Seven Takeaways from Buffalo Bills’ Pre-Draft Visits

The Buffalo Bills used almost a quarter of their pre-draft visits to interview potential early-round receiving targets like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. (Photo: Brett Davis — USA Today Sports)

BBD Editor: Dan Hope

Since the beginning of April, the Buffalo Bills have hosted 29 potential selections in this year’s NFL draft on official visits with the team. It appears as though the team is not using its 30th allotted visit, as Sunday was the NFL’s deadline for pre-draft visitors.

As the team had a finite limit of how many players it could bring to One Bills Drive, the visits list gives a telling indication of what the Bills could be looking for in this year’s draft.

It gives us a better indication of which positions the Bills are looking to draft than it does which players they will actually select. While Buffalo only drafted two of its pre-draft visitors last year—Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel and Clemson safety Jonathan Meeks—its six picks in the first five rounds all came from positions at which the team hosted at least five prospects (quarterbacks, wide receiver, linebacker, safety).

With that in mind, we can get a good idea of what positions Buffalo is looking to upgrade in this year’s draft, what type of players they are looking for at those positions, and more.

Potential first-round picks come into focus

There are many different directions in which the Buffalo Bills could go with the No. 9 overall selections. Many of the most likely selections visited the team this month.

Top talents hosted by the Bills have included Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. All of them have the skill sets to make an immediate impact at areas the Bills should be looking to upgrade, and would be good value should they be available at the No. 9 overall pick.

Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. aren’t widely considered to be top-10 values, but both of them would also be quality selections at the ninth slot. Mosley and Beckham are underappreciated talents who could just as well make an immediate impact for the Bills, and either of them might even be obtainable in a trade-down scenario.

Two other dark-horse first-round pick candidates brought to campus by the team are Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller. It’s unlikely either of them would be at the top of Buffalo’s board at the ninth overall selection, but could be prime pick options if the Bills were to move down in Round 1.

Targeting a target remains a priority

After the Bills re-signed tight end Scott Chandler and traded a sixth-round pick for wide receiver Mike Williams, some have questioned whether Buffalo should still look to select a pass-catcher in the early rounds. If pre-draft visits are any indication, giving quarterback EJ Manuel another weapon to work with remains one of the team’s top draft priorities.

In addition to Evans, Watkins, Ebron and Beckham, the Bills have also hosted three other pass-catchers—Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas and Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer—who could be options in the second or third round.

As general manager Doug Whaley affirmed Friday during Buffalo’s pre-draft luncheon, the Bills seem to be looking for a combination of size and athleticism that they don’t currently have much of in their receiving corps. Evans, Ebron, Seferian-Jenkins and Niklas all measured in at 6’4” or taller at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine; Latimer, Watkins and Beckham aren’t as big, but all three have clocked sub-4.5 second 40 times.

If the Bills have a shot to draft Jake Matthews with the No. 9 overall pick, they shouldn’t pass it up. (Photo: Thomas Campbell — USA Today Sports)

Offensive line upgrades being sought

Another way the Bills can improve the offense around their quarterback is to build up the offensive line in front of him. Having hosted six linemen on visits this month, it seems Buffalo will look to draft at least one blocker this year.

Matthews would be an immediate upgrade at right tackle and might be the Bills’ ideal selection should he fall to the No. 9 overall pick.

The Bills would also get terrific value if Martin or Alabama lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, another pre-draft visitor, fell to the No. 41 overall pick in Round 2. They could even look to trade up from that slot to draft one of them if they fall. Martin and Kouandjio played left tackle collegiately, but could be viewed as candidates to play either right tackle or guard for Buffalo.

Another potential upgrade at left guard, where the Bills signed veteran Chris Williams but should still consider drafting competition, would be USC’s Marcus Martin. Martin played center for the Trojans, but is a versatile, athletic interior offensive lineman who would likely play guard alongside Buffalo center Eric Wood. Martin is a possible second- or third-round pick.

If the Bills decide to wait until later in the draft to select an offensive tackle, one highly intriguing sleeper selection in the middle rounds could be Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a Canadian football star with impressive physical tools. The McGill product, ranked by the Canadian Football League’s scouting bureau as the No. 1 prospect from Canada this year, visited the Bills among a number of other teams.

Buffalo also hosted Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Siddoway. Siddoway is a potential late-round draft pick, but his likelihood of the Bills or any team taking any flier on him was hurt by his recent arrest on burglary and robbery charges.

Size, power wanted at running back

C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson form a strong 1-2 punch for the Bills at running back, but as both of those tailbacks are set to hit free agency next offseason, it makes sense for Buffalo to add another young runner in this year’s draft. Specifically, the Bills appear to be looking for a halfback who can give the team more size and power at the position.

The Bills hosted six running backs on pre-draft visits. Three of those backs—Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Towson’s Terrance West—are at least 225 pounds and are powerful runners who are tough to bring down between the tackles.

Considering the Bills would be drafting a likely third-stringer, at least for 2014, they’ll probably wait until Day 3 to draft a running back. Hyde, the draft’s top running back prospect, might be tough to pass up if he is available at the No. 41 overall pick.

Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon and Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk are known more for their explosive athletic traits than they are for power between the tackles, but both of them would be good middle-round values and dynamic runners to add to the rotation.

The other running back to visit Buffalo, Terrance Cobb, is a 5’10”, 218-pound ultra-sleeper from University of the Cumberlands who is more likely to be an undrafted free agent pickup than a draft selection.

Not satisfied with cornerbacks

Bradley Roby, whose Ohio State pro day was attended by the Buffalo Bills, is one of six cornerbacks who has been hosted by the team this month. (Photo: Greg Bartram — USA Today Sports)

With Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey forming a strong top trio at the position this past season, the Bills seemed to be largely set at cornerback once they signed free-agent Corey Graham this offseason. The team’s decision to bring in six cornerbacks on pre-draft visits, however, suggests the Bills are looking for more at the position.

The Bills could be looking to draft a cornerback as early as the first two rounds, considering they brought in Fuller and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby on pre-draft visits. The other four cornerbacks hosted by the team—Rice’s Phillip Gaines, Duke’s Ross Cockrell, Liberty’s Walt Aikens and Clemson’s Bashaud Breeland—could all be candidates for selection between the third to fifth rounds.

Following the departure of star free safety Jairus Byrd this offseason, safety would seem to be a greater position of need than cornerback. Buffalo’s interest in drafting a cornerback, however, could be an indication that the team is looking to play Graham at safety. Whaley said Friday that Graham has the flexibility to play both positions, and where he ultimately winds up could be worked out in training camp.

As the Bills already have a converted cornerback starting at strong safety in Aaron Williams, it’s possible they could also be viewing some of these cornerback prospects as conversion candidates. Specifically, Aikens and Breeland both have significant experience playing safety.

Need for speed

When the Bills used a third-round pick on 2012 U.S. Olympic track and field participant Marquise Goodwin in last year’s draft, it was an indication that the team’s new brain trust was putting a premium on speed. That has continued to be an indication in Buffalo’s pre-draft visits this year.

The Bills hosted six players—Beckham, Fuller, Gaines, McKinnon, Roby and Watkins—who ran sub-4.5 second 40-yard dashes at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. Gaines and Roby were two of seven players to run sub-4.4 second 40 times in Indianapolis.

Buffalo has also hosted three players who did not run at the combine but have had unofficial sub-4.5 times. Aikens was clocked at 4.46 and 4.47 seconds at Liberty’s pro day, according to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt. Latimer reportedly ran 40 times of 4.44 and 4.45 seconds at Indiana’s pro day, also per Brandt. Linebacker Ryan Shazier was clocked as fast as 4.36 seconds in the 40, despite straining his hamstring, at Ohio State’s pro day.

The Bills haven’t always been known for their speed, but it’s something Buffalo seems to be looking to continue enhancing in this year’s draft.

Eyes on the Buckeyes

It’s clear the Bills have serious interest in at least one Ohio State player in this year’s draft. First, general manager Doug Whaley attended the Buckeyes’ pro day, then the team hosted three OSU prospects—the most of any school—on pre-draft visits.

Shazier, Roby and Hyde would all be great value selections if any of them were to fall to the No. 41 overall pick, and each of them has the potential to be immediate-impact players should Buffalo select any of them. But teams also often interview players to get to know their teammates better. The Buckeye who might actually make the most sense as a Day 2 target for the Bills would be offensive lineman Jack Mewhort, who would be a solid second- or third-round choice and could project at either right tackle or ideally, at left guard.

OSU wasn’t the only school to send multiple talents to One Bills Drive this month. LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Clemson each had two prospects hosted by the team.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Bashaud Breeland, Bradley Roby, C.J. Mosley, Carlos Hyde, Charles Siddoway, Cody Latimer, Cornerbacks, Cyrus Kouandjio, Defensive Backs, Eric Ebron, Jack Mewhort, Jake Matthews, Jeremy Hill, Jerick McKinnon, Kyle Fuller, Lache Seastrunk, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Marcus Martin, Mike Evans, NFL Draft, No. 9 Overall Pick, Odell Beckham, Offensive Line, Offensive Linemen, Ohio State, Phillip Gaines, Power Backs, Pre-Draft Visits, Receivers, Ross Cockrell, Running Backs, Ryan Shazier, Sammy Watkins, Speed, Terrance Cobb, Terrance West, Tight Ends, Troy Niklas, Visits, Walt Aikens, Wide Receivers, Zack Martin

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