Throughout the next few weeks, #BillsMafia writers Rob Quinn (@RQuinn619) and Jason DeHart (@jaytdehart) will be joined by Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) of NFL.com and CBSSports.com to discuss the biggest story-lines surrounding the Buffalo Bills’ offseason.
Last week, we broke down the Bills’ biggest offseason needs, which you can read here, as well as which players will be positively/negatively affected by the new coaching staff, which you can find here.
Today, we offer our thoughts on the players that Buffalo should target in the 2015 NFL Free Agency class and the NFL Draft.
Mike Iupati should be the Bills’ primary target heading into the free agency period. His connection to Greg Roman is obvious and he’s one of the most dominant run blockers in the NFL. The 27-year old is the epitome of the “bully” that Rex Ryan stated he wanted to build in Buffalo and would immediately turn a position of weakness into a strength. The Bills haven’t spent much on the offensive side of the ball and signing Iupati just makes too much sense. Charles Clay of the Miami Dolphins is an under-the-radar target that would be a good fit for the “F” tight end or H-Back role that Roman’s offense features.
I already mentioned Henry Hynoski (he’s only 26 and was PFF’s No. 2 blocking FB in 2014) and I think Iupati should at least be a target. But I’m conflicted right now. Whaley’s philosophy during FA last year was “low-risk, cost-effective depth signings” and it worked wonderfully. Is that his “go-to” route every year, or will he be a bit more aggressive (spending-wise) with the Bills on the cusp of the playoffs? If the latter is true, Iupati may possibly be brought in. If the former is true, someone like Clint Boling…a young, versatile and relatively reliable guard from the Bengals would be super logical.
Is Da’Norris Searcy hitting the open market? From what Whaley said at the combine, it seems like he will, and Rex’s system has a heavy reliance on safeties, so the FA safety crop (no, not Devin McCourty) is worth monitoring.
Darian Stewart from the Ravens is a 26-year-old safety who likely won’t command big dollars and has been a fine contributor in Baltimore. The sleeper is Seattle’s Jeron Johnson. He’s played sparingly with the Seahawks — they have some decent safeties you may know — but is a 5’10”, 215-pound hitter from Boise State who’s not 26 until June 12th.
Lastly, with how integral the tight end position is to Greg Roman’s offense, players like Jermaine Gresham, James Casey, and, yes, Charles Clay should be considered.
Orlando Franklin of the Denver Broncos would be the ideal free agent target in my opinion. He’s the definition of versatility, starting the year in Denver as their right tackle, but after some shuffling found a home in the interior of the line at guard. Franklin is a plus blocker per ProFootballFocus.com in both the run and passing game. He does take a holding call here or there, but otherwise plays a sound game that could help stabilize the line through and through. The issue with Franklin is that he is 27 and should command a hefty raise from his one million dollar salary. Franklin is probably the third or fourth ranked guard in free agency so the Bills should act quickly to sign him if he’s a target. His signing could also push last year’s failed free agent Chris Williams out the door and put last year’s draft class on notice to shape up.
Free agency will dictate the direction that the Bills go in the draft, but right now I think Miami Hurricanes tight end Clive Walford is the best prospect for the Bills in the second round. He’s a big, physical and versatile tight end that can line up along the offensive line and provide value as a blocker in the run game, but he’s athletic enough to split out wide and threaten defenses in the passing game.
If the Bills don’t acquire a veteran guard in free agency, I think a player like Duke’s Laken Tomlinson or South Carolina’s A.J. Cann would make sense in the second round. Both are huge, powerful interior linemen that demolish defenders in the run game, but are strong and agile enough to hold up in pass protection.
Finally, the Bills need to add another running back and this draft class is loaded at the position. Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Northern Iowa’s David Johnson are big-bodied backs with good speed, vision and burst between the tackles that would be solid fits in Greg Roman’s power run game.
Devin Funchess from Michigan seems to be a talent / need / value match for the Bills at pick No. 50, as many teams will likely dock him for a “slow” 40 time, and simply because this is another loaded receiver class. He’s nearly as “freakish” size-wise as Dorial Green-Beckham (who the Bills should take if he’s there at No. 50) at 6’4″ and 230 pounds, and he’s only 20 years old with ball skills to go along with major hops.
Buffalo needs a big-bodied “go up and get it” pass-catcher…don’t get too enamored with the specific title of said player’s position.
Jay Ajayi and Melvin Gordon are my two favorite running backs in the class, and although I value their position much less than it seems like the NFL will, either would be “good” selections in Round 2.
(Really though, this RB class is the best I’ve ever seen, so whoever the Bills draft will be fine. It’s more about getting a youthful runner into the backfield than diving into the minor details of their running styles. Remember, Buffalo already used their fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft on soon-to-be 24-year-old back Bryce Brown. Yeah, the Chiefs fumble couldn’t have been worse, but he has extremely fresh legs and an exceptional skill set.)
I’m a fan of the top two tight ends — Maxx Williams and Clive Walford — for the Bills as well. Williams has more upside (he’s only 20) but Walford is a more accomplished blocker right now, which may increase his chances of landing in Buffalo.
If safety and defensive tackle aren’t addressed in free agency, I expect the Bills to add a player at each spot later in the draft. The same goes for fullback if a free-agent isn’t brought in. Check out Alabama’s Jalston Fowler — watch T.J. Yeldon’s tape if you need to.
Brett Hundley to me is the clear third choice at quarterback in this year’s class, and could very likely earn a starting job. In fact his best NFL comparison is former Roman tutored quarterback Colin Kapernick, though Hundley is more accurate throwing the ball finishing fourth in the nation. Hundley will be muddled in as a running quarterback, which he can do very well, but playing behind a susceptible offensive line at UCLA forced him to leave the pocket earlier than he sometimes wanted. He will have to learn to scramble to throw, instead of scrambling to pick up yards, and play under center; but the UCLA offense was pro style based and forced Hundley to understand route concepts, timing, and reading defenses better than other options like Bryce Petty & Garrett Grayson.
The devaluation of the running back position in today’s NFL likely means that Ameer Abdullah can be available for the Bills to snatch in the second and possibly later rounds. He brings home run ability (just watch this), and speed between the tackles. He fits the CJ Spiller mold in height (5’9), and stature (195 lbs) and his off the charts athleticism makes him hard to resist. The only complication is that Roman’s offense normally needs a thicker between the tackles runner.