BBD Editor Anthony D. Macari
Soon after Doug Marrone was named head coach of the Buffalo Bills, he looked to his former Syracuse Orange assistant coaches to fill out his staff. In total, 7 assistants followed Coach Marrone west down the turnpike from Cuse to Buffalo including Nathaniel Hackett as Offensive Coordinator. The natural next step in the thought process is that the staff will have a unique insight on their former players at Syracuse and some of their recent opponents. So, let’s take a look at some of the Orange entering the draft and see if they are indeed a fit for Marrone’s Bills.
It has already been widely speculated that the Bills will target QB Ryan Nassib in the draft. Nassib has been the fastest rising prospect in the draft going from an afterthought, to a mid round, to 2nd day to now speculation of him going top 10. I’ve had a late first / early second round grade on him from the mid-point of the season when he really picked up his game leading the Orange to wins over South Florida, Louisville, Missouri and finally West Virginia at the Pinstripe Bowl. While Nassib’s strong arm, quick release and experience in a pro-style offense has gotten him in the conversation as a top prospect, it’s his elite football IQ which ultimately may land him in the top 10. No doubt teams will be impressed with him on the whiteboard in meetings and he’ll have a chance to show how quickly he can pick up systems, concepts and plays this week at the Senior Bowl. Nassib’s true value is in the 2nd if he is there, but I think if the Bills truly want him, they will have to pull the trigger on him at #8.
Nassib won’t be the only Orangeman on the North Squad Senior Bowl week. He will have his blind side protector with him. Justin Pugh, a senior who declared with another year of eligibility, is an athletic left tackle prospect with less than ideal arm length. With experience in Marrone/Hackett’s zone blocking scheme, he has the athleticism needed for that system. A zone stretch scheme helps lineman with less than ideal size and strength.
It would not surprise to see Pugh quickly rise up boards this week with teams like the Saints and Bills who run that system. AT 6047 301 but with only 31 ½ “ arms he may be looked at to move inside to guard. Again, he likely only fits a ZBS team but could find a home as a LG.
Pugh’s value would be in the 2nd or 3rd round and would fit for the Bills either as a prospect for LT or to replace Levitre if he leaves in free agency. Drafting an athletic LT like Pugh makes sense for Buffalo because they could then slide Cordy Glenn over to his more natural position fit at RT or inside to guard if they fail to re-sign Andy Levitre. Glenn lacks the elite athleticism you look for on the blind side in a zone stretch blocking scheme. It would be interesting to see what Linemen the Bills do draft this year. Taking a smaller, more athletic lineman like Pugh would signal a shift in philosophy away from Nix’s bigger is better drafting preference.
As a late addition, Alec Lemon is also joining Pugh and Nassib at the Senior Bowl. Nassib’s primary target down the stretch, Lemon is a smart, more quick than fast receiver with good size at 6078 and 200 lbs.. He runs crisp, precise routes and separated himself from Marcus Sales as a more reliable receiver down the stretch. While Lemon suffers the occasional drop, he proved to be solid in the clutch. He has a good burst out of his breaks and knows how to get open. While athleticism is more a priority on the line for Marrone, creating mismatches with either speed or size is the priority at receiver. Lemon has the size/ speed combination to be a tough matchup for a #2 or #3 corner. Look for Lemon to hear his name early day 3.
While the bulk of the legitimate Cuse prospects come from the offense, they have one defensive prospect that could be a fit for the Bills. Safety Shamarko Thomas just wrapped up a solid week at the East West Shrine Bowl. Thomas put his quickness and big hit ability on display and is a Senior Bowl alternate. Thomas doesn’t have the ideal size to be an every down in the box safety at the next level, but he is a heat seeking missile on the field that plays with reckless abandon. At only 5087, 217 lbs it remains to be seen if Thomas will hold up at the next level ,considering the way he plays the game. However, he clearly exhibits the take no prisoner attitude I believe the Bills are looking to build on defense. Thomas will likely make an early mark on special teams and is worth a 3rd day pick for that alone.