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Defensive line will be in spotlight at NFL scouting combine

Defensive linemen will be the marquee performers this week when the NFL scouting combine is held in Indianapolis.

As many as eight of the top 12 players in the upcoming NFL draft are on the defensive line, according to an early consensus of draft analysts. And it’s a strong possibility that one of them – either Ohio State’s Nick Bosa or Kentucky’s Josh Allen – will be the No. 1 overall pick when the draft is held April 27.

Bosa and Allen will be among 338 draft prospects convening in Indianapolis for the annual draft evaluation convention.

ESPN draft analyst forecasts Bosa going No. 1 to Arizona and Allen going No. 2 to San Francisco.

“I don’t think it’s that much of a gap,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said on a pre-combine conference call. “The only reason it’s not a big gap is durability. Nick Bosa had an injury the senior year of high school and then an injury this year. That’s the only issue there. Josh Allen was more of a one-year standout. He had 17 sacks this year, he had seven last year. He doubled his tackle-for-loss totals. He was a good player but he became a great player this year. I think they could go either way.”

The Buffalo Bills easily could be in the market for a defensive lineman with the ninth pick in the first round. The Bills’ top pass rusher, Jerry Hughes, will be 31 in August and is entering the final year of his contract.

With NFL draft order set, where will the Bills pick?

The top three edge rushers (Bosa, Allen and Michigan’s Rashan Gary) surely will be taken by No. 9. But Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell and Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat have been projected to be taken between No. 5 and No. 15 at this early stage of the evaluation process. Florida’s Jachai Polite is another pass rusher rated in the top half of the first round. He’s a lighter version of the Bills’ Hughes, but he only had one big year and is viewed as a higher risk than those above him.

If a big defensive tackle is the top-rated player on the Bills’ board at No. 9, a good case could be made for that position, too, given the retirement of Kyle Williams. NFL.com’s Charley Casserly projects the Bills taking Clemson’s 315-pound Christian Wilkins. Sports Illustrated projects Houston’s 292-pound Ed Oliver for Buffalo.

The talent at the combine figures to be fairly deep at wide receiver, tight end and offensive line, especially at guard and center. Those all are areas of need for the Bills.

Kiper’s latest mock draft forecasts the Bills taking the top big wideout in the draft, Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf. But it’s not expected to be a huge year for wide receivers in the first round. Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, the top “small receiver” in the draft, and Mississippi’s A.J. Brown are the only other two wideouts viewed as likely first-round picks.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper thinks risk might pay off for Bills in draft

If the Bills want an offensive tackle at No. 9, they probably will have options. The top of the tackle board includes Alabama’s Jonah Williams, Florida’s Jawaan Taylor and Oklahoma’s Cody Ford.

Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson is a sure-fire first-round tight end who’s viewed as a top-10 prospect. But there are a bunch of tight end prospects rated in the second to fourth rounds.

Players start arriving Tuesday, and that’s when prospect interviews with evaluators from each of the 32 teams begin. Medical evaluations for all players, which is one of the most important elements of the combine, will be held Wednesday through Saturday.

The players hit the field for drills and timing tests Friday. Offensive linemen, running backs and special teamers work out Friday. Quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends work on the field Saturday. Defensive linemen and linebackers work Sunday. Defensive backs work Monday.

University at Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson and wide receiver Anthony Johnson have been invited to the combine, as has Niagara Falls native and Canisius High School product Qadree Ollison, a running back for Pitt.

Bills coach Sean McDermott is expected to address the media Wednesday and General Manager Brandon Beane is scheduled to talk to reporters Thursday. The Bills have 10 picks in the draft, which is April 25-27 in Nashville.

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