The NFL scouting combine is reaching its conclusion in Indianapolis. What did we learn? Here are 20 quick thoughts...
1. We know Rex Ryan loves granting a troubled player a second chance. And after this week, maybe Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence or Ole Miss interior lineman Robert Nkemdiche fall to Buffalo at No. 19 overall. Sure, we all tend to put too much stock into 40's but Spence's 4.80 raised eyebrows for the wrong reasons. Many viewed him as the best edge rusher in the draft. Meanwhile, Nkemdiche had a solid workout (at 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds, he ran a 4.87 in the 40, benched 225 pounds 28 times and had a 35-inch vertical), but could also be set for a draft-day fall. Nkemdiche admitted he was "lazy" at times on the field, said the media tarnished his name, that nobody wanted to take the fall for the drugs in his hotel room and casually noted that potential No. 1 overall pick Laremy Tunsil was in the room. Quite possibly, two players with Top 10 talent fall to Buffalo. Then, it's decision time.
2. So much media fawning over prospects "killing the Combine" with a 10-minute interview at a podium. Please. Let's all remember how charismatic Johnny Manziel was when peppered with questions about his behavior in college. Every single prospect is coached up by agents before taking the mic. We should all listen, yet we should all be skeptical.
3. Speaking of skepticism, some GM's and agents around the league are very skeptical the Bills will escape their salary-cap jam a winner. Moving money around in contracts as the team did with tight end Charles Clay and, per the team itself, plan to with Leodis McKelvin and Corey Graham will help. Releasing Mario Williams provides a boost, too. But whereas a dozen teams are flushed with $30-plus million in cap space, the Bills will mostly be standing pat. They'll absolutely be counting on rookies contributing immediately to improve the NFL's 19th-ranked defense, one that totaled 21 sacks. Will that be enough against a cutthroat schedule? We'll see. Buffalo may need Tyrod Taylor to star to contend. And, hey, one prospect threw Taylor's name into the same sentence as Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.
4. One name to remember at quarterback: Colt McCoy. A veteran presence would've won at London and, maybe, even against Cincinnati when Taylor was sidelined. And the Bills should cut Taylor loose as a runner — it's an element of his game you feature, not hide — which means the team must find a more capable No. 2. They did offensive coordinator Greg Roman no favors by making EJ Manuel the No. 2 last season. Maybe the free agent McCoy makes sense. He has had moments on three teams in six years, one of those teams being Roman's 49ers. In addition to this, the team should also draft a quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds. Here are the possibilities.
5. What an experience to play some hoops at the Hoosier Gym with media cohorts Tim Graham, Joe Buscaglia and Matthew Fairburn. If you're ever near Knightstown, Ind., heck if you're two states away, be sure to stop by. It's incredibly well-preserved and truly makes you feel like you're in a timeout with Gene Hackman.
6. The Carson Wentz Hype seems real. The North Dakota State quarterback was sharp in drills, sharp in team interviews and a 4.79 doesn't hurt. There are many QB-needy teams at the top of the draft. The more NFL teams learn about this FBS quarterback, the more they like. Most experts like Wentz more than Cal's Jared Goff. So despite Buffalo's longtime interest in Wentz, he'll likely be out of range.
7. Sorry, not buying what Rex Ryan is selling about last season. Whether it's on ESPN's Mike & Mike, Sirius XM Radio or his session with local reporters at the NFL Combine, Ryan repeats that he tried to merge his defense with what the Bills did before under Jim Schwartz last season. In Indy, he dressed up his explanation with comedy, calling the Bills' 2015 defense "half-pregnant" assuring they'd be "fully pregnant" in 2016. All despite Ryan himself saying in October the Bills would run his defense despite player unrest. All despite the fact that several players expressed anger over the scheme. The final two games, players say Ryan took more player input and reached a compromise in letting defensive linemen rush upfield. The result was beautiful devastation. Actions will speak louder than words once the games begin.
8. Great running into special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven. He'll be back with the Carolina Panthers in 2016. For years, DeHaven has been unfairly painted as a scapegoat in Buffalo. For the details, here's our oral history on the Music City Miracle. Yet around the league, DeHaven is revered as one of the best special teams coaches still going. He'll chase that elusive ring again next season.
9. Which receiver stood out? TCU's Josh Doctson. The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder was wildly productive in college with 79 catches for 1,337 yards and 14 touchdowns and then put together a strong workout in Indy. His 4.50 is faster than the five-year average at the Combine. And his 41-inch vertical was tied for No. 1 at his position. He can get separation, too. This year's wide receiver class isn't quite what it was in 2015 or 2014, but Josh Doctson might've worked his way into the first round.
10. North Dakota State tackle Joe Haeg said one team asked him what his favorite beer was. His answer? Guinness. The correct answer? New Glarus' Spotted Cow. Oh well. Get 'em next time, Joe.
11. A potential suspension to LeSean McCoy sure does throw a curveball at Doug Whaley on draft day. I like Karlos Williams as much as anyone — he might've been the best rookie back in the NFL last season... when healthy. The Bills have to take Williams' four injuries into consideration. So who looked good at the Combine? Kenyan Drake was left with crumbs in Alabama's backfield behind Derrick Henry but ran back-to-back 4.4's. He was silky smooth through position drills, too. Can't ignore the day Georgia's Keith Marshall had, either. Marshall ran a RB-best 4.31 in the 40 and bench-pressed 225 pounds 25 times. Initial unofficial clocks timed Marshall at 4.28. Never heard of Marshall? That's because injuries derailed his collegiate career. He tore his ACL in 2013 and only played in eight games during the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined as a third-stringer. Then, on a bad Georgia offense in 2015, Marshall was only given 68 carries and averaged 5.1 a pop. He's clearly healthy now and deserves the Bills' full attention.
12. Linebackers in the NFL today must be able to run. Offenses often schemed their backs and tight ends against Buffalo's linebackers in 2015. Whoever the Bills add at the position this offseason will need to be able to move in space. Ohio State's Darron Lee sure looks like the prototype linebacker today. The 6-foot-1, 232-pounder ran a sizzling 4.47 — best at his position — and also posted a 35 1/2-inch vertical (fifth-best) and 133-inch broad jump (first). He could be on the board when the Bills pick at 19. It doesn't hurt that fellow Buckeye linebacker Ryan Shazier has translated to the pro game with 87 tackles (55 solo), 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four pass break-ups a year ago with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills need more splash plays out of their inside linebackers. Last year's two primary starters combined for two sacks and one interception.
13. Left tackle Cordy Glenn isn't going anywhere. A source confirmed the NFL Network report that the Bills plan to use the franchise tag on Glenn if the two sides are unable to reach a long-term deal. This would be costly (about $13.7 million) but the Bills can't afford to lose a reliable, still-peaking left tackle considering Seantrel Henderson's health and the fact that Cyrus Kouandjio can't see the field.
14. The Honesty Award goes to Auburn WR D'haquille "Duke" Williams. He said he's a first-round pick talent-wise "but off the field I’m a seventh-round pick." No kidding. In 2014, Williams had 45 catches for 730 yards with five touchdowns. He, indeed, resembled a first-rounder. Then, his world came crashing down. On Oct. 3, Williams punched four people outside a bar after his team's win over San Jose State, one of those being teammate Xavier Dampeer, who ended up needed season-ending surgery. Suspended multiple times before, Williams was kicked off the team. Said Williams, "I was late to practice many times. Once I got in the doghouse, it was hard for me to get out. I was already in the doghouse, so everything I did, it was being watched. I just had to grow. And I didn’t grow. So now I’m working to be a man. I put myself in counseling to really find myself as a person, to address the issue before it even happens again.” Unfortunately for Williams, he underwhelmed on the field this week with a 4.72 in the 40 and a 30-inch vertical.
15. Kemba Walker is a baller. One of the best NBA players nobody talks about. OK, this might be the 1996 Charlotte Hornets fan in me, but what a talent to see live. We caught the Hornets' win over the Indiana Pacers Friday night when Walker took it to the tin for the game-winner. If you'd ever like to blab about the NBA on a random week night, please shoot me a tweet sometime. The product hasn't been this good since Jordan.
16. Let's briefly check in on some prospects we've featured on the BN Blitz. Baylor' Shawn Oakman, a freak of nature unlike, was asked about his statistical decline in 2015: "Schemes, a lot of people schemed against me. A lot of teams ran away." He ran a 4.96 with 23 reps, though did have a 123-inch broad jump. Utah State's Kyler Fackrell was asked about staying low as a 6-foot-5 pass rusher: "That’s the question. That’s something that I have to continue to work on is being able to bend around that edge. But if you’re able to do that, it’s such a huge advantage against those O-Linemen. They’re big, they’re tall. Von Miller lives on bending around the edge. It’s part flexibility, building that functional strength through those movements." And Ohio State's Vonn Bell admitted he must become a better run defender: "Sometimes you get lazy, but as I’ve seen on film, sitting down with some scouts, they were tearing me up a little bit. It’s something to fix, it’s not hard to fix. Just got to run to the ball a little harder.’’
17. When is Jaylon Smith worth the risk? The Notre Dame linebacker might be the best player in the entire draft but tore his MCL and ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. Three teams have already removed Smith from their draft board, Yahoo! Sports reported, and NFL Network reported that Smith is already expected to miss the 2016 season entirely. Some teams fear potential nerve damage. Smith himself denied that there was nerve damage, saying "It’s just the healing game. That’s all. It’s a process. I’ll be back 100 percent. We just don’t know when." It's clear this Bills' staff is in a win-now state of mind. Not sure they'd be willing to wait on Smith.
18. Props to Los Angeles Rams General Manager Les Snead for taking some time to chat about giving players a second chance. Found him very insightful. Whereas veterans tend to be set in their ways, he explained, rookies still have a chance to learn, to grow. Said Snead, “You’re getting guys who are 20, 21, 22 years old. They’re still five, four, three years away from being able to rent a car. So the rental companies have an algorithm for a reason. They know that when you get to 25 you’re a little more mature. Your frontal lobe’s probably a little more developed than when you were 20.”
19. As for the Bills GM, in a group setting with local reporters, Doug Whaley didn't hold back when explaining how much the team wants to win. The full quote in case you missed it: "You guys put pressure on us no matter what, whether we had $50 million or zero million. The pressure’s always out there. And it’s the pressure to win because we’re competitive. We want to win more than you guys want to win. We want to win more than the fans want to win because this is our livelihood and this is what we do for a living. So the pressure’s always there.”
20. And with the No. 19 overall pick, the Buffalo Bills select... a pass rusher from Clemson. We still have two months of mock drafts ahead, but let's go with Shaq Lawson for now. At 270 pounds, he ran a 4.70. But beyond the Underwear Olympics, the guy can flat out play, too. Built like a brick house, Lawson had 25.5 tackles for loss, including 12.5 sacks. That coach wearing the Clemson helmet at the podium certainly has kept an eye on Lawson, too.