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Bills Beat Blog



By Joe Buscaglia


Bills Draft Outlook: Linebacker

For as much as the Buffalo Bills defense improved under 2013 defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, one problem the team couldn't solve was how to consistently limit what opponents would do against them in the ground game. Throughout the season, some running backs that had limited success in the NFL found running lanes against the Bills.

Stopping the run became a priority for the Bills on defense, and when they switched to the 4-3 that's exactly how they approached the offseason. Will it factor into their draft plans in hopes to finally solve the woes against the run? Let's examine:

What they have
Starters: Kiko Alonso (WLB), Brandon Spikes (MLB), Keith Rivers (SLB)
Reserves: Nigel Bradham, Ty Powell, Nathan Williams

What they need
- The Bills went out in the offseason and made changes to all three of their linebacker spots. First, they switched back to the 4-3 defense which means a true, three-down running mate for Kiko Alonso was needed.

To keep Alonso away from as many punishing engagements with blockers as possible, the Bills announced that the second-year player would be moving to the weakside, free to roam the field. Without any suitable starters for both the middle and strongside, Buffalo signed two free agents that are penciled into their starting lineup.

A noted run defender from his time in New England, the Bills roped in middle linebacker Brandon Spikes on a one-year contract. With some off-the-field concerns and in the way that his tenure with the Patriots ended, the Bills elected to go with the one-year "prove it" type of contract.

For the strongside, the Bills signed former first round selection Keith Rivers to a two-year contract. GM Doug Whaley said at the time of Rivers' signing that the team believes he can be a three-down player for the team. His contract yields a rather low cap number, and doesn't preclude them from bringing in another player to compete for the starting job.

Past the starters, the Bills have two players with some experience and playing time under their belts. After a promising rookie season, Nigel Bradham failed to carve out a normal spot on the defense in 2013 and could face some competition to make the roster this year. Ty Powell at this point is the backup middle linebacker, but is a former college defensive end making the switch to the second line of the 4-3 defense.

Without any longterm commitments to a linebacker outside of Kiko Alonso, the case can certainly be made for a linebacker being a selection in the first three rounds. The Bills tiered the players at linebacker that they brought in for a pre-draft visit to get a little bit more comfortable with some players that could be available in each round.

At the very least, additional depth is necessary in the event of an injury or two, with the hopes that the player they draft could transition into a starter down the line.

How will they do it?
- It really all comes down to how strongly the Bills feel about the prospects of Rivers starting this season. If they were to select a linebacker in the first round, that player has to be a starter from day one. The only player conceivably worth taking in the first round would be Alabama's C.J. Mosley, who the Bills had in for a visit and who is also said to be able to play all three linebacker spots in a 4-3. However, selecting a player like Mosley would likely only be done if all of their preferred options for ninth overall were selected ahead of them. Unless someone like Ohio State's Ryan Shazier falls to 41st overall, it's more likely that you see the Bills address linebacker later in the draft for depth and special teams purposes. Linebacker is one of the easiest positions to convert from the college to the pro game, so if things go awry with either Rivers or Spikes, the Bills can address it in 2015.

Players connected to the Bills
C.J. Mosley, Alabama (Pre-Draft Visit)
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (Pre-Draft Visit)
Preston Brown, Louisville (Pre-Draft Visit)

Previous 'Bills Draft Outlook' Editions
Wide Receiver
Defensive End
Running Back
Safety
Defensive Tackle
Tight End
Offensive Tackle
Cornerback

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP
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More speculation that top 3 OTs won't be available to Bills

Considered by many to be one of the top needs of the Buffalo Bills and a favorite position of many a mock drafter, offensive tackle has been a big part of the discussion for Doug Whaley and Doug Marrone's crew.

The prevailing opinion is that Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan make up the top three at the position before there is a big dropoff. Before Thursday, it was widely expected that an offensive tackle would be there for Buffalo at ninth overall.

In one day alone, two seperate draft analysts have expressed the high probability that the top three tackles could all be gone within the first eight picks, meaning the Bills would have to trade up if they wanted one.

First was NFL Network analyst and former Houston Texans GM Charlie Casserly on WGR Sports Radio 550 this morning. Among many things including him stating the case for the Bills using the ninth overall pick to find a starting right tackle, Casserly mentioned the above scenario quite strongly.

"I just think these three tackles are top 10, and to be honest with you, I'll be surprised if one of them is still sitting there when the Bills pick," he said. "I think they're that good. History shows that one of them should be there [at 9]. To me, they're better than the ninth pick in the draft, all three of them, based on the other players in this year's draft."

Later that day, ESPN's Todd McShay released the newest and updated version of his mock draft. In it, he has all three offensive tackles gone by the sixth pick. McShay has Robinson going to St. Louis at second overall, Matthews to Oakland with the fifth pick and Lewan to Atlanta at sixth overall.

To be fair, McShay's newest version was a bit different than most of his previous mocks. Rather than projecting who he thought the team would pick, he made the selections as if he were the GM of each team. He even included a disclaimer in the opening paragraph:

"The picks you see below are the players I would choose if making the picks for each team, not what I'm necessarily expecting to happen on draft night."

So perhaps the idea that all three tackles would be gone was part of McShay's exercise. That was blown to smithereens with what he told ESPN's Mike Rodak.
With some fans on the fence about the idea that the Bills might go for a tackle, this will likely be the best news of the day. That would certainly move offensive skill players down the board and remove temptation to take a tackle with the ninth pick.

Whether or not it actually happens though remains to be seen. By the way, there's still two more weeks of speculation like this on the way.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP​
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Study shows Ebron has highest drop rate among top TEs

With two weeks to go before the 2014 NFL Draft, many are trying to discern right from wrong, up from down and everything in between. Sometimes it's good to take a second look at both the glaring skills and deficiencies that some of the top prospects might have.

Today's look focuses on North Carolina's Eric Ebron, the top tight end available in the opinion of many. Ebron has the athleticism, skills and size that teams covet in the tight end position. The Bills have shown interest in him by inviting him for a pre-draft visit, and Ebron said himself he believes that Buffalo and Detroit are the most interested.

Just like any prospect, however, he doesn't come without his own set of warts to his game.

In a study done by Greg Peshek of Rotoworld who charts every single game and compares players at the same position by a set of metrics, he finalized some interesting numbers regarding the top tight ends available.

Peshek charted Ebron, Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, Notre Dame's Troy Niklas and Cal's Richard Rodgers. Of those five players, Ebron had an alarming drop rate at 11.43-percent.

For the sake of comparison Ebron's drop rate was the highest, above Niklas (8.57), Amaro (7.69), Rodgers (7.69) and Seferian-Jenkins (5.41). Of all the wide receiver's charted by Peshek, only three players had a higher drop rate than Ebron: Clemson's Martavis Bryant (12.5), USC's Marqise Lee (12.31) and Missouri's L'Damian Washington (12.07).

By no means is this the only piece to the puzzle, but it is definitely a useful tool that challenges the narratives that may exist for some of these players. So are other parts of Peshek's study.

Ebron tested quite well in comparison to the other tight ends in yards after the catch, averaging 8.84 yards which was the highest of the five. That average is more than five yards per catch higher than Seferian-Jenkins (3.40).

The study was done on February 19, but it's still incredibly relevant because there hasn't been a single game since early January. Peshek does fantastic work for Rotoworld and can be followed on Twitter @NU_Gap.

There's a lot more to chew on in his look at tight ends, so the read is highly encouraged.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP
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Bills welcome in Mosley, West on pre-draft visit

The Buffalo Bills are getting close to the maximizing the total amount of pre-draft visits and added to their total once again on Thursday. The team announced two more prospects arrived in Orchard Park for their visits, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Towson running back Terrance West.

Headlining the visit is Mosley, who is ranked by many as the top inside linebacker available in the 2014 NFL Draft. The former member of the Crimson Tide had 318 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions and two forced fumbles over his four-year career. Expected to be a first-round pick, the 6-foot-2, 234-pound linebacker is said to be able to play at any of the three linebacker positions in a 4-3 alignment.

West is the sixth running back to visit One Bills Drive over the course of the past month. The 5-foot-9, 225-pound runner was a three-year starter at Towson, rushing for 4,854 yards and 84 touchdowns while maintaining a 6.1 yards per carry average. With some buzz surrounding his name since the draft process started, West is projected to be a mid-round selection.

With the pair of players visiting Thursday the Bills have now exercised 28 of their 30 allotted visits at team facilities. One notable absence from the list to this point is Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, who many analysts have linked to the Bills first round pick. For a full list of who has visited to date, click here.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

** Photo courtesy of the AP
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Locations : AlabamaMichigan
People : C.J. MosleyTaylor LewanTerrance West




 

Jacobs family to do everything within their power to keep Bills in town

With the passing of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. nearly a month ago, the speculation about the future of the team has ramped up with new names being linked to the sale of the team.

Donald Trump has made his feelings known on plenty of occasions and on a host of different platforms that he wants to buy the Bills and keep them in Buffalo. The Associated Press reported that Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, amidst a bout with cancer, remains extremely committed to buying the Bills and keeping them in town. Rocker Jon Bon Jovi has been mentioned as an interested party, but also was lumped in with a Toronto-based group that could have intentions to move the team if they place a bid and it's successful.

One of the most prominent families in the area with roots to the sports world already said that they will try to do everything within their power to keep the Bills in Buffalo. The Jacobs family, who runs Delaware North, has been mentioned as potential suitors throughout the past month.

In a prepared statement through Delaware North, Jeremy Jacobs, Jr. said his family is invested in their efforts to help the Bills franchise, but stopped short of saying that they would be involved in the bidding themselves.

"We are using our resources, our contacts, and our relationships to do everything we can to ensure the Bills stay in Buffalo."

In an interview with The Buffalo News, reporter Stephen T. Watson asked Jacobs if the family would make a bid for the team.

"It's still early in the process, and it's impossible to say either way."

It's important to note that, in order for the Jacobs family to purchase the Bills, it won't be the father that's spearheading the project. As the owner of the NHL's Boston Bruins, under NFL rules, he would have to sell the team in order to buy the Bills under his name.

It's a rule in place to prevent individuals from owning two sports franchises in different cities. Nearly two weeks ago, Jacobs released a statement through Delaware North declining any personal interest.

"Several reports have listed Jeremy Jacobs as potentially interested in buying the Buffalo Bills. Mr. Jacobs owns the Boston Bruins and has no intention of selling the Bruins in order to purchase the Buffalo Bills. His focus is on ensuring the Boston Bruins continue to be a successful and winning franchise for the City of Boston and New England. He is a strong supporter of the Buffalo Bills as a storied franchise that has seen great success under Ralph Wilson. Mr. Jacobs would certainly be a strong supporter of any effort to keep the Bills in Western New York and is a big fan of the franchise and its leadership."

While it dismissed the notion that the patriarch of the family would be the man in charge he also has three sons, two of which that would be currently eligible, to be the leaders of any potential purchase of the Buffalo Bills.

It's still speculation, but when the Cleveland Browns were for sale, Jeremy Jacobs, Sr. was vetted by the NFL as a potential owner. The league knows the family, they see the success of the family in owning the Bruins, and it would likely be an easy decision in the approval vote from NFL owners.

Familiar with the sale of teams around the league, former GM and current NFL Network analyst Charlie Casserly spoke with WGR on Thursday and said really it comes down to one major factor for prospective owners.

"The owners have the right to accept, and not to accept, anybody that comes in. They tend to accept if the cash is there and the money is there," he said. "That's crucial, because all these owners knew that they had to put up the money. It had to be serious money, it couldn't be paper money. So that's gonna be the number one thing."

Casserly continued:

"I do know this, the owners will be very critical about somebody coming in to buy the team and their ability to pay for it."

The sale of the team will go through the Wilson estate, where current controlling owner Mary Wilson, will sell the team to the highest bidder. The Bills were valued by Forbes last year at $870 million which means the price of the franchise would be close to, or even eclipse, the $1 billion mark.

To this point, the timeline of the potential sale of the team has yet to be disclosed. When a sale is complete, the principal owner must be approved by 24 of the 31 owners in the NFL.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Former GM states case for Bills taking OT at 9

If you pay attention to most mock drafts from NFL writers and draft analysts alike, the most common position you'll see linked to the Buffalo Bills is offensive tackle. It is not a sexy position by NFL standards, and it wouldn't even be for the all-important left tackle position, either.

However, just because the pick would be to fill a need at right tackle, some believe it would be worth it just based on the talent of this year's draft at the top. Former Houston Texans GM and current NFL Network analyst Charlie Casserly is one of those people.

Joining WGR Sports Radio 550 on Thursday morning, Casserly didn't rule out the notion that the Bills could add a wide receiver or tight end with the ninth overall pick, but lent much more credence in Buffalo taking a right tackle with the pick than many fans throughout the process.

"It helps the running game, it helps the passing game, it helps the quarterback," Casserly told WGR. "You solidify both edges of the offensive line. All of a sudden now your pass protection becomes a lot simpler and the running game, you're able to go both sides, you'll be able to knock some people off the ball, it creates some run space for everybody. It makes it a lot simpler."

The three prospects worth mentioning at offensive tackle that could be within consideration to draft at ninth overall are Greg Robinson of Auburn, Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan. Based on some reporting throughout the league, it doesn't appear all that likely that Robinson has a chance to be there at ninth overall. However, both Matthews and Lewan have been extensively linked to the Bills' first round selection.

Perhaps going along the same line as the report yesterday that the Raiders have Lewan — who is widely considered to be the third-best tackle —ranked ahead of both Robinson and Matthews, Casserly used some fairly strong language in the belief that the Bills might not even get a sniff of one of the trio.

"I just think these three tackles are top 10, and to be honest with you, I'll be surprised if one of them is still sitting there when the Bills pick," he said.

All three gone within the top eight? Did we hear that correctly?

"Yeah, I think they could be. I think they're that good. History shows that one of them should be there. To me, they're better than the ninth pick in the draft all three of them, based on the other players in this year's draft."

It certainly is conceivable if you picture how the board could play out. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the top four will likely consist of some variation of Robinson, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

If the Raiders believed in Lewan that strongly, they could take him with the fifth overall selection. After that, the tackle-needy Atlanta Falcons at sixth overall could opt for Matthews, leaving the Bills without a tackle on the board.

Maybe it isn't likely, but it's definitely within the realm of possibilities if the teams picking in the top six all neglect the quarterback position. Their talent level, mixed with some other factors, is part of Casserly's argument.

"In this draft, there's depth at wide receiver, so I think the Bills could get a quality receiver at the top of the second round. There will probably be a better receiver there than there will be an offensive tackle. That's one of the considerations you go through in making a decision."

To listen to the full 13-minute interview with Casserly, click here.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Full 2014 Bills schedule released

As it has become a tradition over the past several years, the National Football League unveiled their upcoming regular season schedule during the month of April. The Bills have an interesting slate of games in a season that they hope ends the playoff drought at 14 years.

What does the Bills schedule in 2014 look like? Here is the entire 16-game outlook:

Week 1 - Sunday, September 7 - 1:00 pm
AT

Week 2 - Sunday, September 14 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 3 - Sunday, September 21 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 4 - Sunday, September 28 - 1:00 pm
AT

Week 5 - Sunday, October 5 - 1:00 pm
AT

Week 6 - Sunday, October 12 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 7 - Sunday, October 19 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 8 - Sunday, October 26 - 1:00 pm
AT

Week 9
BYE WEEK

Week 10 - Sunday, November 9 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 11 - Thursday, November 13 - 8:25 pm
AT

Week 12 - Sunday, November 23 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 13 - Sunday, November 30 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 14 - Sunday, December 7 - 4:05 pm
AT

Week 15 - Sunday, December 14 - 1:00 pm
VS

Week 16 - Sunday, December 21 - 4:25 pm
AT

Week 17 - Sunday, December 28 - 1:00 pm
AT

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Manziel to Cowboys? How it could impact the Bills

One of the most interesting facets to the 2014 NFL Draft is where former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will be drafted. A polarizing player to college football fans and draft analysts everywhere, there's no stopping the range of opinions on him and his prospects for the pro game.

There is one simple truth with Manziel, however. One team, most likely in the first round, is going to label him as the quarterback of the future regardless of dissenting opinions made about him. There are rumors that Cleveland (4), Oakland (5), Tampa Bay (7) and Minnesota (8) could be interested in drafting him.

So what happens if he is still available past all of those picks?

Here's a news item to chew on if you're a fan of the Buffalo Bills. ESPN's Ed Werder today said that if Manziel was on the board at 16th overall, the Dallas Cowboys could very well take the Texas A&M quarterback.

Adding to that speculation is ProFootballTalk.com, who kicked it up a couple of notches. Mike Florio, who runs the uber popular football website, said that they believe if Manziel gets past Minnesota that the Cowboys might even trade up to get Manziel.

Why would the Cowboys want Manziel with an already competitive roster and a good quarterback? The Jones family appear to be publicly smitten with Manziel, after team VP Stephen Jones declared that he'd be a star in the league. Add in the fact that Tony Romo is 34 years old and has had issues with his back, it might not be far off to think the Cowboys could swing for a quarterback.

It's not hard to put two-and-two together to realize what that could mean for the Bills. Buffalo holds the ninth overall selection, one pick removed from that initial quarterback window. They're also ahead of Tennessee, who is also sniffing around the top quarterbacks available in 2014.

If the Cowboys are that interested in Manziel, and he gets past the Vikings at eighth overall, Doug Whaley could be getting a call from Jerry Jones. What would that deal yield for the Bills?

Buffalo would get 16th overall, 47th overall and perhaps one of Dallas's three tradeable seventh round picks. The Bills would be giving up 9th overall and their fourth-round pick, 109th overall. It would give the Bills three picks in the top 47, and four picks in the top 73.

The drawback, of course, is missing out on a player like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron if the Bills like him as much as he thinks they do. There's a chance he could still be there, but it would be a risk.

Regardless, it's more food for thought and it might give the Bills another option on May 8.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Bills may not even have chance to draft Lewan

Every single day leading up to the NFL Draft will bring about more and more rumors, and one report that was publicized on Wednesday involves a player that the Buffalo Bills have been linked to.

The Bills have long been considered to be in the market for taking an offensive tackle at ninth overall, and the common thought has been that the only player of the top three that will be available is Michigan's Taylor Lewan. Perhaps that prevailing thought could be a bit of an oversight.

Take a look at this new nugget of draft information, courtesy of Jerry McDonald of The Oakland Tribune: The Raiders draft fifth overall in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Both Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews were thought to be the top two tackles available.

The possible effect it could have on the Bills is obvious. If the Raiders are so inclined to take an offensive tackle, it's likely that Taylor Lewan would be available at fifth overall. With Robinson likely to be gone within the top four of the draft, the only hope the Bills would have for landing one of the top three would be for Jake Matthews, but Atlanta at sixth overall is another tackle-needy team.

With this bit of news, there exists a possibility --perhaps a slim one-- that all three of the top offensive tackles could be off the board before Buffalo is on the clock. McDonald's report does not say the Raiders are targeting a tackle, though. Considering this, Oakland also hasn't addressed the quarterback position with a first round pick since JaMarcus Russell. They could be on the board at fifth overall with their pick of the litter for quarterbacks.

However, if Oakland decides on Lewan, that could remove any temptation that the Bills would have for taking a right tackle with the ninth overall pick, and instead opting for a pass-catcher (Eric Ebron, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Jr.), defensive end, linebacker or, perhaps the wildcard, a cornerback.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Watkins headlines three pre-draft Bills visitors

The pre-draft visits are winding down around the National Football League, and that's the same case for the Buffalo Bills who hosted three more prospects on Wednesday. One of the top players available in 2014, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, met with the coaching staff and toured the facilities at One Bills Drive.

Watkins entered the 2014 NFL Draft after his true junior season, wrapping up three seasons of being one of the most electric offensive talents in all of college football. Through his three-year career, Watkins totaled 241 receptions for 3,397 yards and 27 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound wideout is projected to be picked within the top five of the first round on May 8.

Joining Watkins in Orchard Park on Wednesday for visits were Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin and McGill offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. The 6-foot-4, 308-pound Martin is a four-year starter for the Fighting Irish, making 50 of his 52 career starts at left tackle. Depending on who you ask, Martin is viewed as either a tackle or a guard in the NFL, and is likely to be a first round pick.

A native of Quebec, Duvernay-Tardif is one of the top Canadian prospects available in the 2014 NFL Draft. After spending his freshman season at McGill as a defensive lineman, Duvernay-Tardif converted to offensive tackle in his sophomore season and put on 65 pounds through his final three years. He know stands 6-foot-5 and 321-pounds, and is a projected mid-round selection.

The Bills have now used 26 of their 30 pre-draft visits for non-local college prospects. For a full list of the players that have visited Orchard Park, click here.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Locations : Quebec
People : Laurent Duvernay-TardifSammy WatkinsZack Martin




 

NFL flex scheduling to begin Week 5

With the 2014 regular season unveiling scheduled for Wednesday night, the National Football League announced a change to the normal scheduling from last season only a few hours ahead of the reveal.

The league will still go through their normal slate of games, but the difference is in the popular idea of flex scheduling. In prior years, Sunday Night Football could choose to flex an afternoon game into their time slot if it was perceived as a more competitive game. That exercise started in Week 11.

Starting in 2014, games as early as Week 5 will be able to be flexed into the primetime slot of Sunday Night Football. There are restrictions, however. From Week 5 through Week 10, the flex scheduling option can only be used twice. Once the league gets to Week 11, games can be flexed every single week if they so choose.

All of the other rules regarding flexible scheduling remain the same, including Thursday, Saturday and Monday night contests remaining unavailable to be flexed into Sunday night. For a primer on all the rules involved with flexible scheduling, click here.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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NFL Mock Draft #5

The 2014 NFL Draft is now just over two weeks away, paving way for what could be one of the most intriguing drafts to date. With so much talent loaded into this class, teams will be trying to weave their way to secure the guy that best fits their roster.

Last time around in Mock Draft #4, the Bills went with Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. Could it be the same thing in Mock Draft #5? For the first time in 2014, the mock draft goes up to the Bills third round selection. Here's a look at how May 8 and 9 could play out for Buffalo.

Keep in mind, mock drafts should always be considered to be for entertainment purposes only. With that written, on to the mock!

Round 1
1) TRADE (from HOU) - DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
- It's not often you see the top pick in the draft dealt away, but it's also not often that a player with Clowney's pedigree is available. NFL.com's Gil Brandt said he believes there is a "good chance" Houston trades out of the top spot, and the recipient would likely be moving up for Clowney. With not much depth to this pass rushing class, the Falcons, who believe they're close, capitalize on what they may view as a rare opportunity.

ATL gets: 1st overall
HOU gets: 6th overall, 37th overall, 2015 1st round pick, 2016 2nd round pick


2) (from WSH) - OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
- The majority of St. Louis' leverage was based on the fact that Houston needs a quarterback, but now that the Texans are focusing in on either defense or a trade, that likely leaves the Rams stuck at second overall. They choose to build up their offensive line with a run-first approach and select Greg Robinson, who has the potential to be a top offensive tackle in the NFL.

3) - LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
- This remains one of the best fits in the draft. Gus Bradley could use Mack in so many different ways in his pressure-based defensive scheme. The Jaguars defense could be one of the most improved units in all the NFL in 2014.

4) - WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
- Whoever the Browns end up taking to be their next quarterback will have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. If the Browns end up with Watkins, that gives them one of the most talented pass-catching units in all the NFL: Josh Gordon, Watkins, Jordan Cameron and the newly signed slot receiver Andrew Hawkins. Brian Hoyer might be the early recipient of all the weapons, it's just a matter of which quarterback the Browns set their sights on and how quickly he can play.

5) - QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
- Wanting to trade down, the top quarterback on their board is too good to pass up at fifth overall. After all, GM Reggie McKenzie has to take a quarterback early in the draft eventually, right? Right?! Bueller?!

6) (from ATL) - OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
- The Matthews family will have an extended presence in the city of Houston once again. Jake Matthews slots in as an immediate starter for Bill O'Brien, as the Texans attempt to build up their offensive line for their quarterback of the future.

7) - QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
- Manziel would be an electric fit for the Buccaneers and would help them be competitive immediately. There is little doubt that they need a shot in the arm offensively, and Manziel could be just the guy to do it.

8) TRADE (from MIN) - WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
- Rather than waiting around, the Rams pounce on the opportunity to select a big, playmaking wide receiver that Sam Bradford doesn't currently have to throw to. Evans would be an immediate starter and give St. Louis a lot of flexibility on offense if they were to draft Greg Robinson at number two as well.

STL gets: 8th overall, 72nd overall
MIN gets: 13th overall, 44th overall


9) - TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
- For three out of the four mock drafts before this one, the Bills were taking an offensive tackle with the ninth overall pick. Last time around, both Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews were off the board, and the mock featured the Bills selecting Michigan's Taylor Lewan over Ebron. So why the change of heart? It all comes down to two separate reasons. Firstly, if EJ Manuel is going to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL they need to surround him with as much playmaking talent as possible. While tight end isn't an outrageous, crying need, adding an explosive player that can change the way defenses play you is far more important than what a right tackle could bring along. Back when the Patriots featured their two tight end sets, they had a super-athletic player that was used for receiving purposes only. This is what the Bills could have envisioned for Ebron, who is head and shoulders above the rest of the tight end class. The second reason, and perhaps the most important, is that the offensive tackles outside of the top three have a very real chance to slip down farther than initially thought. Buffalo could end up with tremendous value in the second round, coming away with two impact starters for their offense.

10) TRADE (from DET) - LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
- If the board doesn't fall the way the Bills want it to, there is an argument to be made for them to engage in talks with the 49ers for somewhat of a similar deal. With all the drama happening with Aldon Smith, it appears a split could be on the way sooner rather than later. Barr would fit perfectly into the San Francisco defense, and the 49ers certainly have the ammo to make a big move up the draft order.

SF gets: 10th overall
DET gets: 30th overall, 56th overall, 61st overall


11) TRADE (from TEN) - OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
- The Ravens are in need of a right tackle now that Michael Oher has departed as an unrestricted free agent. The Ravens have a lot of picks to play with in this year's draft, so a move up to secure that player for the pocket-bound Joe Flacco could be in the works. If they have any hope of landing Lewan, they have to get ahead of the New York Giants.

BAL gets: 11th overall, 112th overall
TEN gets: 17th overall, 48th overall


12) - DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

13) - LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
- The Vikings move down a bit and claim an inside linebacker that steps in to start as soon as they hand in the card.

14) - S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

15) - WR Odell Beckham, Jr., LSU
- With Emmanuel Sanders leaving, the Steelers need another target for Ben Roethlisberger. The trio of Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Odell Beckham, Jr. is one that presents a lot of problems for defenses.

16) - DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

17) (from BAL) - QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
- After trading down and acquiring an additional second round pick, the Titans can't pass up the value of Teddy Bridgewater at this point in the draft. Jake Locker is on the final year of his contract and he is not Ken Whisenhunt's quarterback. Bridgewater can step in quickly to a good situation on offense with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker.

18) TRADE (from NYJ) - CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
- The Broncos have been going for it all offseason to try and put together a team to win a Super Bowl this season, so moving up to take their top cornerback in the draft to pair with Aqib Talib could be an intriguing option.

DEN gets: 18th overall
NYJ gets: 31st overall, 63rd overall


19) - OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

20) - S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
- A hard-hitting safety to go along with the ballhawking Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals are looking to make a playoff push this season with a high impact style of rookie at an increasingly important position.

21) TRADE (from GB) - WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
- Rather than hope that the Eagles don't select Cooks at 22, the Chiefs dish out a fourth-round pick to the Packers to secure their guy. Cooks can play both outside and inside, and that versatility will be fully welcomed to the Alex Smith-led offensive attack.

KC gets: 21st overall
GB gets: 23rd overall, 124th overall


22) - CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

23) (from KC) - S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
- The Packers are in desperate need of a safety. With both Clinton-Dix and Pryor off the board, the Packers figure they can move back a little bit and still secure their player. Their gamble pays off, and they get an additional fourth-round pick along with Jimmie Ward.

24) - DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

25) - CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
- A slight fall in cornerbacks benefits the Chargers greatly, who could use an entire new starting set of players at the position. They get Gilbert, who some view as the top cornerback in this class.

26) (from IND) - QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
- The Browns have some nervous moments, but end up with their guy to groom for the longterm. Will he be an immediate contributor? That much we don't know. But the Browns do have a player in Brian Hoyer that can help in the interim with all those weapons on offense that Cleveland now boasts.

27) TRADE (from NO) - WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
- Not only do the wide receiver needy Carolina Panthers worry the New York Jets, but so do the New England Patriots. They offer the New Orleans Saints a great deal which gives them a total of three picks in the second round, all while maintaining 31st overall to add to their offense even further. The Jets will hope that Kelvin Benjamin is Eric Decker's new Demaryius Thomas.

NYJ gets: 27th overall
NO gets: 49th overall, 63rd overall


28) - OT/G Zack Martin, Notre Dame

29) - DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
- The Patriots would have went with Benjamin had he been on the board, but can't pass up an impact player like Nix. He'll eventually take over for Vince Wilfork, but can play right beside him until that day comes.

30) (from SF) - CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

31) (from DEN) - TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

32) TRADE (from SEA) - QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU
- This trade happens for three reasons. The first, Minnesota has the additional second round selection to be able to pull off this trade. Secondly, the threat of what Houston might do at 33rd overall looms largely over their heads, and they seem to be big fans of Mettenberger. Thirdly, drafting at 32nd overall rather than in the second round gives the Vikings the fifth-year option on Mettenberger if he's a success.

MIN gets: 32nd overall, 172nd overall
SEA gets: 40th overall, 96th overall


Round 2
33) - QB Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
- The craziness of the draft continues, with the Texans actually selecting the quickest rising quarterback in recent memory. With Savage selected, Ryan Fitzpatrick will get some more time as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

34) - CB Jason Verrett, TCU

35) - LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

36) - WR Marqise Lee, USC
- Even a few months ago, Marqise Lee dropping out of the first round was a preposterous thought. With all the talent in this draft and the type of depth that exists at his position, it puts a team in a position to get a steal of a second round pick.

37) (from ATL) - DE/OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech

38) - WR Cody Latimer, Indiana

39) - HB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
- Jimmy Garoppolo is a popular pick here in most mock drafts, but is he worthy of a second round selection? Instead, the Jaguars take the second member of their one-two punch at running back in Carlos Hyde.

40) (from MIN) - G Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA

41) - OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
- The depth at the position allows this situation to happen. Opinions on Morgan Moses are wide-ranging, but the common notion is that he can play right tackle in the NFL. He's got the size (6-foot-6, 314-pounds) and the arm length that the Bills covet in their tackles, making Moses a likely immediate starter in Buffalo. Even if Moses is off the board, there will be options available at 41 to upgrade right tackle if they so choose.

42) - DE/OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State

43) - TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
- Niklas might be a little raw, but he has intriguing size and attributes that the Giants were missing from their tight end in 2013.

44) (from STL) - DE Kony Ealy, Missouri

45) - TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Washington

46) - DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
- After addressing wide receive in the first round, Tuitt can step in and start for a need area in Pittsburgh. A five-technique defensive end is sorely needed after they whiffed on Ziggy Hood.

47) - OT/G Joel Bitonio, Nevada

48) (from BAL) - HB Tre Mason, Auburn

49) (from NYJ) - DE/OLB Dee Ford, Auburn
- An outside linebacker for Rob Ryan isn't the top need area for the Saints, but Ford is too good to pass up at this point in the draft.

50) - LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin
- The Dolphins want to move Dannell Ellerbee to the outside, and Borland would give them the flexibility to do so. Getting Phillip Wheeler out of the starting lineup is a very good thing for Miami.

51) - CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

52) - WR Bruce Ellington, South Carolina
- Andre Roberts moved on to Washington, creating a need for a slot receiver to complement Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The Cardinals can get the inside scoop on Bruce Ellington from his cousin, and current Arizona running back, Andre. A former dual-athlete at South Carolina, Ellington brings a lot of potential to the table.

53) - C Weston Richburg, Colorado State

54) - WR Paul Richardson, Colorado

55) - HB Jeremy Hill, LSU
- Looking for a power back to pair with Gio Bernard, the Bengals go with Jeremy Hill to take over for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. They'll be running the ball a bit more this season with Hue Jackson as the new offensive coordinator.

56) (from SF) - WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

57) - DE/OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU

58) - HB Dri Archer, Kent State
- An explosive athlete, Archer can be the new X-factor in New Orleans now that they've moved on from Darren Sproles.

59) - S Deone Bucannon, Washington State

60) - WR Davante Adams, Fresno State
- After waiting to address wide receiver in the first round, the Panthers land a player that could have pushed to be a first round pick in most years. Fortunately for Carolina, this isn't most years.

61) (from SF) - DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State

62) - G/C Marcus Martin, USC

63) (from NYJ via DEN) - WR Allen Robinson, Penn State

64) - DE/DT Dominique Easley, Florida
- Could the Seahawks use an offensive tackle? Sure. But adding Easley, who could become one of the best in the draft if he gets through his second major knee injury, seems like a gamble worth taking for the immensely talented Seattle roster. They can afford him with the time he needs to fully rehab his injury.

Round 3

65) - ILB Carl Bradford, Arizona State

66) - OT Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee

67) - S Terrance Brooks, Florida State

68) - OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State

69) - G Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

70) - QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
- Waiting on Garoppolo pays off for Jacksonville. Plenty of other teams already addressed their quarterback needs, and taking Garoppolo in the third round doesn't put any pressure on the organization to stray away from moving on from him after only one season.

71) - CB Phillip Gaines, Rice

72) (from MIN) - QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama

73) - CB Bashaud Breeland, Clemson
- The Bills could go with a defensive end, wide receiver or running back at this selection, but the potential of Bashaud Breeland wins out over the likes of North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin, Clemson wide receiver Martavis Bryant, Ole Miss wideout Dontie Moncrief and Towson running back Terrance West among a plethora of others. They can find a running back in the fifth round, and a situational pass rusher could be had in the fourth round. In the end, the longterm starting potential of a player like Breeland wins out. He's got the size (5-foot-11, 197-pounds) and the hips to be a starting cornerback in the NFL. With the flexibility that Leodis McKelvin brings during Breeland's rookie season, they can develop him with defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson the proper way and not force him into action too early.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Bills' Marrone had cancerous mole removed

The Buffalo Bills announced on Tuesday evening that head coach Doug Marrone had a scare with cancer. The coach released the following statement, revealing he had a cancerous mole:

"During a recent doctor's visit, it was discovered that I had a cancerous mole on my skin, which has since been removed. The only follow up required is to have my moles checked every 3 months and that basically is the end of the story. The recent extraction procedure will have no effect on my ability to coach the team moving forward."

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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Draft guru says "good chance" Texans trade out of No. 1

The NFL Draft is still over two weeks away and the anticipation is only building up to bigger and higher levels. When May 8 rolls around, the Houston Texans will be on the clock for the first overall pick, but might that only be for appearances?

NFL.com's Gil Brandt, who is widely known as "The Godfather" of the NFL Draft did a question and answer session with his followers on Twitter. He unleashed one heck of a draft nugget that, if you allow it to, could tie itself to the Buffalo Bills by way of two other reports.

Brandt is referring to the draft day trade from 2004 that sent Eli Manning to the Giants in return for Phillp Rivers heading to San Diego after the Chargers held the first overall pick. Plenty of fans in the area will and have made the leap that the mystery team that could be the New York Giants to Houston's San Diego might just be the Buffalo Bills.

To review, two separate connected and respected NFL writers have mentioned the Bills when it comes to the first overall pick. On March 27, Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report wrote that sources told him the Bills could be a trading partner for the Texans and that Buffalo is interested in moving up. Within the same month, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports wrote that the Texans are attempting to move out of the top pick, and mentioned both the Bills and the Atlanta Falcons as teams that might want to move up.

It's an interesting proposition, and one that you could argue both ways for which WGR did back when Pompei's original report came out.

But here's another thing to consider: might Bills GM Doug Whaley be more inclined to deal away future first round picks, which is likely what it would take to move up to first overall, because of the fear that not winning this season will cost him his job whenever a new owner comes on board?

It's an idea WGR's Mike Schopp has been kicking around on the air for the past week or so. It was also one that was written out in long-form by a Buffalo-based blogger, Joe Pinzone of BuffaloWins, asking the question if 2014 was a do or die year for both Whaley and Doug Marrone.

If there is any truth to the thought it would undoubtedly be one of the biggest trade attempts in the history of the franchise, and one they would have to get right. And in this case, right just wouldn't mean a solid starter on the defense. It would mean a hell-raising pass rusher that forces the opposition to gameplan for him, and a player to build their defense around for the future.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
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NFL announces 30 draft day attendees

The wait for the 2014 NFL Draft is a bit longer than most years, but the league continued to fan the flames of anticipation by announcing the players that will be in New York City for the festivities.

The Buffalo Bills are selecting ninth overall in the draft order, which means there is probably a good chance that the next member of their roster will be at Radio City Music Hall to don the team's hat and jersey on May 8.

Here is a list of the scheduled attendees for the draft, while noting which of the players have been through Orchard Park for a pre-draft visit:

Quarterback (4)
Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Wide Receiver (7)
Odell Beckham, Jr., LSU (Visited Buffalo April 10)
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Mike Evans, Texas A&M (Visited Buffalo April 22)
Cody Latimer, Indiana (Visited Buffalo April 1)
Marqise Lee, USC
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Tight End (1)
Eric Ebron, North Carolina (Visited Buffalo April 4)

Offensive Tackle (5)
Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (Visited Buffalo April 9)
Morgan Moses, Virginia
Greg Robinson, Auburn

Defensive End (2)
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Kony Ealy, Missouri

Defensive Tackle (2)
Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

Linebacker (3)
Khalil Mack, Buffalo
C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (Visited Buffalo April 2)

Cornerback (4)
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (Visited Buffalo April 21)
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Bradley Roby, Ohio State (Visited Buffalo April 2)
Jason Verrett, TCU

Safety (2)
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Calvin Pryor, Louisville

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

*All photos courtesy of the AP
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Three Bills ERFAs re-sign

On the same day that voluntary offseason conditioning started for the Buffalo Bills, their three remaining exclusive rights free agents re-signed with the team on Tuesday. Wide receiver Chris Hogan, offensive lineman Antoine McClain and fullback Frank Summers all signed the dotted line to spend 2014 with the Bills.

Hogan and Summers each contributed on offense throughout the 2013 season. Hogan, who primarily played on special teams units but also filled in at receiver when there were injuries, made 10 catches for 83 yards. Summers was mostly a blocker and special teams contributor, but also chipped in 12 carries for 46 yards, 7 catches for 79 yards and two total touchdowns.

McClain hooked on with the Bills on their active roster during the season in early October, but failed to be activated for any of the team's games last season. Head coach Doug Marrone did group McClain in with fellow guards J.J. 'Unga and Mark Asper as players that he believes have starting potential at the position.

The trio re-signed with Buffalo mostly because there options were severly limited. As an exclusive rights free agents, as long as a team issues the player a tender, the player then has only two options for their upcoming season. They can either re-sign with their current team, or, they can leave the NFL entirely.

The Bills now have 75 players on their active roster. Teams are allotted a maximum of 90 throughout the offseason, leading up to the initial cutdown day in late August.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

*All photos courtesy of the AP
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Bills' Manuel begins journey to prove himself as starter

For the first time in 2014, the Buffalo Bills have reconvened and are starting their preparations for the upcoming season. While there weren't any drills on the field, it was a time for players to do some conditioning and strength work, all the while communicating with the coaching staff for the first time since the end of the season.

"Obviously we're extremely excited as coaches and as an organization when the players start coming back in this building," head coach Doug Marrone said Tuesday. "Even though you're limited to doing a lot of things and we know it's voluntary. It's great to see the players back knowing that we do have a lot of hard work ahead of us."

According to the coach, the attendance was near 100-percent for the first day with only a few exceptions. Marrone said that he has the understanding that it will get to full attendance very shortly.

Topping the list of those present for the first day will be the player directly tied to the success or failure of the Bills in 2014: starting quarterback EJ Manuel. There is little doubt that it's a quarterback-driven league, and Buffalo will have to hope that Manuel irons out all the wrinkles from his game as a rookie. The quarterback agrees with all of that, and knows he needs to prove himself in 2014.

"A year after you're drafted you have one year under your belt so I know you usually want to make that big jump from your rookie year to your second year, your sophomore year," Manuel said. "I'm eager about it. I'm very excited and I think I'm taking the right steps right now. I tried to jot down everything I felt I needed to work on and I felt like I made the proper steps up to this point and helped myself get prepared for that so now it's just staying a part of the plan.

Those in attendance could notice a different air about the second-year player. Not having to deal with the whirlwind that is the NFL Draft process like he did this time last year, Manuel looked noticeably more loose and comfortable in speaking with the media.

Even Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson noticed the differences during their on-field workouts in Miami a couple of weeks ago. Johnson alluded to the zip, and how Manuel's throws were all on point. The wideout even said that Manuel was much more vocal, telling teammates where to be and what to do if they had a misstep.

"The main reason was because I've been doing so much studying I can pretty much go out there and call whatever I want to call," the second-year quarterback said. "As far as me maturing as a quarterback and as this team's quarterback, that is what they want from me. That's what I want to be able to do, I want to have the responsibility to tell those guys that the route wasn't right and they won't take that personally."

Manuel and some of his receivers met for a five-day stretch in California, and then a four-day stretch in Miami. There they all participated in churning through the playbook from an on-the-field perspective.

It's all encouraging in April, but most know that with a playoff-worthy roster in place for 2014, it's on the young quarterback to lead the team back to the place that the Bills haven't been since the turn of the century. Right from the end of the season, the decision makers of the organization have at times gone out of their way to say how invested in Manuel they are for 2014.

It's Manuel's team, and they'll either sink or swim with the progress of their young quarterback. Much of that will be determined by his health after missing six games in 2013 due to various knee injuries.

Manuel said that his knee, which endured another procedure since the end of the 2013 regular season, was back to normal and even characterized himself as a full participant during Tuesday's workouts.

"I haven't had any limitations throughout the whole offseason since it was time for me to start working out and running and throwing," he said. "No limitations at all, I feel great."

Manuel and the majority of his teammates participated in what is termed as "voluntary offseason conditioning" workouts Tuesday. If the players so choose, they are able to be at team facilities working out for five separate four-day stretches, all happening in consecutive weeks.

Once that period ends, the next line of work for veterans of the Bills will be with the start of Organized Team Activities on Wednesday, May 28. There will be a total of 10 of those on-field workouts, which are also voluntary, that extend into June. It all leads up to the team's three-day mandatory minicamp that begins on June 17, which will be the last time the team can work with their players until the start of training camp in July.

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WR Mike Evans, two others visit Bills Tuesday

The 2014 NFL Draft is drawing near, and yet another big named prospect has made the trek to Buffalo to visit with the Bills. On Tuesday, the team announced that Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans was in town for a pre-draft visit.

Evans declared for the draft as a redshirt sophomore following two seasons that yielded back-to-back 1,000 yard campaigns. Over those two years, the 6-foot-5, 231-pound wide receiver brought in 151 receptions for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is widely considered to be the second-best at his position behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins, and there is much speculation that Evans will be selected in the top 10.

In addition to Evans, the Bills also hosted two other college prospects on pre-draft visits. USC interior offensive lineman Marcus Martin and Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon each visited team facilities in Orchard Park on Tuesday as well.

In what has been advertised as a weak class for centers, Martin is one of the best available. He switched to center ahead of his junior season, but started at left guard during both his freshman and sophomore years. Martin is 6-foot-3 and 320-pounds, and will likely be selected at some point of Day Two of the draft.

McKinnon split his time in 2013 as both a quarterback and running back at Georgia Southern, but will need to focus on playing running back to make it in the NFL. Over the past two seasons, McKinnon maintained a yards per carry average of 6.7, gaining a total of 2,867 yards and 32 touchdowns in the Eagles' triple-option attack. He's projected to be a potential Day Three selection.

The Bills have now conducted 23 of their 30 pre-draft visits for non-local college prospects. For a full list of who has made their official visits, click here.

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Bills Draft Outlook: Cornerback

With the help of the pressure brought on by the front seven of the defense, and with a couple of roster improvements, the Buffalo Bills cornerbacks had a better year than they did in 2012. The position struggled mightily in the early going of 2013, but once usual starters began to return from injury, the corners settled in a bit more.

Even still, the Bills are bringing in a number of top cornerback prospects to meet with coaches and see the ground in Orchard Park for pre-draft visits. It's interesting considering their current roster makeup and for the fact that cornerback is one of the forgotten positions when it comes to the draft.

Could it be that where there is smoke, there is fire as well? Might the Bills actually draft a cornerback earlier than anyone is thinking at this point? Let's examine:

What they have
Starters: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey (nickel)
Reserves: Corey Graham, Brandon Smith, Ron Brooks, Mario Butler

What they need
- Regardless of when it comes to fruition, the Bills will eventually need to find a longterm starter to pair with Stephon Gilmore to finally put the cornerback need to rest. Entering his third season, the Bills are hoping Gilmore can put his injury behind him and continue down the same path he was on during training camp of developing into a shutdown corner.

They'll need him to regain that form, because the defense under coordinator Jim Schwartz will likely have a much different feel to it. While Mike Pettine specialized in bringing blitzes from all different places and sending more than four rushers on occasion, Schwartz shifts the philosophy back to having a dominant front-four and, in turn, putting more pressure on the cornerbacks on the field.

The big question is not about Gilmore — at least not at this point. One would have to believe that the concern is how Leodis McKelvin, who is heading into his seventh year, will do with more time in coverage. There isn't any doubt that his season in 2013 was the best he's had since his rookie year. If you study the tape, however, it's fair to ask if it was merely a byproduct of Pettine's pressure-packed defense.

Here's another caveat to consider: McKelvin's cap number takes a 50-percent jump up from the 2013 season to 2014. And if you go based on his 2013 number, his 2015 cap hit goes up nearly 61-percent. While there is no immediate danger to McKelvin, who turns 29 in September, it would be shortsighted to not at least wonder if the Bills are trying to find that longterm replacement.

Considering his age, his past struggles, a lack of playmaking ability (interceptions) and with more dynamic return specialists on the roster currently, it's fair to consider if the former first-round pick could be in trouble after 2014. After all, McKelvin is owed a $750,000 roster bonus ahead of the 2015 season, and the normal rule of thumb for cornerbacks is to gently bring them up to the starting lineup after learning the NFL game.

Some will ask about free agent acquisition Corey Graham, but it seems he's more of a situational player that will be used at both cornerback and safety depending on how the offense lines up. Graham will likely be a jack-of-all-trades type based on his skill set.

Nickell Robey is a solid nickel corner and will continue in that role, so there isn't any reason to move on from the former undrafted free agent. Past those four, though, the Bills lack depth. Former fourth-round pick Ron Brooks has been a humongous disappointment in the rare times that he's been healthy and could be entering a "prove it" training camp in 2014. Brandon Smith is an intriguing developmental player, but is far from being ready to contribute.

If the right player is available and depending about how they feel about McKelvin, cornerback could be the sneakiest "need" position for the Bills in 2014.

How will they do it?
- If the Bills stand pat at ninth overall, it would be a bit of a stretch to consider one of the top cornerbacks being in consideration for that pick. Based on the talent level of this draft that will likely push the top cornerbacks down the draft order, the Bills could be in prime territory at 41st overall to land a cornerback that could have been selected in the first round during weaker draft years. They've been bringing in numerous fringe-first round cornerback types, and some that could even be available in the third round. It would not be surprising at all if the Bills used a Day Two selection on the position, considering the type of pressure that will be put on them this coming season.

Players connected to the Bills (will be updated)
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (Pre-Draft Visit)
Bradley Roby, Ohio State (Pre-Draft Visit)
Phillip Gaines, Rice (Pre-Draft Visit)
Bashaud Breeland, Clemson (Pre-Draft Visit)
Ross Cockrell, Duke (Pre-Draft Visit)
Walt Aikens, Liberty (Pre-Draft Visit)

Previous 'Bills Draft Outlook' Editions
Wide Receiver
Defensive End
Running Back
Safety
Defensive Tackle
Tight End
Offensive Tackle

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