Even though the NFL playoffs continue, the Buffalo Bills have turned their focus to the offseason and the NFL draft. The team's main focus over these next few months needs to be addressing the offensive line and the linebacker position, which can be addressed either in free agency or the draft.
It is still early and there is still a lot that needs to play out between now and the draft. Buffalo's needs could change heading into the draft based on the moves made in free agency. Players currently on its radar in the draft could quickly fall or rise based on performances at the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and their individual pro days.
This is the best-case scenario for the Bills round by round in the 2014 NFL draft.
The selection of Khalil Mack would make perfect sense for the Buffalo Bills and Mike Pettine's defense. The skill set and his versatility will play in this defense, and he would help improve the run defense, which finished 28th this past season.
CBS Sports has Mack rated as the 10th-overall prospect and the second-best outside linebacker behind UCLA's Anthony Barr. The University of Buffalo senior won the Jack Lambert Award and finished his career with 75 tackles for a loss, which is an FBS record.
There may be some people who have concern about Mack since he did play in a smaller conference; however, Daniel Jeremiah recently said he was the surest thing in this year's draft on the The Dan Patrick Show (via NFL.com).
The Buffalo Bills struggled all season trying to find a replacement for Andy Levitre, who left in free agency last year. The team tried Colin Brown at the start of the season, who quickly lost his job to Doug Legursky when he returned from an injury. Legurksy did not fare much better and the team is back to Square 1 at that position.
Cyril Richardson brings experience at both left tackle and left guard, protecting Robert Griffin III's blind side two years ago before moving to guard this past season. He currently is expected to go late first round or early second.
At 6'5", 340 pounds, Richardson would be a big body that would help the Bills offensive line, especially around the goal line.
If the Bills do not bring back free agent Scott Chandler, there would be a glaring need for a big-target tight end for quarterback EJ Manuel. Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz is a big body at 6'6", 265 pounds and would be a perfect red-zone target.
Dane Bugler wrote the following about Fiedorowicz on CBSSports.com:
Good versatility, showing the ability to come off a down block to get past defenders as a receiver. Good body control and soft hands for such a large man, traits that have led Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins to earn a lot of attention as a possible first-round pick. Fiedorowicz isn't as flashy as ASJ, but he's just as big and fast in a straight-line and is a much more physical and attentive blocker.
If Fiedorowicz was available for Buffalo in the third round, this would be great value for this team and provide it a potential replacement for Scott Chandler.
Matt Miller recently put together a seven-round mock draft where he had the Bills taking Ja'Wuan James in the fifth round. CBS Sports, on the other hand, projects that James will go in the third round, which seems a little high in my opinion. I also don't expect James to be available in the fifth round like Matt Miller believes.
That is why selecting James in the fourth would be the perfect pick for the Bills.
James has started all 49 games in his career at right tackle, and at 6'6" and 324 pounds would provide great size on the right side of the line. James would be a player that could provide competition for Erik Pears as a rookie and possibly even take over the starting role at some point next season.
The later rounds in the draft are where teams will try to find depth or prospects who have potential but may not be ready to have an immediate impact. Linebacker Lamin Barrow should be on the Bills' radar at this point in the draft, as they can add some good depth to a position that didn't have any the previous season.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports described Barrow as a player that "looks the part of a big-time prospect at linebacker. [He] possesses broad shoulders and a tapered frame, long arms and is athletic."
He goes on to write for his weaknesses that at this point in his career he is a better athlete than football player. This isn't necessarily a bad thing considering coaches can teach technique but can't teach athleticism. If he is given a year or two to back up the current starters and learn proper technique, he could be a steal in the fifth round.
This would certainly be an interesting pick if Buffalo would have a chance to draft Logan Thomas here in the sixth. Jeff Tuel was brought in as an undrafted free agent this year as a developmental quarterback and even started this season against Kansas City. He played well, but if Buffalo is looking for a quarterback to develop, Logan Thomas would be the perfect fit.
Unlike Tuel, Thomas has a very similar skill set to EJ Manuel and a similar body type at 6'6" and 256 pounds. If Thomas was asked to step into a game, the offensive philosophy would not have to change much as the quarterbacks have similar physical tools.
This would be a low-risk move, and Buffalo could develop Thomas over the next few seasons to see if he has a future in this league.
The Bills got solid production out of undrafted free agent Nickell Robey this year, but they are still thin at the cornerback position. Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore played well this year as starters, but as the NFL becomes more of a passing league, teams will need depth at cornerback.
Carrington Byndom has been a starter for the Texas Longhorns the past three years and was an All-Big 12 selection twice (2011 and 2013). The fact that he played as much as he did with the Longhorns should allow him to help the Bills this season, especially against four-wideout sets.
The scouting report by Rob Rang notes that he could be pushed around by bigger wide receivers "but his agility and hand-eye coordination quickly established him as a cornerback to think twice about challenging."