(WGR 550) -- It's that time of year once again, when the NFL world moves from it's individual homes and makes it's mark in Indianapolis for an entire week.
The Buffalo Bills come into the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine with a much different mentality than they did in 2013, but the importance to get it right is as high as ever.
Just like it was done throughout the season, let's take a look at five things to watch for this year's version of the combine, with the Bills in mind:
1) Byrd Watch - Part 762
- OK, the "762" part might be a bit of an exaggeration. However, the Jairus Byrd situation has been dragging on since the conclusion of the 2012 season and the Bills could only put a bandaid on it heading into 2013. Once again, here we sit with the Bills having to make a decision within a two-week window on whether to succumb to the demands of the safety's agent, Eugene Parker, or to slap the franchise tag on him once more with the likelihood of further alienation. Many people are asking what the gut instinct is when it comes to what will happen with Byrd. The honest answer is this: no one knows until the two sides meet in Indianapolis. Once they do, there will be a better gauge on the situation as the Bills will find out if their value of the player is anywhere close to what Parker and Byrd think of their worth. He did just get home from the annual 'pump up your tires' festival that is the Pro Bowl, so it really all depends on his and his agent's approach. Consider this as well: Byrd may also be weighing the fact that there has been turnover on the defensive coaching staff almost every single year he has been a professional player. That, combined with playing through a 28-52 record and it may weigh into the player's line of thinking. Byrd genuinely wants to play for a winning team, so what he may think of the team's prospects could also play a part. If all goes poorly this week, expect the Bills to tag Byrd with the likely mindset of trying to move him. They just can't let him go for nothing. If he does sign a long-term deal in Buffalo, the pairing of Byrd and Aaron Williams likely won't see a third year in 2015. Commanding a salary north of $5 million per year when his negotiations come up, if Byrd signs long-term, Williams will probably be playing his last year in Buffalo in 2014 barring any unforseen circumstances.
2) Whaley's first combine
- Attempting to counteract the overall poor drafting and signing history left behind by former general manager Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley enters the NFL Combine with his first chance to call all the shots and to get the team back on the right track. Really, it all depends on the progress of quarterback EJ Manuel, but most know that already. Sitting at ninth overall with the current crop of draft prospects, there's a chance the Bills can come away with an impact starter that could have been a top-five pick in other years. It's too early to pigeonhole the Bills to any one position or even side of the ball at this point in February, and that may even be the case leading up to the actual event on May 8. With three or four quarterbacks (Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr), two or three edge rushers (Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr), one or two offensive tackles (Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson), a top notch wide receiver (Sammy Watkins) and whoever else may rise throughout the week expected to go in the top 8, just by the process of subtraction, one of those players have to drop to ninth overall. It's on Whaley to get it right, because so often his predecessor got it wrong. That all starts this week in speaking with and interviewing the players that could represent the organization for the next four-plus years. The Bills have some solid pieces in place, but have a smaller window with some of their current young talent than some would think. The Bills need to hit the ninth pick out of the park and hope Manuel flourishes in his second season.
3) 40 times with #9 in mind
- For those that want the Bills to select an offensive playmaker with their first round pick, keep a close eye on what happens in the 40-yard dash. It's not the the be-all and end-all measuring stick for wide receivers and tight ends, but it will certainly help raise the profile of some players that may have questions surrounding their speed. With a great showing, players like Eric Ebron, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin can put themselves in a solid position and help them potentially land in the top 10 or 15. Of those three, Evans has the most to gain with a good time in the 40-yard dash. Already the best high-pointing receiver in the draft, if Evans can run in the high 4.4's to low 4.5's, teams could have the worries wiped away. If he runs poorly, it opens the door wide open for the physically imposing and deceptively fast Benjamin to possibly be the second receiver taken behind Sammy Watkins. On the defensive side, keep an eye on edge rushers Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack, with the 10-yard split in mind. That shows the natural explosion out of a stance and is likely the most a pass rusher will need to travel in his path to the quarterback.
4) Buffalo locals in Indy
- Speaking of Khalil Mack, he's one of a few players at the NFL Combine with ties back to Buffalo. He isn't from the area, but spent his playing days at the University of Buffalo and is one of the best prospects the school has ever offered to the NFL. The combine will have a pair of lesser known players that hail from the western New York area as well. John Urschel, an offensive guard prospect from Penn State, is a graduate from Canisius High School and a self-professed "mathlete." He's a projected mid-to-late round selection. Toledo running back David Fluellen will also go through the paces at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. A native of Lockport, Fluellen is projected to be a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent.
5) National stories -- Michael Sam, Johnny Manziel
- Every year the NFL Combine gets bigger and bigger, and the amount of credentials handed out grows all the same. This year, there was a reported 800-plus credentials granted for the annual four-day media event, and the two players everyone will be waiting to hear from are Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Until a few weeks ago, Manziel was the top draw for Indianapolis for his polarizing playing style and off-the-field persona. With Sam now in the mix, Manziel will be a distant second for the most anticipated press conference. When Sam announced to the world that he was gay, the story became bigger than just sports for outlets around the country. In his first public appearance since his announcement, expect plenty of news organizations that don't normally cover sports to be in attendance on Saturday when the defensive end speaks. It's likely that Sam's press conference will blow away the Manti Te'o, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow interviews as the most attended in the history of the NFL Combine.