Scouting The Scouts, Part 1

Photo of Boise State from

I admit it; I spend far too much time on all this stuff; I’m in therapy for it. You have to admit, though, that tracking where the Bills’ scouts go –games, a scout at team practices, postseason games, Senior Bowl, Combine, Pro Days– makes for an attractive puzzle. Here’s what I’ve uncovered in the first quarter-season. I’m using DraftTek’s Big Board and my own exhaustive-but-enjoyable research.

Scout Visit —> Boise State 8/8/2019. Scouts at Boise State practice
The Bills have drafted a Boise State Bronco before in LB Tanner Vallejo, who never really got uncorked before injury. The top Bronco on our Big Board this year is ED Curtis Weaver (#40 on the Big Board as of this writing). Over his career, Weaver has a TFL-Per-Game average for Edge rushers that’s in the top three (1.08 through 2018), and he led the nation in pressures (21) last year. He’s usually the strong-side DE, and I could see him receiving expert help for a year from Lorenzo Alexander.

Jet Visit —> Ft.WORTH, TX 8/25/2019 TCU’s the closest to the airport, and it makes sense that Texas Christian’s WR Jalen Reagor (#18) and OT Lucas Niang (#136) would get a look at some point. Reagor (5-11,195, 4.37), Ruggs (6-0, 183, 4.36), and Mississippi State’s Stephen Guidry (6-4, 190, 4.38) will likely vie for the fastest forty time at the Combine. Besides having raw speed, Reagor-Smurf has that quick-twitch athleticism that’s omnipresent in the Bills’ WR room. Reagor averaged 14.7 yards per catch against AP-ranked teams in 2018, which is above average. I wrote about Lucas Niang’s fit here. He’s a monster RT at 6-7, 328, has really long arms, has a plan going in, adjusts on the fly extremely readily, and stays square. In the Bills’ run game, Niang offers strength, a fierce punch, comes out low, and powers you over. He’s a fit for the power-block scheme that Bobby Johnson’s likely staying with. If Ford is seen more as a Guard and Nsekhe’s only a placeholder at age 33, then Niang’s definitely in the RT conversation along with the nine tackles I mention in the article.

Photo of Ohio State iDL Chase Young from

Scout Visit —> Ohio State 45 – FAU 21 8/31/2019
[Box Score] [Highlights]
In the first scouted game that I’ve uncovered, Ohio State beat FAU, and you can see the highlights here. Would Beane trade up with his growing draft capital to land pro-ready iDL Chase Young, the #2 player on DraftTek’s Big Board, or is this just due diligence? He did force a fumble in this game. If that’s too rich a move for a team that drafted iDL in RD1 last year, how about CB Jeffery Okudah (#26)? He constantly seems to be playing at a higher RPM than opponent (see this). Okudah would still be a luxury pick for the defense at a position that’s young and deep. Besides, Okudah was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty in the game. Calm Breeds Calm, Jeffery. Still, Okudah has elite cover skills, showing a fearless competitive streak. He’s an athletic cover man who’s thrived under a new coach and new scheme. Another remote possibility at a position where the incumbent is hammered down is ILB Malik Harrison (#48). He’s a consideration, as he’s versatile enough to play inside or outside. Watch the 2018 Michigan game and you’ll see Malik can play lights-out and be early RD2, but like Tuf Borland, Malik can sometimes be caught in the wrong gap. Here’s where two players with alphabet names got me salivating: RB J.K. Dobbins (#40, but I have him at #19 on my board) and WR K.J. Hill (#60). Dobbins is the ideal complement to Devin Singletary. Size? Yes, similar to Frank Gore in build. Receiver out of the backfield? Yep; he has one of the highest number of receptions in this draft class. Beane and Daboll will like his decisiveness, power, and quickness. The kicker? Dobbins netted 91 yards and a TD in the game the scout watched. K.J. Hill fits the Bills receiver mold with excellent hands, quick separation, and the ability to use blockers well. He had a nice day against Florida Atlantic, with 3 catches for 21 yds & a 53-yard TD. One more player that deserves mention is OLB Pete Werner (#174). While a Day 3 option, Werner’s work ethic always gets mentioned, even by his coaches. Werner’s liability is inexperience. He has played fewer games than almost everybody in my top 20 linebackers.

Photo of EDGE A.J. Epenesa from

Scout at Game —> Iowa – Rutgers 9/7/2019 [Highlights]
In Iowa’s 30-0 drubbing of Rutgers, scouts’ eyes undoubtedly were squarely focused on three players, EDGE A.J. Epenesa (#5). LT Tristan Wirfs (#22), and RT Alaric Jackson (#34). Sure, QB Nate Stanley (#148) threw 3 TD passes, and WR/KR/PR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (UNR) was B1G Return Specialist of the Year, but Stanley was so well-protected by the bookends of Wirfs and Jackson that his protection would be my best guess. However, the defense yielded only 41 passing yards, the 2nd-fewest in the Ferentz era, and A.J. Epenesa had a tkl, 1 TFL, and 1 sack in the scouted game. Not too shabby.

Photo of Notre Dame G Tommy Kraemer from

Scout At Game —> 9/7/2019 Louisville 17- Notre Dame 35 [Highlights]
I’m betting the scout was looking at both Notre Dame lines. While the Irish were on offense, the scout would have RG Tommy Kraemer (#61) and OT Liam Eichenberg (#197) to watch. Kraemer is exactly the McBeane type: a physical, powerful, snap-to-whistle, film ratty playbook grinder. If the scout looked away from the line play, he (or she) would have seen a bigger WR than the Bills have (except for Duke Williams), Chase Claypool (#112). He had 5 catches for 94 yards, a hefty 18.8 ypc average. While on defense, they’d have seen a pair of EDGE rushers in front. EDGE Julian Okwara (#72) won’t last to his current big board spot, although in this game he “only” had one sack. Okwara ranks 2nd among returning Power 5 DE’s in pass-rushing productivity, per PFF. You’ll recognize the name; his NFL brother is Romeo Okwara. He has nice NFL size, but this here arm tackle won’t bring down NFL QBs. Khalid Kareem (#123) is a RD3-4 EDGE who I like. This humble, persistent grinder is PFF’s highest-graded returning edge defender among FBS Independents. In back, you’d see a prototype Safety Alohi Gilman (#70). He had 6 tackles on the day. He’s the hard-nosed defensive captain from Hawaii. Despite the weather differences, he’s a real possibility because of his work ethic and locker room presence. Entering the season he had 170 career tackles, 10 passes defensed (27 games); 0 sacks, 2 INT, and 2 FF in career. Listen to his speech; you’ll be ready to do that house chore you’ve been putting off. Gilman’s ceiling is Day Two, right where Safety might become a priority for the Bills.

[NEW ADDED 10/4/2019]
Scout At Game –> 9/7/2019 Vanderbilt 24 – Purdue 42 [Highlights]
DL Lorenzo Neal (#58), TE Brycen Hopkins (#125), and LB Markus Bailey (#185) for Purdue; TE Jared Pinkney (#49), RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn (#155), WR Kalija Lipscomb (#184) and WR Chris Pierce (UNR) for Vandy. It was a battle of playmakers for both teams in Purdue’s home opener, and worth watching at least the highlights. Pinckney, 6′ 4″ / 260, was injured in the game, but still caught an impressive 3 for 61, including yebrow-raisers like this oneand this one. He’s been given a RD2 grade by Tony Pauline. Lipscomb (6-1, 201) had 8 catches for 98, and this made me think of Robert Foster. Watch Lipscomb, not the ball, on his 2-point conversion. Brycen Hopkins is a Bills-sized TE; his TD in this game shows he needs to be a crisper route-runner, but has the focus and hands, as he caught two TD passes in the game. A name not yet on my board yet is HUGE (6-4, 225) junior WR Chris Pierce, who outperformed all playmakers with a 3 for 133 stat line, but this one made me sit up and take notice. He showed forceful downfield blocking on another TD, too. Bailey had 3 tackles and an assist, plus a sack. While Vaughn (17 car, 56, yds, 1 TD, 4 rec) is an ideal complement to Singletary, and has the power-speed combo plate teams crave, he’s looked more indecisive this year. He only rushed for 3.3 ypc vs Lorenzo Neal and Purdue after piling up mega yards against NIU.

Photo of Memphis RB Patrick Taylor, Jr. from

Jet Visit —> LITTLE ROCK 9/9/2019
Memphis is the closest football school, not Arkansas. The jet returned to Buffalo 3pm Friday 9/13, not staying for the game the next day vs Southern. Last year, the Bills hosted Memphis RB Darrell Henderson as pre-draft visitor, and he was taken one pick before the Bills took Devin Singletary. This year, 6-2, 223-lb. RB Patrick Taylor Jr. (#116 on my board; #382 on DraftTek’s) leads the draft parade, and would be a perfect complement to Singletary. Taylor’s 6.3 ypc against AP-ranked teams is top 3 among draftable backs, and his 47 receptions are also top 3 (with Dobbins and Rodney Smith). LB Bryce Huff (#135) is versatile, at home at OLB or ILB. Huff’s 9.5-sack season from the OLB spot in 2018 turned heads. He works at getting better every day, (examples: timing and first punch of get-off), and that will appeal to this front office. It translates to the field, too, as Huff leads the Tigers in both sacks and QBH, and he put up 24 TFL in 31 games. There are some Day 3 prospects that might be on Beane’s radar, including CB T.J. Carter (#181), who was last year’s DPOW vs LSU and Auburn; the 6-3, 200-lb. WR Damonte Coxie (#214), who made the second-most contested catches among returning wide receivers; and community-minded but undersized TE Joey Magnifico (#285).

Photo of South Carolina DL3T Javon Kinlaw from

Jet Visit —> WALTERBORO, SC 9/16/2019
The DraftTek Big Board has four South Carolina draftables, including smart space-eater DL3T Javon Kinlaw (#86), 6-3, 220-lb. WR Bryan Edwards (#165), ILB TJ Brunson (#226), and RB Tavien Feaster (#247). Since our Bills are less needy for a DL3T, I’d call tall WR Bryan Edwards and complementary RB Tavien Feaster as the most likely (Don’t count out Kinlaw if he drops, though; he’s a nice fusion of Lotulelei and Jordan Phillips). Edwards is a thickly-built (6-3, 220) wideout with some zigs and zags who’d fit the Bills’ genotype. Listen to Muschamp re Edwards: “Bryan is a very mature young man. He gets it. He has a real good work ethic. He pushes himself through adversity….We’ve got some other receivers that can’t, quite frankly. The intangible qualities you look for in any player, Bryan has.” RB Tavien Feaster (#247) is a 220-lb. back who runs well between the tackles, obeying evolving blocks, and is dangerous receiving out of the backfield. He does have elite burst and speed (124.02 speed score). The downside? Lowest YPC vs AP-ranked teams. Brunson, quite frankly, is an unlikely RD6-7 depth pick. Keep watching for visits to Gamecocks Country; Beane visited SCAR more often than almost every other school last year.

Photo of Missouri LT Yasir Durant from

Scout Visit —> U. of Missouri 9/17/2019
Reports of 2 Bills scouts at a Mizzou practice got me looking carefully at both offensive and defensive draftables. Two from the offense might be RD1 picks: LT Yasir Durant (#24), at 6-7, 330, is an extremely-likely prospect. Durant is allowing the lowest % of pressures on pass-blocking snaps in the SEC. Big, tough, solidly-built, Durant tailed Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho (#56) and 2019 Jaguars’ RD2#35 pick Jawaan Taylor in pressures last year. Should we win the Super Bowl, alas, Durant will be gone before we pick. TE Albert Okwuegbunam (#32) might be there, but I like our TE room a lot. Another consideration from Mizzou is tall CB DeMarkus Acy (#42). Acy ranked third in the SEC in INTs (three), PBU (10) and PD (13). Last I looked, Acy was Gil Brandt’s #3 CB. Don’t forget a backup for Mitch Morse: C Trystan Colon-Castillo (#176) is the keystone to a OL which led the nation in fewest TFL allowed in 2016 and 2017. He’s charismatic, coachable, and has never coasted despite his talent. He’s a dancer (which helps on the Bills), a good mentor and a good leader. He’s a proud Puerto Rican. Four days after the Bills’ visit, Missouri’s game against SCAR (see above paragraph) was won by Mizzou, 34-14 [Highlights]. S Ronnell Perkins had a 100-yard pick-six for Mizzou, while SCAR’s big WR Bryan Edwards had 6 catches, 113 yds and this 74-yard TD on a screen.

Photo of JMU CB Rashad Robinson from

Scout Visit —> James Madison U 9/25/2019
I received reports of a Bills scout at a James Madison practice, who were 3-1 at the time (including a close game vs WVU) and readying to avenge a previous-year loss to Elon College. FCS powerhouse JMU is 4-1 with a strong running game (JMU ran for 336 yards that Saturday vs Elon). There are some compelling Day-3 possibilities at James Madison: Senior CB Rashad Robinson (UNR) is one of 25 players selected to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List. After missing all of last season with turf toe, his career eleventh INT in the Elon rematch snapped the opposing QB’s INT-free streak. On the season so far, Robinson has 11 tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry, and three pass breakups. EDGE Ron’Dell Carter (UNR) played 2 years at Rutgers and then transferred to JMU. He’s made an immediate impact. Articulate and humble, Carter has a renewed passion for the game, and it began to show in 2018. He was named Team MVP after a stat line of 58 tackles, 13 TFL, and 7.5 sacks. Diminutive LB Dimitri Holloway (UNR) led JMU’s run-stopping effort with a team-best 13 tackles in the Dukes’ season-opening loss at WVU. He’s often a game captain with Robinson. QB Ben DiNucci (UNR), 6-3, 209 lbs., looked surgical vs Morgan State with a career-high 4 TD passes. He’s a redshirt senior who threw for 2,275 and 16 TDs last year, finishing third nationally with a 68.3% completion rate, and I hear that accuracy is a good thing to have. This year, he’s averaging 220.3 passing yards per game, and has 7 TDs to 1 INT. Need a kicker to push Hauschka?? PK Ethan Ratke‘s 83% accuracy is highest among FCS kickers (20 attempts).

Photo of Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara from

Scout Visit —> Scout At Game 9/28/2019 Notre Dame 35, Virginia 20 [Box Score] [Highlights]
This becomes the second Bills visit this year for Notre Dame, who at game time were #10, this time against #18 Virginia. They saw the same suspects for the Golden Domers as above: G Tommy Kraemer (#61), S Alohi Gilman (#70), Julian Okwara (#72), Liam Eichenberg (#197), WR Chase Claypool (#112), ED Khalid Kareem (#123). This time EDGE rusher Julian Okwara had a banner day with 3 TFL and 2 sacks, and is moving up the Big Boards. ND RB Tony Jones (5-11, 224) gets added to the list. He’s a junior, but he had an NFL-like 18 carries, 171 yards (7.3 ypc), 3 TD stat line which won him Player of the Game. CB Troy Pride (#305) would want this play back, but he finished with 5 tackles and an assist. For Virginia, the scout saw CB Bryce Hall ( 6-1, 200), who led the entire FBS in PBU in 2018 with 21. He’s Gil Brandt’s top CB, and he’s returned for his senior year. Hall has one of the highest FIPS scores (sum of Forced Fumbles + INTs + Passes Defensed + Solo Tackles in 2018).

Editor’s babble: Dean does it again. I print these out and keep them handy while watching college football. Big thanks to Dean for keeping us up to date on who to watch and for all his contributions to our blog. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.