10 NFL Combine Prospects That the Buffalo Bills Must Watch Closely
As an educator, I deal with high-stakes testing yearly. My students take a three-day test, and based upon their results, I get a grade as their teacher from the state. Fair? Far from it.
The test results fail to look at how each of my students did over the course of the year. Now I won't sit here and say that all the results are flawed. In many cases, I'll see a result and nod in agreement.
However, there are also the cases of a student overachieving on the test and some where a great student struggles due to the pressure of the test.
Sounds a lot like the NFL Combine, right?
Starting on Saturday, about 335 collegiate prospects will be taking their first high-stakes test following a year of "learning" on the field. Just like students in a classroom, some will match their expectations, while others will overachieve or underachieve.
Based upon their results, you'll see certain prospects skyrocket up draft boards, while some big name prospects will fall due to a poor 40-yard dash or interview.
The NFL Combine is a great event, but it's important to remember one thing: This event should not supersede a prospect's performance over the last three to four seasons.
Buffalo's brass understands this thought process. In an audio interview with John Murphy, Assistant General Manager Doug Whaley said that the team's draft process is 80 percent tape, 10 percent All-Star Games and 10 percent NFL Combine.
Buffalo will obviously be studying every player at the combine, but their focus should be on quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive guards and linebackers.
Based upon these needs, here are ten prospects that the Bills should look at closely at the NFL Combine.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
One draft analyst that I love hearing from is Mike Mayock. I don't always agree with his stance on players, but I respect his opinion greatly. When asked on Geno Smith being taken as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Mayock had this to say:
I have a hard time buying into that. ... I couldn't even pound the table today for first-round quarterback, let alone a first-pick quarterback. I watched a bunch of Geno Smith and he can make every throw, he's athletic, the ball jumps out of his hand. But there's a lot of things that make me nervous about him.
He misses people by wide margins for no reason. I see a little bit of hesitancy with the blitz and pressure. When that first read is not there, it's not as pretty on the second and third read. His eyes come down, he makes mistakes.
I've watched more Geno Smith tape than any other prospect in this draft. Now I'm not sitting here claiming to be an expert, but I don't see how Geno Smith isn't being gushed over. He does everything well. Respectfully, I disagree with Mayock's stance.
Perhaps Smith isn't the No. 1 pick in the draft, but he's certainly worthy of being selected in the first round.
As Mayock stated, Smith can make every NFL throw. Does he tend to miss players from time to time? Absolutely, but a 71.2 completion percentage shows that he's accurate more times than not. His TD-INT ratio of 42-6 also shows he makes the proper read more times than not.
Is Smith a flawless prospect? Of course not, but I have him graded higher than I had Ryan Tannehill last year, and he had no trouble going in the top 10.
At the combine, the Bills will be watching Smith closely. If sailing a few balls past wide receivers helps him fall to the eighth pick, I'm all for it.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
If Geno Smith is off the board at eight or Buffalo passes on him, Tyler Wilson is another player to keep an eye on.
Mayock seems to see Wilson as a third to fourth round prospect.
If Buffalo, or any team, drafts Tyler Wilson in the third or fourth round, they'll be getting incredible value, in my opinion.
Wilson overcame quite a bit in 2012. First, his top three targets from 2011, Jairus Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs, left to the NFL draft.
If losing three important targets was not enough, his head coach, Bobby Petrino, was fired for misleading his bosses about a motorcycle accident and relationship with a co-worker.
Just like Smith, Wilson can make every NFL throw. He has great velocity on his passes.
Wilson completed 62.1 percent of his passes while throwing 21 touchdowns to 13 interceptions at Arkansas.
Twelve of Wilson's interceptions came in losses where he was throwing early and often. In Arkansas' eight losses, Wilson threw the ball 283 times, an average of 35.375 times per game.
In Arkansas' four wins, Wilson threw the ball 118 times, an average of 29.5 times per game.
Simply put, Wilson's down season had a lot to do with the defense Arkansas put out on the field. He'd be a nice fit in Buffalo's West Coast offense, according to Mike Mayock.
Buffalo will keep a close eye on Wilson at the NFL Combine to see how he performs. There's no doubt that the team will also interview Wilson to get a feel for his knowledge of their potential offense.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Cordarrelle Patterson has everything you look for in a No. 1 wide receiver. He has great size at 6'3". Patterson has been timed with running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. He's athletic and has great vision and footwork.
My only qualm with Patterson is that his hands aren't always reliable. He had numerous drops this season at Tennessee.
Buffalo will keep a close eye on Patterson as they are desperate for a No. 1 receiver. Stevie Johnson, coming off of three straight 1,000 yard seasons is a good player, but he's not a true No. 1 receiver. He lacks the big play ability that you see in Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Roddy White and others.
Patterson has been blessed with all of the intangibles to be an elite wide receiver in the NFL. I cannot say with certainty that he'll ever reach that elite level, but he'd be worth the risk at pick No. 8.
Buffalo will closely monitor Patterson at the combine. They'll be evaluating everything from his hands to his speed, agility and vertical jump.
If Patterson's performance is strong, Buffalo, and many teams in the top 10, will be hard pressed to pass on him.
Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech
A Day 2 prospect that the Bills may also be studying closely is Da'Rick Rogers of Tennessee Tech. Rogers was a teammate of Cordarrelle Patterson at Tennessee before leaving for Tennessee Tech.
Rogers stands at 6'3" and 208 pounds. He possesses the ideal size you'd look for in an outside receiver, and his 4.52 time in the 40-yard dash is also strong.
Rogers possesses strong hands, and he is hard to bring down on the field. He actually reminds me quite a bit of the previously mentioned Eric Moulds.
Rogers had some maturity issues and off-field incidents that led him to leaving Tennessee for Tennessee Tech. You can be certain that Buffalo and other teams will ask Rogers about these issues at the combine.
Buffalo needs to draft a wide receiver within the first three rounds. As it stands, Buffalo has the following wide receivers returning next season: Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, Brad Smith, David Nelson and Marcus Easley. Yikes.
Rogers would not be a typical Buffalo pick due to his character issues, but on a team that needs wide receiver talent, he'd provide strong value if he somehow fell to the third round.
Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
Mike Pettine loves hybrid players, and the next two slides are dedicated to hybrid players who could make an immediate impact.
Dion Jordan, of Oregon, is a versatile player. He stands at 6'7" and is extremely athletic.
Jordan is not afraid to take contact, but he also has the athleticism to avoid contact when trying to get to the quarterback. Due to his height and long arms, Jordan can disrupt passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks.
His biggest issues are his ability to shed blocks, lean frame and his durability. If Jordan can add a bit of weight to his frame, this may help him when it comes to shedding blocks.
Jordan hurt his shoulder in Oregon's bowl game and will be having surgery on his labrum after the combine. Therefore, Buffalo won't be able to see much from Jordan at the combine, but it's likely that the team will interview him extensively.
Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU
Barkevious Mingo is another potential Bills target in Round 1. He, much like Dion Jordan, is a hybrid player who could fit multiple roles in Buffalo.
Mingo stands at 6'5" and 242 pounds. Mingo is an explosive player with a fast first-step that benefits him when rushing the quarterback. He also has the ability to play in coverage, which is important in Mike Pettine's multiple-look defense.
Mingo had a bit of a disappointing season in 2012, only notching 4.5 sacks. He also lacks experience. In 2012, Mingo started in 12 games, but in 2011 he only had three starts in 14 games played. This is the only negative I see when watching Mingo.
Out of all of the prospects eligible in the NFL draft, I believe Mingo has the one of the highest ceilings. At the combine, the Bills will watch Mingo closely in everything he does. If he falls to pick eight, he'd be an intriguing option for Buffalo's defense in 2013.
Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
Call it a hunch, but I believe Andy Levitre is as good as gone. If this is the case, then offensive guard is a need for the Bills. The Bills have $20.9 million in cap space, but that won't go as far as you'd expect.
Mark Gaughan does a nice job of breaking down the Bills cap situation in The Buffalo News:
The Bills need about $5.5 million in cap space for their 2013 draft choices. They need $6.8 million for a franchise tag to retain the rights to safety Jairus Byrd. A tender offer for restricted free agent David Nelson is $1.3 million. Those costs total $13.6 million.
Finding a replacement that can start right away is important for Buffalo. Larry Warford would be a decent candidate.
Warford is ranked as the third best OG in the draft behind Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper. Warmack and Cooper have the potential to both go in the top 10 of the draft, so there is a chance that Warford goes late in Round 1. However, he's more likely to go in the second round.
Warford is short at 6'3" but extremely strong. His greatest strength is in pass protection.
In terms of weaknesses, Warford is decent at pulling on run plays, but he isn't someone you'll see getting down the field to block. Also, he is not nearly as athletic as Levitre.
Warford will be an interesting prospect to follow at the combine. Depending upon how he performs, Buffalo may look his way in the second round.
Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse
Justin Pugh is a guard prospect that I think has a great chance of being drafted by Buffalo. Pugh played OT at Syracuse but projects as an OG in the NFL.
Buffalo's head coach Doug Marrone is very familiar with Pugh, and he'd provide good value to Buffalo in the third or even possibly early fourth round.
Pugh has plenty of experience as he started every game he played in three seasons. He has shown good footwork and agility.
Pugh's biggest concern is the length of his arms. He has 31.5" arms, which are short for a NFL lineman. That said, Pugh seems like a player who'd be able to contribute from day one as a guard in Marrone's offense.
Buffalo may not be focusing intently on Pugh at the NFL Combine as they are with other prospects. The team already has a great wealth of knowledge on what he can do.
Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
According to Buddy Nix, General Manager of the Buffalo Bills, the team needs a young tight end.
Scott Chandler had a decent 2012 season with 43 receptions, 571 yards and six touchdowns.
Behind Chandler on the depth chart? Lee Smith, Derek Buttles and RFA Mike Caussin.
It's apparent that Buffalo needs help at the position. Buffalo has too many needs to take Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz or Jordan Reed. The next tier of tight ends still has plenty of talent though.
Vance McDonald is one player who is very intriguing.
McDonald played out of the slot a lot for Rice due to his athleticism. He caught 36 receptions for 458 yards and two touchdowns.
At 6'5", McDonald is a large target, and he is good in space. McDonald has long arms and will be a nightmare to cover for opposing defenses.
McDonald's biggest weakness is his questionable hands, as he was known to drop his fair share of passes. McDonald also needs to work a bit on his blocking at the next level.
McDonald has plenty of potential in the NFL due to his athleticism.
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati
The former Cincinnati Bearcat had a very productive season with 45 receptions for 722 yards and eight touchdowns.
Kelce is not just a great receiving tight end, but also strong as a blocker. Kelce stands at 6'6" and 260 pounds, an ideal frame for a tight end.
Kelce is athletic, strong and hard to bring down.
Unfortunately for Kelce, his senior season was his only notable season statistically. In his freshman and junior seasons, he notched a total of 14 receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2010, Kelce's sophomore season, he was suspended due to a violation of team rules.
However, Kelce seems like a player who put it all together in 2012, and his ceiling is extremely high as an NFL prospect.
Buffalo will monitor him closely at the combine to get a feel for his value.