Like with everything else this offseason for the Buffalo Bills, the team's draft strategy will largely be shaped by the decision on quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
If he sticks around, it would make sense for the Bills to build around him with the 10th overall selection in April. If he moves on, quarterback could be in play.
Speaking Monday on a marathon conference call previewing the NFL Scouting Combine, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock offered his thoughts on the situation the Bills face.
"First and foremost, I’m a Tyrod Taylor fan," he said. "I understand that the question here is more about dollars, and cap dollars, than it is about whether or not he’s a capable quarterback. We started out this whole conversation today talking about the dearth of quarterbacks in the NFL, and he’s a capable quarterback."
Indeed, before even taking one of the 56 questions he answered in 135-minute call, Mayock's opening statement centered on just how difficult it is to find a franchise quarterback in the NFL. He pointed out that over the past 10 years, there have been 26 quarterbacks chosen in the first round. Exclusing the last two years, just four or five of them, in his estimation, can be considered "franchise quarterbacks" – Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Detroit's Matt Stafford, Carolina's Cam Newton, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and, potentially, Baltimore's Joe Flacco.
"It gives you a pretty good feel for the hit rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round," he said. "The numbers aren't real good. The four franchise guys out of 21, five, if you include Flacco, you're looking at about a 20-percent chance of drafting a franchise quarterback for the first-round pick. And my message to NFL teams would be you've got to keep trying. You've got to keep swinging."
To recap, if the Bills want to keep Taylor, they'll need to exercise his contract option. Doing so would pay him nearly $31 million, and give him a salary-cap hit of $15.9 million. Mayock said during his call that he doesn't feel like any quarterbacks in this class would be worthy of being picked in the top 10 .
"Is he a franchise guy? No, I don’t believe so," Mayock said of Taylor. "But he doesn’t turn the football over and when you complement him with a strong run game and a good defense, it’s a winning formula. So I kind of like the kid.
"I know Sean McDermott probably has to look at this guy and go 'Hey, he doesn’t turn the ball over.' If he doesn’t turn the ball over, we have a chance of being pretty good pretty quickly."
That's particularly important because if the Bills move on from Taylor, they might not be able to find a suitable replacement in the draft.
"I'm not bullish on the quarterbacks this year because I don't think any of them are ready Day One," Mayock said. "I think they all have different issues. ... As a matter of fact, I don't have a top-10 grade on any quarterback in this draft."
If the Bills agree with Mayock's thinking in that, they would be faced with an interesting call when their turn comes up at No. 10. The secondary, whether it be at safety or cornerback in the event Stephon Gilmore leaves as a free agent, could be a prime target for upgrade. The good news is, there is depth at those positions.
"This is a great corner class," Mayock said. "If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third round and really help yourself. ... This defensive draft at edge and corner is outstanding, also at safety.
"One of the messages in this year's draft at edge, corner and safety is there is great quality at the top, but there is depth throughout."
If the Bills elect not to address the secondary in the first round, wide receiver is another logical target, particularly if Robert Woods leaves as a free agent. Mayock has three wide receivers he considers possibilities to be chosen between the 10th and 20th selections in the first round – Western Michigan's Corey Davis, Clemson's Mike Williams and Washington's John Ross.
"They're three different-type players," Mayock said. "It just depends on what you're looking for."
Elsewhere on offense, Mayock sees a deep class of tight ends, but not much depth at offensive tackle. That could be important if the Bills lose right tackle Jordan Mills in free agency.
"In a typical year, 10 tackles go in the first three rounds, and I can't find 10 guys that I would give grades to there rounds one through three," he said.
A total of 330 players have been invited to the combine, which gets started Tuesday in Indianapolis. On-field workouts, which will be held in the Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium, begin Friday and run through Monday. Portions of them will air on NFL Network.
"The ratings are good, the interest is high," Mayock said. "Just how far do we go with pushing the, quote, 'Underwear Olympics' out there as a massive event for fans? ... I'm kind of an old-school football guy, and I kind of like just sitting there, evaluating and keeping it that what it is."