With the college All-Star game circuit over, draft season is officially upon us. Over the course of the next few months, we’ll hear about players’ stocks “rising” and “falling” in addition to countless rumors spread by anonymous scouts and sources. The Buffalo Bills will head into the 2015 NFL Draft without their first and fourth round draft picks, but with very few needs on the roster, Doug Whaley will be in a position where he can truly follow the best player available model.
Before I get into what I would do if I were in Whaley’s shoes, I want to explain why I don’t have the Bills selecting a quarterback in the 2015 draft. Quarterback is obviously the biggest question mark on Buffalo’s roster, but aside from Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who each have red flags of their own, the quarterback class is absolutely dreadful.
Expect to hear Brett Hundley’s name “rising” up draft boards this offseason, as he possesses the physical and athletic abilities that make for some exciting highlight reels. However, he’s extremely inconsistent and inaccurate when working downfield in the passing game, particularly over the middle of the field- an area you need to win in the National Football League. Hundley is the clear-cut No. 3 solely due to his attractiveness as a developmental project, but in my opinion, QB-needy teams that miss out on Winston or Mariota probably won’t see much return on whichever passer they invest in.
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s how I would pick if I were in charge of the Bills
Round Two, Pick No. 50
TE Clive Walford, Miami
Clive Walford probably would’ve been a mid-to-late round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he opted to return for his senior season in order to refine his game. The decision proved to be a wise one, as Walford emerged as one of the most explosive and consistent tight ends in the country. After recording 77 catches for 1,077 yards and seven touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Hurricanes, Walford quickly developed chemistry with true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya. In 2014, the duo connected 40 times for 627 yards and seven touchdowns.
Walford is a complete tight end; he can split the seam, he can block, he can win in contested catch situations and he’s athletic. He knows how to control his body and track the ball, while displaying strong, reliable hands. Walford’s experience lining up attached to the offensive line as well as split out wide makes him an attractive candidate for Greg Roman’s multiple offense that asks a lot out of the tight end.
Alternative Choices: WASH LB Hauoli Kikaha, ORE DL Arik Armstead, FSU OL Cameron Erving, UGA RB Todd Gurley
Round Three, Pick No. 81
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Rex Ryan stated that he and offensive coordinator Greg Roman wanted to “build a bully.” What better way to start that process than to acquire one of the most physically gifted running backs in the 2015 NFL Draft? Much like Eddie Lacy did, Yeldon will have to deal with the inevitable Trent Richardson comparisons and questions regarding his individual talent after playing behind an offensive line comprised of five-star recruits.
All narratives aside, Yeldon is a very good running back that brings the size and physicality Lacy did, but is faster, more agile and patient. Standing 6’2” 220 pounds, Yeldon is a big back that’s a solid fit for Greg Roman’s power run game. The 21-year old reached at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his three years with the Crimson Tide, finishing his career with 576 carries for 3,322 yards (5.8 ypc), 37 touchdowns. He added 46 catches for 494 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game.
Alternative Choices: DUKE G Laken Tomlinson, IOWA DL Carl Davis, UCF WR Breshad Perriman
Round Five, Pick No. 129
WR Austin Hill, Arizona
The offensive bolstering continues for the third consecutive selection with Arizona Wildcats wideout Austin Hill. The Bills have two quality receivers in Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, but they could stand to find an upgrade, or at least some competition for Chris Hogan and Marquise Goodwin. Hill stands 6’2” and weighs about 215 pounds. In 2012, Hill was a major part of Arizona’s offense, as he caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 starts. He suffered a torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season. He returned to action in 2014, but didn’t look fully healthy. Hill caught 49 passes for 635 yards and four touchdowns in his final season.
Hill is a big-bodied receiver that the Bills’ offense desperately needs. He won’t take the top off the defense and he won’t ever be a “No. 1” wideout, but he’s physical, runs good routes and will be a quality role player in the intermediate passing game.
Alternative Choice: MIN RB David Cobb, CUSE S Durrell Eskridge
Round Five, Pick No. 147
CB Ladarius Gunter, Miami
With the Bills’ second selection in the fifth-round, I have them taking another Miami Hurricane, cornerback Ladarius Gunter. Gunter stands 6’1” and weighs 200 pounds, possessing the big, long frame at the cornerback position that’s seemingly taking over the league. Gunter has had an extremely inconsistent career, but he’s shown the ability to be a top-notch cover corner that uses his length well by getting hands on opposing wide receivers and making plays on the ball in contested situations. For his career, Gunter has recorded six interceptions and 23 pass break ups. Gunter is an attractive defender for Rex Ryan’s aggressive scheme that requires physical cornerbacks that can play man coverage, and he has the tools to be a quality player in a few years.
Alternative Choice: NSU EDGE Lynden Trail
Round Six, Pick No. 178
OL Sean Hickey, Syracuse
Buffalo gets some offensive line depth in the sixth round with the selection of Syracuse’s 6’6” 310 pound left tackle, Sean Hickey. Hickey is probably a guard or a right tackle in the NFL, but he’s a technically-sound lineman that shows good strength to anchor in pass protection and displays aggressive hands and physicality in the run game.
Hickey would be a quality reserve at offensive tackle, but could probably compete pretty quickly at the left guard position.
Alternative Choice: UAB DB Nick Marshall
Round Seven, Pick No. 209
DL Christian Covington, Rice
The Bills finally go defense here, selecting defensive tackle Christian Covington out of Rice. The 6’3” 300 pound, Canadian-born lineman entered the 2014 with modest hype after recording 109 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his first two seasons at Rice. He got off to a strong start in 2014, recording four sacks and 20 tackles before suffering a season-ending knee injury. It’s not clear if he’ll be healthy enough to participate at the combine, which will cause him to slide to the sixth or seventh round.
As a Bill, Covington won’t be expected to play quickly, so he’ll have time to get healthy and learn behind Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. He projects to the one, three and five technique in Rex Ryan’s defense.
Alternative Choice: LSU RB Terrance Magee