5 Hidden Gems the Buffalo Bills Should Have Noticed at the Combine
Many of the top prospects in the upcoming draft cemented their status as freak athletes and sure-fire future millionaires, but several late-round talents had under-the-radar performances, which could boost their draft stock.
The Bills draft plan in Doug Marrone's and Doug Whaley's second years will shake out after settling on which position to focus on in the first round. Receiver and guard are huge needs, but with the talent overflowing into the middle rounds, the Bills could afford to be patient.
Let's go over six prospects who may have missed headlines this week, but could be a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.
WR Donte Moncrief
Since the collegiate season ended, it has driven me crazy how little Ole Miss junior receiver Donte Moncrief is talked about in comparison to other prospects of similar stature.
Maybe it's the fact that Moncrief has been stashed on a middling SEC program, until the Rebels broke through for an 8-5 season and a Music City Bowl win over Georgia Tech. Or maybe because Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews dominated the big receiver talk in the SEC this past season.
Whatever the reason, Moncrief put teams on notice this week with a solid combine effort. At 6'2" and over 220 pounds, Moncrief has a size advantage over many of the corners he will face in the NFL next year.
While he showed plenty of quickness on tape, there was concern how well he would run in the 40-yard dash, as one of the heavier receivers at the combine.
The former Rebel finished with one of the best official times of the day with a 4.40 time, besting Clemson speedsters Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins. The speed and fluidity translated well to the field drills, where Moncrief looked smooth and confident in his ability to snatch balls out of the air.
His stock won't raise as high as the first round, but Moncrief should be on the Bills' radar in the second or third round.
WR Martavis Bryant
If you have been reading this column for the last few months, Bryant has been on our radar for quite some time.
Playing second fiddle to Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins in recent years has swept Bryant under the rug in some draftnik circles, but he remains one of the best options for teams searching for a big receiver in the middle rounds. Bryant kicked off his day with unofficial runs of 4.34 and 4.35 in the 40, which reinforced the speed seen during his redshirt sophomore season.
Bryant's hands have always been a little bit suspect, mostly due to lack of targets during his first few years with the Tigers. He did not look as smooth catching the ball as other guys slotted before him, but the concentration and athleticism shown during the field drills should dispel most of the consistency concerns.
His 6'4" frame alone would have gotten him looks in the NFL regardless, but add in a 39" vertical and 33" hands and you get a freakish athlete who can create mismatches on the outside.
CB Phillip Gaines
Out of all the players at the combine last weekend, Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines might be high on the list of prospects who really helped their draft stock. Gaines was probably headed for priority free-agent status before he ran the second fastest 40-yard time of the defensive backs, just a centisecond behind Justin Gilbert's 4.37 official finish.
Gaines has a nice frame (6'0") to back up his stellar speed, but he also has a knack for playing the ball on the outside. The former Owl had 38 career passes defensed and four interceptions during his senior season, but he was an afterthought on many positional rankings leading up to the combine.
You can't teach the size-speed combo Gaines possesses, and for that, he will be a value as a developmental prospect in Day 3 of the draft.
SS Daniel Sorensen
Unlike the previously mentioned prospects, Daniel Sorensen was not among the top guys in the straight-line dash. The BYU strong safety is not especially big or fast, but he far succeeded expectations in several of the agility drills.
Although he is widely considered a special teams guy or an emergency backup, Sorensen displayed the agility to be a solid depth guy in the NFL, with time. The Cougar safety finished with the best time in the three-cone drill out of all participants at the five-day event. Sorensen nabbed a 6.47 time in a drill designed to test the agility and change of direction in NFL hopefuls.
Sorensen also performed well in the two shuttle drills, finishing at the top in both drills from his positional unit. In fact, only Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks finished better in the 60-yard Shuttle, and Cooks broke the combine record in the event.
It would be a shock to see Sorensen drafted any higher than the seventh round, even with his great marks at the combine, but he would be worth a flier late in the draft.
OT Joel Bitonio
Don't be upset if you haven't heard of Joel Bitonio before. The Nevada offensive tackle was—by most accounts—a late-round selection at best before the combine. While possessing the size to be a left tackle, some scouts felt he might have to kick inside at the next level, according to Mike Mayock of the NFL Network.
Bitonio blew the competition out of the water with top three finishes in the 40-yard dash and the vertical. He was one of only three offensive linemen to finish the 40 in under five seconds and flipped the 32" bar in the vertical. His strength does leave a little to be desired with only 22 reps.
Greg Robinson should be in play for the Bills in the first round, but if they choose to wait for a right tackle until the middle of the draft, Bitonio is a nice option to have.