Kyle Van Noy hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as Khalil Mack has this season, but he deserves to be in the conversation among linebackers who are potential early-round draft picks, and he might be a better fit for the Bills should they switch to a 4-3 defense.
Van Noy isn’t as explosive as Mack, but he is the most well-rounded linebacker in this year’s draft class. He does not wow with speed and power, but he is a very good athlete who makes plays all over the field and should be an immediate three-down player.
Van Noy is a very good tackler in space who could line up at any linebacker spot against the run, while he brings great versatility as a pass defender. He needs to bulk up to play defensive end on a regular basis, but has the burst and pass-rushing moves to be a situational pass-rusher on the line of scrimmage. That said, he is also a terrific coverage linebacker.
Should the Bills select Van Noy, he would likely factor in at either weakside or strongside linebacker, with the versatility to kick down to defensive end or even inside to middle linebacker in passing situations.
He has not gotten much mainstream play as a potential top-10 overall draft pick, but he is another possibility who could make the Bills defense immediately better and give Schwartz considerable flexibility for various schemes.
Another player considered unlikely to make it to the No. 9 overall selection, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins has potential that would be tough for the Bills to pass up if he was available.
The Bills don’t necessarily need to draft a wide receiver, and drafted two of them last year, but Watkins could add a new, dynamic dimension to the Bills offense. With an outstanding combination of speed and open-field running ability, but also polished route-running ability and good size (6’1”, 205 lbs), Watkins could immediately become Buffalo’s most explosive receiver.
In addition to the skills of a No. 1 wideout, Watkins is a triple-threat who can trouble defenses with his speed and moves on gadget running plays, and is also a great kickoff returner (though the Bills wouldn’t necessarily replace Marquise Goodwin with him in that role).
Ideally, the Bills should be looking for a bigger target to add size and contested-catch ability to their passing offense, but it is unlikely that any offensive skill-position player in this class would provide a bigger spark for the Buffalo offense than Watkins.
8. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Another offensive playmaker the Bills could potentially select with their first-round pick, and fill what could be a pressing need in the process, is North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.
With Scott Chandler an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Bills could look for an upgrade at the tight end position who can provide a more dynamic downfield threat. That is exactly what they could get from Ebron, who has the speed and size to create mismatches while he is a good vertical receiver and can extend plays in the open field.
Though he is best over the middle and would be an upgrade for the Bills in that capacity, he is essentially a big wide receiver. He has the skills NFL teams look for in a starting wideout, and he has the flexibility to be flexed out to the slot and outside, only making him a tougher matchup for not only linebackers and safeties, but also cornerbacks with his length.
He is a subpar in-line blocker who needs to become bigger and stronger to be a significant asset in that capacity, but he could immediately become a go-to receiving option and playmaker for EJ Manuel and the Bills passing offense. He would add a new dynamic that Buffalo does not currently have from the position, and is worthy of an early first-round pick as the draft’s top tight end prospect.
9. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans is another possible top-10 pick who would add imposing size and playmaking ability to the Buffalo passing offense.
Evans is an ideal addition for an offense led by EJ Manuel, a developing quarterback who has the arm strength and athleticism to make big plays downfield, but doesn’t always have the accuracy. An athletic, 6’5”, 225-pound wideout with great strength and leaping ability, Evans a massive catch radius and can make the tough catches for his quarterback, something he did often for Johnny Manziel over the past two seasons at Texas A&M.
Evans’ biggest knock is his subpar speed, which could give him trouble separating from cornerbacks at the next level, but he makes up for it with his ability to win vertically and make catches through contact. And while he might not blaze by any defensive backs at the next level, he uses his vision and strength very well to make plays as an open-field runner.
The Bills already have plenty of speed in their receiving corps; what they need is a big wideout, especially in the red zone, who can win battles against coverage to make plays on the ball in the air. Buffalo could get that from Evans.
The Other Option: Trade
For all the speculation there will be over the next three months over the No. 9 overall pick, it’s very possible the Bills won’t even draft with that selection.
Trading down worked out quite well for the Bills last year. By moving down eight spots from the No. 8 overall selection to No. 16, they picked up a second-round pick which turned into Kiko Alonso, who would probably be a top-10 pick in hindsight, while they also landed EJ Manuel, the top quarterback on their board (they also added the No. 222 overall pick, used to select tight end Chris Gragg).
That said, the Bills are in a different situation this year. Unlike last year, when drafting a quarterback early was a foregone conclusion and there was no quarterback worthy of the No. 8 overall pick, Buffalo will be playing the board for the best player available this year. Trading down was an obvious decision last year, but it could come down to which of the above nine players are available this year.
Even so, trading down looks like a smart option in any respect — should the Bills trade into the middle of the first round, it is possible that Mosley, Van Noy, Ebron and/or Evans could still be available. Other solid options later in the first round could include Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro and Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Alabama, Auburn, Buffalo, Buffalo Bills, BYU, C.J. Mosley, Clemson, Eric Ebron, Greg Robinson, Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, Mike Evans, No. 9 Overall Pick, North Carolina, Sammy Watkins, South Carolina, Texas A&M