This is my monthly mock, perfectly timed to be done and posted before I start with the AstroNotes on Bills’ Training Camp, which will be posted here on the blog around 1pm EST.
Since camp hasn’t started yet, I’m making several brash assumptions. I’m going to assume no significant departures or injuries, that iDL is going to be less of a problem, that a #1 Pro-Bowl WR doesn’t jump forth from the admittedly-much-improved receivers’ room, and that the Bills’ CB and S positions are clarified to a large degree. I assume Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are stars in a constellation of young LBs (3 of the 4 youngest players on the roster are LBs). I’m going to suggest that OT Ty Nsekhe, who turns 34 in mid-October and signed a 2-year deal, is a bridge to a Tackle not yet on the roster. At Guard, I predict that Wyatt Teller and Ike Boettger will be better than folks were thinking, and OL Coach Bobby Johnson’s hand-picked free agent Jon Feliciano will prove to be far better in a power scheme, but they’ll still look to add iOL at some point, even at Center. Finally, I think the Bills have the “lightning” back of the future in Devin Singletary, but need the “thunder” guy for a post-Gore/McCoy world. Let’s begin.
Only Jerry Jeudy is off the board when it’s time for Beane to pick. These receivers were available to the Bills:
WR LAVISKA SHENAULT – COLORADO
WR CEEDEE LAMB – OKLAHOMA
WR TEE HIGGINS – CLEMSON
WR HENRY RUGGS – ALABAMA
Brian Daboll looks at the 4 passs-catchers still available. Like his WR room back at 1 Bills Drive, they all create excellent separation. They are stand-up citizens, all locker-room gems. They relish competition, and come up big in big games: Against AP-ranked teams in 2018, Ruggs (18.8 ypc), Lamb (17.4), and Higgins (15.2) did better than Shenault (8.7).
The Colorado locker room’s mild-mannered, soft-spoken Clark Kent is Superman on the field: Laviska Shenault is the most solidly-built of these four, and has been described as “big, strong, fast, and surly” by The Draft Network and “Sammy Watkins with some aggression” (LOL) on one of the chat sites I visit. His motivation to play? His deceased father. He’s the PAC12 rep on this list; the Bills have 9 players who played ball in the PAC12, but only Horrible Harry was drafted by the Bills.
The Big 12 always has a few Biletnikoff winners, and Ceedee Lamb is one of three on the 2019 list from that conference. Lamb is Oklahoma’s version of Robert Foster. He’s known for quick separation, not unlike our own Foster, Brown, Beasley, and even Nick Easley. He catches high-pointers like (…okay, we don’t have that yet, although I want to see more of Dhaquille Williams doing this). Lamb’s YPC against AP-ranked teams is the best of my top 10, if your last name isn’t Ruggs. He’s also second among all returning WRs in QBR When Targeted, with a 145.2. Then there’s this “wow” catch. His success is borne out of his work on the little things, making himself better one step at a time. Only one player taken by the Bills is from the Big 12: another receiver, David Sills V, and they snatched him in Free Agency.
Tee Higgins is the tallest at 6-4, and Daboll knows he doesn’t have 6-4 in his arsenal. Higgins carries a lot of tools in that work bucket. He brings feet that can burn you, long speed that can have you breathing black turf pebbles in his wake, and sideline toe-drag swag. This cued-up post route is pretty, with some “made-ya-miss” after the catch. Higgins hails from the ACC, and Daboll’s connections and scouted players are strongest in the SEC (Ruggs) and ACC (Higgins). A staggering 41% of all current Bills players hail from those two conferences. Throw in the PAC12 (Shenault), and half of the Bills’ roster played in those 3 conferences.
Henry Ruggs and OC Brian Daboll worked together at ‘Bama when Henry was a freshman, and you do see some oft-used Daboll elements in Ruggs’ repertoire (timed dig routes and playing opposite trips as an example). While Ruggs is the smallest of the four listed WRs, he owns the catch point. Even vs Deandre Baker. Ruggs is one tough hombre, making eyebrow-raising catches through traffic, and then turns on the jets (lowercase J), resulting in the highest YPC against AP-ranked teams: 18.8. Ruggs’ 4.25 speed beats current Bills burners Robert Foster and John Brown, and Daboll will have to decide if Ruggs’ skillset is unique enough to add him. Ruggs has the motivation card: he plays for a fallen friend from his basketball days.
Whom do you pick? The wisest thing my dad ever said was, “The harder a choice is to make, the less it will matter.” That said, Daboll’s familiarity with Ruggs and the speed he possesses wins out over Lamb’s YAC and work ethic, Tee Higgins’ height, and Shenault’s comp with Sammy Watkins.
RD2: Highest Need.
These players were available to the Bills at their pick:
EDGE KENNY WILLEKES – MICHIGAN STATE
LB KHALEKE HUDSON – MICHIGAN
RB NAJEE HARRIS – ALABAMA
What will happen at EDGE, LB, and RB this year? It’s one of the big reasons I am going to training camp every day to find out.
Cover 1 has basically talked me off the ledge at LB with his most brilliant article to date, so Khaleke Hudson is less of a need for me at RD2. Pronounced “kuh-LEEK” Hudson can play that McDermott/Shaq Thompson LB-S role. He shares the NCAA single-game TFL record (8). Solidly built and solidly grounded, Khaleke is a team-first guy. He’s part of the reason that Michigan’s secondary limited opposing offenses to the fewest YAC yards in 2018. I still think he’d be an excellent OLB, although he’s played 2 years for the Wolverines as a relatively-small starting MLB. I’ll watch his sideline-to-sideline speed this fall. Hudson plays with football smarts and the during-practice gusto we’re seeing in that “Embedded” series.
That leaves EDGE and RB. Why running back? It seems to be the most crowded room on the team. Frank Gore (age 35, 14 yr vet, 1 yr. contract) and Shady McCoy (UFA next year) can’t be counted on long-term. Touchdown machine Devin Singletary (5-7, 203) and 2014 SEC Special Team Player of the Year Marcus Murphy (5-9, 194) are the lighter “lightning” backs, one of which will be “singled out” by the end of training camp. T.J. Yeldon (6-2, 218), RB/KR with the Jags last season, approaches the type of back Beane is lacking for the long term, but no one would describe him as the “thunder” back you’d want on New Era Field on a rainy afternoon in November. Alabama’s Najee Harris is. At 6-2, 230 pounds and speed, Harris is on Daboll’s radar for his dogged work ethic and 37 missed tackles in 2018. Forced missed tackles got Singletary to Buffalo, and it could get Harris here, as well: Najee’s 512 yards after initial contact is almost identical to McCoy’s 514 total yards for last season.
EDGE is another possible need. Shaq Lawson and Eddie Yarbrough aren’t under contract past 2019. Jerry Hughes got a 2-year contract extension, but at 30 years old, Hughes isn’t a long-term solution, either. Trent Murphy’s ACL, ankle, and groin injuries and a PED suspension aren’t instilling confidence there, despite McDermott’s effusive praise. The Bills brought a parade of EDGEs in for 30-visits. The Other Josh Allen, Rashan Gary, Montez Sweat, Brian Burns, Jaylon Ferguson, Maxx Crosby, and Shareef Miller all came to town. Oh, and Darryl Johnson (RD7, #225) out of North Carolina A&T, got a Shrine Game visit. The key number to remember is Johnson’s 1.47 TFL per game average. The Bills had Shrine visits with #1 (Roberson) and #2 (Johnson) in that stat, and I expect that trend to continue. Kenny Willekes had the highest TFL/g in 2018, and RD2 seems to be the floor for his selection. At the time of this writing, Willekes was PFF’s third-best 4-3 DE. Watch that also improve. I’m more worried about EDGE than I am about thunder back, so Willekes is the pick.
OT CALVIN THROCKMORTON – OREGON
OT TRISTAN WIRFS – IOWA
OT ALARIC JACKSON – IOWA
Let me get on my soap box about the OL. Whether or not you think Dawkins’ 2018 performance was an aberration caused by Incognito’s departure or his need to constantly help out the LGs next to him all season, I’m not writing his name in ink at Left Tackle just yet. Likewise, Cody Ford, who our DraftTek OL Analyst Longball calls a “phone-booth Guard” and a “holding penalty waiting to happen at OT”, isn’t even carved in stone yet as my Right Tackle. Ty Nsekhe is 33 years old and a pretty good 2-year transitional option if you get a franchise OT in Free Agency or the 2020 draft. LaAdrian Waddle has played in 28 games with 7 starts over the past two seasons. Conor McDermott has promise, playing last preseason (69 snaps at LT and 2 snaps at RT). He had to build strength and posture due to his height. That’s about it. That’s a bubble-gum-and-duct-tape tackle group for 2019 despite the propaganda about “The Revamped Offensive Line”. I feel better about the Guards, especially if you consider sliding Dawkins and Ford into the mix with Wyatt Teller and Feliciano/Sirles/Spain. The Bills need a Tackle.
The above group will sort themselves out better during the season, but the class is deep, and many fit the Bills’ prototype. The jury is still debating in the back room over Wirfs. Saadiq Charles had a shoulder surgery a year ago, and we don’t know his draft rank. I’d throw Trey Adams, Yasir Durant, Trey Smith, Isaiah Wilson, Alex Givens, Mekhi Becton, and Lucas Niang in here as well. All can run Bobby Johnson’s power-blocking scheme as a RT, with a shot at moving to the blind side. I’m putting Tristan Wirfs in this month’s mock as a placeholder for that guy, and I’m willing to listen to the comments about making Tackle our top draft priority. Beane’s staff seems to love to draft guys in the trenches.