With it being the first time for some league decision makers to meet some of the prospects in this year's draft, impressions were made at the NFL's largest job interview. What are some of the things to take away from this year's week at Lucas Oil Stadium?
Here are some of my thoughts from the 2013 NFL Combine, while keeping the Bills in focus:
1) Will the Bills draft a Day 1 or 2 QB? I'm not so sure anymore.
- I know how frustrated you must be after reading that. Really, I understand. I was under the estimation that this year would finally be the year that the Bills add a quarterback within the first couple of rounds. However, a few separate things lead me to this belief. It's something I'll explain more thoroughly in a post in the coming days. First, the Bills have a lot of needs with the new staff in place and not a ton of cap room to address it via free agency. Perhaps they'll want to subscribe to the theory of building a team in the first year and bringing in a quarterback the year after. I still believe they'll draft a quarterback at some point in the draft, but I'm not as sold as I once was that it will be within the first two days. Maybe they'll draft a bit of a project like a Matt Scott in the fifth or sixth round. He seems to have the skill-set for all the different things that Nathaniel Hackett likes to do on offense, as well as fitting in to the new wave of quarterbacks across the league.
2) Lack of QB separation
- This certainly plays in to my first thought from the Combine, but there wasn't a clear-cut winner from the 2013 version like there was in 2010. That draft had a lot of questions about the quarterback group and they entered the week with a quarterback needy team atop the draft order, but no player to fill it. Then, Sam Bradford showed up with added muscle on his once skinny frame, and the train was put in to motion for the St. Louis Rams. This year, no one stood out. Not Geno Smith, Matt Barkley (who didn't throw), Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson or any of them. Perhaps the one that made the most waves, for the same reason as Bradford, was Tennessee QB Tyler Bray. His new, stronger frame will certainly help the eye test. It's still his leadership abilities and overall maturity that continues to be his biggest question. Is there a top 10 player amongst this group? Maybe. But who it ends up being? I still don't know.
3) Plenty of big WR depth, but one stands alone
- This is a good year to live up to the Buddy Nix prophecy of needing a receiver that's "open when he's not." There is a lot of depth to this class, but the one player that could be the game-breaker of the class is Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson. Checking in just a shade below 6-foot-2 and 216-pounds, Patterson went out and ran a 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. He's highlighted for dynamic plays in the open field and being able to go up and make a tough catch. His weaknesses? He'll drop it from time-to-time and he only played with the Vols for a year. Even so, the guy has home run type potential, and is one of the players the Bills could be targeting at eighth overall. If they don't, there are players like Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, Terrance Williams and Justin Hunter that could be around in the second round.
4) ILB not as strong up top as once perceived
- The Manti Te'o 40-time aside, there isn't really a player at this position that sticks out like a sore thumb enough for the Bills to consider them at eighth overall. Unless of course Georgia's Alec Ogletree clears up all his off-the-field issues with teams, the first round could go without a player drafted from that position. It's one that could be addressed by the Bills in either free agency or in the second, third or fourth round. One important note for some skeptical Bills fans out there. Just because Kelvin Sheppard hasn't lived up to the expectations in his first two years, it doesn't imply that every linebacker taken in the third round will do the same. Let's not subscribe to that notion, okay? Please and thank you.
5) Dark horse position for Bills at 8
- It was mentioned to me over the weekend by someone in the NFL, and I've been warming up to this more and more over the past few days: Don't necessarily rule out the Bills using their first round pick on the same position that they did last year. That's right. A cornerback. Why, you ask? Well, there a few separate reasons. The Jets, under new Bills DC Mike Pettine, have been so effective on defense because of the play of their cornerbacks, and being able to trust them on an island to get pressure on the quarterback. The Bills currently have Stephon Gilmore on their roster as a starter... and that's it. Buddy Nix seems to lack enthusiasm with the starting prospects of his other players at the position (which includes Aaron Williams), because he named soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Leodis McKelvin as the other starter. Yikes. This position needs another player that can help Pettine do what has made him a successful defensive coordinator. That could mean spending the eighth overall pick on the same position as 2012.
6) Xavier Rhodes turning heads
- If you're looking for a name that could be the Bills pick at eight if they elect to go cornerback, I think Florida State's Xavier Rhodes could be in the conversation. He has everything the Bills like in their corners. He's big (6-foot-2, 210-pounds), fast (4.43 speed), athletic (40.5" vertical), lanky (333/4" arm length) and physical. He's got experience playing up at the line of scrimmage and pressing receivers. He's been the best cornerback at Florida State since he's been there. With Alabama's Dee Milliner likely off the board by the time the Bills pick, Rhodes is certainly an intriguing prospect to say the least.
7) The Bills big two free agents
- Now that we're just two weeks away from the start of free agency, the biggest question for some fans is what the team will do with safety Jairus Byrd and left guard Andy Levitre. I don't think there is any way Byrd leaves. If they don't re-sign him to a long-term deal, I think he will be franchise tagged. As for Levitre? It's certainly looking more and more like the Bills might let him walk. With so many holes to fill on the roster, spending as much as it will take to keep Levitre may not be worth it considering the success of young guards all over the NFL. I'm not necessarily ruling out a Levitre return, but it is a very replaceable position. Big contracts signed one year will force a team to make a tough decision in the future. Levitre could be one of those tough calls.
8) A high(er) tight end pick possible
- For the first time since the Bills drafted Shawn Nelson, it seems like a draft pick on a pass-catching tight end could be in order. Scott Chandler's late torn ACL has Buddy Nix worried, so that may induce a pickup of a player at the position. Don't forget, Chandler is a free agent at the end of 2013, so it could be time to find his replacement and groom him to take over full-time in 2014. It's certainly the right year to do it, too. There are plenty of options to pick up someone at that position in the second, third, fourth or fifth round. Nix said there are as many draftable tight ends this year that he can remember. I'd expect one to be selected at some point. My personal favorite? San Diego State's Gavin Escobar. Don't be worried about the 40 time. He's got a lot of game and will be able to help an offense.
9) Perhaps a tackle?
- Right tackle is a huge issue for the Buffalo Bills. Erik Pears was one of the biggest weaknesses when on the field in 2012, and Chris Hairston didn't fair all that much better. Hairston, based off his performance is at least serviceable in 2013 if need be. But if the Bills want to take care of their bookends for the long haul, don't rule out the pick of a tackle. With some solid workouts throughout the Combine from players at other positions, a player like Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher could drop as Tim Graham of the Buffalo News pointed out. Or, maybe the performance of Lane Johnson could sway the Bills in to a tackle pick at eighth overall. I don't think that scenario is all that likely, but a second or third round player at the position? I could see it happening. This is a deep class at tackle.
10) Versatile outside linebackers could be had
- If the Bills are indeed going to be a multiple front defense, they will need personnel to help all their looks. In the 2013 NFL Draft, there are some types that can fit in to both schemes. Two guys that could be around by the time the Bills are picking at 41 that could help in both schemes are Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Khaseem Greene of Rutgers. Jones would need his medical history cleared up, but he could end up being a steal on the second day if a team's doctors gives them the go-ahead. Greene is someone that flies around in games and shows up even when you're not looking for him. He's a bit undersized and doesn't time well, but he's an extremely impressive player. It may not be either of those players, they are just a pair that I'm suggesting without any inside knowledge on the topic, but the Bills need someone in that mold to come in for the 2013 season. They cannot simply rely on what they have with only Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Chris Kelsay to do everything required of a multiple look OLB.
The draft is still two months away, so free agency may make a couple of these points moot. However, coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine, these are the biggest things I took away from it in relation to the Bills.