Even though the NFL regular season has come to an end for the Buffalo Bills, the NFL draft season is in full swing. The 89th East-West Shrine Game is only the first of many steps in the draft process but should generate plenty of interest among Bills fans.
The game's website claims it to be the longest running college football all-star game but more importantly saw 100 players from last year's game sign with an NFL team. This year's game has an equally impressive crop and consists of some players who should be on the Bills radar come May. These are some players who fans may want to keep an eye out for while watching the game Saturday.
The Michigan State middle linebacker has had a tumultuous month dating back to his suspension before the Rose Bowl on December 26th. These past few weeks have put a dent in his draft stock, and CBS Sports has him projected to go in the fourth or fifth round.
The Shrine Game was supposed to be a way for him to get back on the right path; however, he showed up to practice this week heavy and out of shape, according to Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey. By the end of the week, though, he did impress one person in attendance, Tony Pauline of PhiladelphiaEagles.com, who wrote:
Bullough tipped the scales at a hefty 265 pounds during weigh-ins on Monday. That's 10 more than his playing weight, yet he showed surprising athleticism on the final day of practice. Bullough is an imposing figure on the field and he throws his weight around, stacking against the run to stymie ball carriers.
The Bills could use an inside linebacker who is stout against the run and pair him up with Kiko Alonso, who struggled later in the season in this area. It will be interesting to see how Bullough plays in this game and grades out leading up to the NFL draft.
Pass-Catching Tight Ends
Many fans are calling for a big target to help EJ Manuel in the passing game, and a name that is regularly brought up is UNC's Eric Ebron, like in NFL.com's Bucky Brooks' latest mock draft. The use of a top-10 pick for a tight end seems to be a reach to me, and Buffalo could find quality tight ends in the later portions of the draft.
The Shrine Game has a couple of interesting prospects who could be of interest to the Bills. On the West roster, Baylor's Jordan Najvar fits the bill for a big pass-catching tight end at 6'6" and 262 pounds. On the second day of practice, Pauline singled out Najvar and wrote:
"...he has a long, lean build and plays an athletic game. What was most impressive is the way Najvar fights for the reception and, more times than not, came away with the catch."
The East roster also had a tight end who impressed this week with Colorado State's Crockett Gillmore. Schottey described Gillmore as a player who has "a good blend of size with catching ability."
Neither of these players are the same caliber as Ebron but in terms of value, it may be better to use a sixth- or seventh-round pick for one of these two players. The team could address a bigger need, like solidifying the run defense, with its first-round pick.
Left guard was one of Buffalo's biggest weaknesses this past season and should be at the top of the list for the front office to address this offseason. There are two guards in particular in this game the Bills should be paying attention to: Penn State's John Urschel on the East and Furman's Dakota Dozier on the West.
Urschel came into this week as a quality prospect at the guard position but struggled early on, looking completely outmatched, according to Schottey. By Day 3 he had started to receive better reviews, and Schottey even offered some advice about these types of practices and games:
On Day 3, Urschel handled Gaston like a ragdoll on a number of plays. That's the nature of some of these snippets in time, and it reinforced the idea that tape still rules as the best predictor of NFL success.
Another guard who got good reviews was Dakota Dozier out of Furman, who is moving inside to guard after playing tackle at the college level. Pauline labeled him one of the winners of Day 2, writing:
The small-school left tackle was kicked into guard during practice on Tuesday, the position he'll play in the NFL, and looked good at his new spot. Dozier, 6-4, 312, overcame his lack of size and power by blocking with great technique and controlling defenders in one-on-one drills. He's an athletic sort of lineman who will only improve as he physically matures and gets stronger.
The East-West Shrine Bowl does not consist of much top-tier talent but rather players projected to go in later rounds or undrafted. Performing well at these key events is extremely important to these players as they are trying to improve their stock and get on an NFL team's draft radar. If these five players play well on Saturday, they could very well get some extra attention over the next few months by the Buffalo Bills.