Draft season is in full swing with Senior Bowl practice this week, culminating on Saturday with the game at 3 p.m. CT on NFL Network. This is the first real opportunity for a number of Buffalo Bills personnel to get close and talk with some of these draft prospects.
This year may be more important than years past for the players to make a great impression as a record 98 underclassmen have declared for the draft. The following slides will point out players for fans to watch in the Senior Bowl who may see extra attention from the Bills due to the team's needs this offseason.
This offseason, it will be important for the Buffalo Bills to address the left guard position along the offensive line. It was a glaring weakness for the majority of the season and was one of the reasons the offensive line as a whole regressed from a solid 2012 season.
Luckily for the Bills, there are a number of quality prospects available in the draft this season, including Baylor's Cyril Richardson (North). This week of practice was up and down for Richardson, who was matched up with one of the stand outs in defensive tackle, Aaron Donald.
After the first day of practices, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports mentioned that Donald "repeatedly victimized Baylor OG Cyril Richardson at practice." Richardson seemed to bounce back the next day, though, as Michael Schottey wrote about a lineman drill, "The best matchup of the day ended with Richardson bending Donald over backward—something no one really expected to happen."
Honorable Mention: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (South)
The lack of depth at the linebacker position was apparent throughout the majority of the season for the Bills. This was one of the big reasons why teams were able to run all over the defense to the tune of almost 130 yards per game.
There are a number of linebackers at the Senior Bowl that could be a great fit for this defense, primarily at inside linebacker. One player who has generated different opinions from draft analysts is Wisconsin's Chris Borland (North).
Mike Mayock is very high on Borland and even went as far to compare him to "former Dolphins LB Zach Thomas and a 'sawed-off' Luke Kuechly." NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah doesn't feel the same way about Borland and was concerned about his tackling ability due to shorter arm length.
Honorable Mention: Lamin Barrow, LSU (South)
How pressing of a need tight end will be in 2014 remains to be seen. It depends on if the Bills plan to re-sign Scott Chandler. I personally am not sold on the idea of using the first-round pick on Eric Ebron and would much rather see the Bills wait later in the draft and pick up Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz.
A well-built target, Fiedorowicz headlines an underwhelming group of senior tight ends. His production at Iowa is average at-best, but he was underutilized in the Hawkeyes offense. Fiedorowicz has the size and skill-set to start at the next level and be successful blocking and receiving.
Honorable Mention: Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State (South)
Along with left guard, the right tackle position was another weakness, with Erik Pears struggling throughout the season. It may be time for Buffalo to start looking for his eventual replacement, and they don't need to look much farther than Ja'Wuan James (South) from Tennessee.
James started 37 consecutive games for the Volunteers and was an anchor on the right side of that line. That kind of experience starting in the SEC could help him make an immediate impact and push Pears for the starting spot if the Bills were to draft him. He was one of Rob Rang's observations from Monday's practice when he wrote:
Tennessee right tackle Ju'Wuan James hasn't received a lot of fanfare but he is a smooth athlete at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. He was beaten on occasion but plays with terrific knee bend and got to the second level during scrimmages.
With his size, James could definitely help the Bills offensive line get the push that it was lacking around the goal line this past season.
Honorable Mention: Billy Turner, North Dakota State (South); Seantrel Henderson, Miami (North); Jack Mewhort, Ohio State (North)
General manager Doug Whaley spoke with John Murphy this week about a number of different topics. During the interview, he was asked which group impressed him the most. It was interesting to hear him single out the wide receivers and particularly how big the wide receivers are.
It is no secret that the Bills wide receivers are lacking in this area, and it makes one wonder if they will be looking to draft one of these guys. One player who might interest Buffalo is Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (South), who was Michael Schottey's favorite wide receiver this week.
At 6'2", Matthews is one of the bigger wide receivers in the draft. CBS Sports projected him going in the second round, but after a solid week, he could have worked his way into the bottom half of the first round. It also doesn't hurt that he is related to the great Jerry Rice, who is Matthews' cousin.
Honorable Mention: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (North); Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley St. (North); Mike Davis, Texas (South); Cody Hoffman, BYU (South)