MOBILE, Ala. – As usual, the Senior Bowl is filled mostly with second- and third-day prospects for the NFL Draft.
That’s just fine for the Buffalo Bills, for whom no position is off the board in 2018. The Bills have needs for starters at most positions and could justify drafting to improve their depth at any position on the field.
The Bills' primary needs? Call them quarterback, defensive tackle, edge rusher, linebacker and receiver. Cornerback may be in that group, too, considering starter E.J. Gaines is due to be a free agent. And the Bills could stand to bolster themselves at offensive line, tight end, running back and safety, too.
It all makes this week's Senior Bowl an important part of the Bills' draft process.
Phil Savage, Senior Bowl executive director, said Monday that the off-field interviews NFL teams hold with the players are as important as the on-field work.
"We talked to the players earlier about the first impression they can make from a personality standpoint," Savage said. "Because when we go into these schools during the season, you rarely meet the player. You see them in practice, you talk to the college coaches and the staff. But you don't really get to talk to the individual. So that first impression is important."
"Then, of course, the lasting impression is this is their last time on the football field until the draft," Savage said.
There likely are only three top-20 first-round picks in the game, which will be played Saturday. They are Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Texas-San Antonio edge rusher Marcus Davenport. It will be no surprise if 20 to 25 players taken in the first round are underclassmen, who aren't eligible for the all-star game in Mobile.
Still, this widely is viewed as a fairly strong year for the Senior Bowl, aided by the fact two high-profile QBs are in the game.
"We're really excited about all of our quarterbacks, and obviously Baker and Josh Allen are two headline players," said Savage, a former Browns general manager. "But every young man here has a story to tell."
Savage said tight end and cornerback are two other positions he's excited to watch in the practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
"I like this tight end class," Savage said. "We brought eight tight ends in because I thought there was real depth there in terms of the senior group."
The tight ends include potential late first-round picks Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State and Ian Thomas of Indiana, along with Penn State's Mike Gesicki, Wisconsin's Troy Fumagalli and Notre Dame's Durham Smythe, all possible middle-round picks with ideal size.
"The cornerback group here to me is probably the most fascinating," Savage said. "We have 13 corners, but six of them came from what you would call smaller schools. This is going to be quite a challenge for them to step up in competition. I think they can really make a mark if they can actually hold up and cover some of these big-time receivers."
The small-school cornerbacks include Michael Joseph of Dubuque, Taron Johnson of Weber State, Danny Johnson of Southern, D'Montre Wade of Murray State, Chandon Sullivan of Georgia State and Siran Neal of Jacksonville State.
The Bills may well be in the market for a later-round cornerback, even if they address the spot in free agency or earlier in the draft.
The offensive line roster in Mobile looks strong. Perhaps eight of the 16 players in the game are candidates for the second day – the second or third rounds of the draft.
As usual, there are plenty of receiver prospects here, with eight or nine potential middle-round picks on the rosters.
One late cancellation took a potential first-round pick off the Senior Bowl field. Western Michigan tackle Chukwuma Okorafor pulled out due to a minor injury suffered during training. Okorafor is only 20 years old but he's a senior.