretch, they had visits with Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, two potential first-round corners. Otton could be legitimate interest, or intel on a teammate he competed against constantly.
From Georgia, Jordan Davis seems to be the highest-rated guy Buffalo met with, and he’s labeled as a bit of an upside player with risk. Not that this has scared general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott in the past.
Alabama has yielded three visits as well. Jameson Williams is projected as a first-round pick, with John Metchie III and Christian Harris looking more like Day 2 guys.
So Who’s The Pick?
The pure analytics approach
Pure analytics point toward a tight end and Oklahoma. Buffalo hasn’t met with a player who meets both criteria. While Oklahoma has a lot of action, the raw data steers hard toward the tight end position. Most sites point toward one player at the top, who Buffalo has met with. The pure analytics selection for the Buffalo Bills’ top target is...drum roll...
Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State
Analytics with a side of research
While there may be some tight ends worth a first-round pick and it can’t be ruled out, the BPAFU and common-sense additions here steer my “Analytics Big Board” away from a tight end as a top target. I don’t think the Bills need to replace Dawson Knox, which might be the goal with a Day 1 guy. I do think Buffalo wants a tight end, and are putting in the research for a Day 2 pick.
I think the Oklahoma buzz is likely real. Perrion Winfrey would be the most logical target there. I’m not sold on Winfrey as the main goal due to Buffalo having so few DT meetings. I wonder if Nik Bonitto was the target, with a bit more DE/EDGE buzz (with some LB tossed in for good measure). That might have fizzled with the Von Miller signing.
I think the Washington buzz is real, with Buffalo likely looking hard at both Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon. This is a good intersection for me. Buffalo met with five corners, at least three of whom are potential first-round picks with Andrew Booth Jr. from Clemson joining McDuffie and Gordon. While they met with just as many wide receivers (and more tight ends), the list there appears to be less top heavy.
So then, my official predictions are:
- First-round corner. Trent McDuffie as the top target, Andrew Booth Jr. and Kyler Gordon as the “consolation prize” guys.
- Buffalo will look to add a tight end or wide receiver in the second round. They’ve done lots of homework there. Jelani Woods seems to be the favorite there, and I’m thinking Buffalo has fingers crossed he’ll fall. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a small trade up to secure Woods as Beane has a history of trying to land “his guy.”
- Speaking of which, repeat what I just said with Rachaad White and Chad Muma. I think they’re real targets, but of course there’s some finger crossing they last long enough to make the value logical for Buffalo.