Enter the mind of Doug Whaley.
Monday morning officially signaled the end of the 2013 NFL season and welcomed in a day where every team is even in the standings once again. While the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos celebrated their great performances in 2013, the Buffalo Bills continued their January tradition of preparing scouting reports for the players who will hopefully turn the franchise's misfortunes around.
Free agency and the scouting combine are the two biggest events on the horizon, both of which will give more clarity to the Bills' needs in the May draft. With no consensus top need, the Bills could be in a position to take their highest-rated player available in the first few rounds, come spring.
Doug Whaley had an entire season to get a sense of the direction he wants to take the team and now he controls its destiny for the first time as the top-dog general manager. Whaley tied his career to the arm of EJ Manuel a season ago, but another great draft by the front office could soften the blow, should Manuel not work out in the long term.
Using a big board we drew up last week, let's take a look at an updated seven-round mock draft with the season officially in the books.
The Bills are one of the toughest teams to peg in the top 10 for a variety of reasons.
First, finding a consensus top need for the Bills is near impossible to do. Wide receiver or tight end are the two spots brought up the most in mock drafts from around the web, but another offseason of high-level staff turnover could change their targets completely.
Second, the teams ahead of Buffalo in the draft are so unsettled that the draft has the chance to be one of the wackiest we have seen in a while. What was once considered to be a "great" quarterback class has turned into a competition of finding the least bust-worthy of the group. Trades and reaching on quarterbacks are two things that would benefit the Bills the most, but frankly, the first eight picks are too murky to give anything more than a wild guess.
Pretending to be in the general manager seat for a moment, the decision should come down to one of four players at the ninth pick, should they decide to stay at the spot—CJ Mosley, Greg Robinson, Sammy Watkins and Eric Ebron. Mosley was left off the big board a week ago, but he does make sense for what Jim Schwartz will try to run on defense.
For the reasons mentioned above, Ebron seems to be the safest pick available at the spot. Depending on the quarterback evaluations, there is a very good chance none of the other three are available once the Bills are on the clock Thursday night of draft week.
The decision looming of retaining Scott Chandler will impact this spot quite a bit. Tight end is a need regardless, but if the veteran is brought back on another contract, the Bills might be better served waiting for a tight end in Rounds 3 or 4.
Best-case scenario for the first two rounds is a Sammy Watkins and Austin Seferian-Jenkins combination, but with Ebron going in the first of this mock, tight end is no longer a need. Cyril Richardson is the next best thing for the Bills, assuming they don't go after another receiving option this early. The concerns about getting beat by the likes of Aaron Donald during an intense week in Mobile, Ala., should not keep Richardson out of the first two rounds.
Athleticism and strength are two qualities the Bills sorely lacked at left guard last year. By entering Richardson at left guard in between Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood, the Bills will immediately take their offensive line to the next level. While Richardson is not being touted as the next big thing at guard like David DeCastro and Chance Warmack were coming out of the college, Richardson has the physical attributes to be a Pro Bowl-level player in the near future.
There seems to be a myth that every team finds great offensive linemen late in the draft, but the diamond in the rough rarely works out in the long term. Of the 19 guys selected to the Pro Bowl at the three positions, only two players were drafted after the third round—Jason Peters and Jahri Evans. After an offseason of not addressing the offensive line woes even slightly, the Bills will be in the market for a guy of Richardson's caliber.
The third round would be a great place for the Bills to add a receiver, especially if prospects like Jordan Matthews or Donte Moncrief fall through the cracks. However, Chris Borland falling to the Bills' selection early in the round might be the best-case situation.
The instinctive linebacker will have to overcome the ever-present questions about his slight frame, but he is too smart a player to pass up this late in the draft. Borland was a tackling machine in Big Ten competition, and it doesn't take long to notice his nose for the football when skimming through tape of Wisconsin.
Buffalo has struggled to find a linebacker who can sort through the muck at the line of scrimmage to make a play at or behind the line of scrimmage. Rookie of the Year runner-up Kiko Alonso did this well at times in 2013, but his issues with overcommitment plagued the Bills in the final half of the season. Borland is smart enough to break down plays as they are unfolding before him, and his reaction time is one of the best in this linebacker class.
His versatility also gives the Bills options with moving Alonso and him around inside or outside.
Ohio State got to know Martavis Bryant well during the Orange Bowl in January.
The Bills draft a Clemson receiver in the fourth round, but not the one everyone is clamoring for in the first round. Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins were at the forefront of one of the most explosive offenses in the country, but Martavis Bryant is a quality NFL prospect in his own right.
With the depth at wide receiver in the upcoming draft, Bryant is quickly becoming a sleeper prospect, if only because of the fact that no one is talking about him. The speedy Clemson receiver is one of the biggest at his position, but Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin continue to get all of the pub for big receivers.
Bryant's college productivity from a yardage standpoint might not get anyone excited, but remember the fact that Clemson's offense ran through Watkins, Hopkins and Indianapolis Colts' tight end Dwayne Allen. The junior receiver paid his dues in his first two seasons before exploding with a 19.7 average on 43 receptions in an 11-2 season for the Tigers.
His decision to come out in a receiver-heavy draft was a bit of a head-scratcher at first, but the Tigers graduate a majority of their offense this spring. At 6'4", Bryant might be one of the best performers in the 40-yard dash come the combine with 4.35-second potential. The speed and height combination alone should make Bryant a sought-after commodity in the middle rounds.
Round 5 presents a couple of good options for taking a chance on players who either underperformed or were injured during their final collegiate seasons. Nickoe Whitley fits that bill perfectly, as a player who was a top performer in the SEC before having an ACL surgery before Mississippi State's bowl game.
Whitley is a tall, versatile safety in the mold of Jairus Byrd. With Byrd's contract status up in the air for the time being, finding a potential replacement would not be the worst of decisions by the Bills brass. The Bills did draft two safeties in the middle rounds last offseason, but neither has the ball-hawking skills Whitley possesses.
Add in the fact that Whitley's rookie season will be something of a redshirt year, not unlike what San Francisco did with two of its highly drafted rookies this past year. Whitley is a smart player who might benefit from having a year on the sidelines studying Schwartz's playbook.
Small but sturdy is the name of the game for Montee Ball's understudy at Wisconsin. James White played in the shadow of Ball and then highly recruited Melvin Gordon, but White always found a way to be involved in the Badgers offense.
Standing at 5'9", White is a bit smaller than most NFL teams would like, but his compact frame and tough running style make him a good fit for a team needing a change-of-pace back. White also has fantastic hands for a running back, which make him a great fit in Buffalo's backfield-driven scheme.
Playing second-fiddle at a talent factory like Wisconsin does have its benefits, as White doesn't have as much wear on the tires as some of the other running back prospects slotted to be drafted this late. Once White gets into private workouts with teams, someone will fall in love with his work ethic and willingness to get his hands dirty.
With a stable of young quarterbacks already on the roster, the Bills might be more willing to find a project player at another position, but Logan Thomas' physical attributes are worth a late flier. There will be plenty of teams hoping Thomas passes through the draft entirely in hopes they can sign him to a lower cap number.
Thomas has been picked apart by every draftnik in the country, and the consensus seems to be that the former Virginia Tech passer is a borderline undraftable player. For all of his physical tools, Thomas doesn't seem to know what to do with them, especially in the simulated speed of an NFL preparation week.
If Thomas enters the NFL with a chip on his shoulder to prove his doubters wrong and combines that with a willingness to be coached, then he has the chance at being a quality backup or niche starter at the next level.