Who Are the Experts Predicting to Buffalo in the First Round of the NFL Draft?
If the 2013 draft is an indication of the ability of the Bills' scouting department and its evaluations, the team should continue to add much-needed young talent across the roster. Four drafted rookies and an undrafted free agent all started a few games for the team, including defensive rookie of the year runner-up, Kiko Alonso.
There are fewer holes to fill than a season ago, but quarterback play remains a major part of the losing equation. Wide receiver and offensive tackle are still needs, positions that have talent but are plagued by depth issues. The departure of Jairus Byrd also creates a bit of a hole in the back of the secondary, one the Bills could be hoping to fill with guys already on the roster.
So, what are the options for the Bills in the first round? If one of the top quarterbacks falls to the ninth selection, would they pass? Does the addition of Mike Williams from Tampa Bay mean wide receiver is out for the first round? Is right tackle a big enough need to spend such a high pick to fill it?
To get a little more clarity on a considerably murky outlook, let's take a look at what the highest regarded draft experts are saying about the Bills in the first round.
Mel Kiper Jr. (ESPN): OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Almost every year it seems like Mel Kiper Jr. mocks a tackle to the Bills and for this year at least, with good reason. In his latest mock draft on April 3 (subscription required), ESPN's longtime draft analyst sees the Bills top needs as tackle, tight end and wide receiver.
No arguing there.
With Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews both off the board in the first six picks, Lewan makes sense from a positional standpoint if the Bills truly do want to solidify the tackle position early. Lewan could have been a top-five pick an offseason ago but chose to return to Michigan for his senior season.
His return to Ann Arbor did nothing to diminish or hurt his draft stock until an off-field incident on the first day of December. The senior tackle was charged with two counts of assault and battery against a pair of Ohio State fans the morning following a game, although his arraignment was delayed just yesterday.
Lewan's legal issues will have an interesting impact on his draft stock, especially if the proceedings continue to hang over his head leading into the May draft. The Bills have shown the willingness to take on players with checkered pasts in the last 12 months—Alonso, Mike Williams and Da'Rick Rogers to name a few. However, none of those players had a top pick invested in them.
There is no denying Lewan's talent and his potential, but the Bills might be wise to pass on a player with too many question marks.
Doug Farrar (Sports Illustrated): OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The Khalil Mack to Buffalo chants started after opening weekend of college football last season, when the University of Buffalo linebacker acted as a one-man wrecking crew against the Buckeyes of Ohio State. The Ohio State University eventually pulled away in the second half, but Mack's sensational defensive plays allowed the Bulls to stay within striking distance in the first.
Mack staying in town seems too convenient for it to actually happen, but the Bills would be lucky to get such a talent. Alonso moving outside is a great move for the future of the team, but the Bills need a player to wreak havoc on the other side of the field.
Farrar had this to say about Mack making sense at pick No. 9:
Kiko Alonso proved to be a superstar as a rookie, but the Bills would love to move him outside, making their front seven more diverse. Mack would absolutely allow them to do so as he possesses the ability to line up just about everywhere, including at edge rusher, with his pass-rush skills.
The Bills defense was tops in sacks and pressures last season, but adding a player in the mold of Von Miller only gives new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz another toy to tinker with next year.
Dane Brugler (CBS Sports): TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports has been one of my favorite draft follows since his work became more pronounced in the industry a couple of years ago. Brugler's pick of UNC tight end Eric Ebron in the first round only reinforces that notion.
Unlike the pick of Mack, Ebron has an excellent shot at being available when the Bills get on the clock on Thursday night of draft week. It is rarely a good idea to spend a high pick on a tight end—considering where many of the top talents at the position have been drafted—but Ebron looks like the real deal on game tape.
Big. Fast. Strong and reliable hands.
Outside of the first adjective, nothing else can be used to describe incumbent Bills tight end Scott Chandler. There is no question that Chandler can fill the void at tight end if need be, but the Bills would have a much more explosive offense if Ebron sat atop the depth chart.
The Bills need to add a big, physical presence in the receiving game, whether at wide receiver or tight end. Ebron is a freak athlete who will instantly help the Bills offense and second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
Dan Kadar (SB Nation): OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Aside from Sammy Watkins miraculously falling out of the heavens to the Bills pick at nine, Jake Matthews might be a best-case scenario. The battle to be the first tackle taken between Matthews and Greg Robinson will be back and forth leading up to draft week. Robinson still holds the edge because of his athleticism, but the pedigree and technique of Matthews makes him the safer pick.
Kadar adds his thoughts on what could potentially happen to the Bills at nine.
Like many mock drafts we've put together, this ends up being a tough draw for the Bills. The top two wide receivers are gone, and Buffalo's other top needs don't have value here. There is nothing wrong with settling on Matthews. Arguably the best tackle in the draft, Matthews would fit nicely as Buffalo's starting right tackle.
A Cordy Glenn and Matthews combo on the ends is certainly tantalizing, but is right tackle so much of a need to spend so high a pick? Old adage says no, but the ever-evolving pass-first offenses of the NFL strike a different tune. The blind side became the focus of our attention in the '90s as defenses blitzed more, but defensive stars are too versatile now to not move around.
Right tackle is just as important as left tackle because pass-rushers don't stay on the same side all the time as they used to, which puts right tackle in plenty of snaps against an opponent's top rusher.
If the board shakes out the way Kadar predicts, the Bills would be lucky for Matthews to still be on the table.
Dan Hope (Bleacher Report/BillsDraft.com): WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Dan Hope is one of the most plugged-in Buffalo draft analysts around, and his lengthy work is always worth a read, but Mike Evans would be my worst-case scenario for the Bills with the ninth overall selection. Hope's mock went live before the trade to bring in Mike Williams from the Bucs, but Evans will still appear on plenty of predictions despite the addition.
Evans has everything the Bills have sorely lacked in their offense, a tall receiver with a top-shelf catch radius to create mismatch problems on the outside. The team already has plenty of speed and possession receivers, but no one who can consistently go up in the air and make the big catch.
Adding Williams does change the Bills' draft outlook a little bit and should afford them the ability to wait until the second or third round in a very deep receiver draft. Drafting Watkins with the ninth pick is one thing, but there isn't enough difference between Evans and someone like Donte Moncrief, to warrant spending a top-10 pick on him.