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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: How important is the NFL scouting combine for teams?

The NFL offseason is in full swing. When the scouting combine wraps up early in the week, attention will turn to the start of free agency, which officially gets underway March 13.

Not surprisingly, those two topics dominate this week's mailbag. Let's get to it ...

Rick McGuire asks: So how exactly is the NFL scouting combine of any real use? Teams have game films and then schools have pro days and then players make individual personal visits to those teams requesting one … with some doing actually workout drills. Isn’t it technically a waste of time and dollars?

Jay: Not at all. The combine still has real value for teams. That starts with collecting detailed medical reports on players. The other value comes in getting to hold 60 formal, 15-minute interviews with prospects. Although that’s not enough time to learn the player’s life story, it is enough for teams to quiz him on whatever topic they want to be addressed, be it on the field or off. Keep in mind that only 30 pre-draft visits can be made.

There are some parts of the combine that are probably overrated, and that includes things like having offensive linemen run the 40-yard dash. Outside of that, though, it’s still an important part of the pre-draft process.

Mike Jankowski asked: Has Chad Kelly run out of opportunities? Thought maybe some Alliance teams would have taken a chance. What about the CFL?

Jay: I don’t believe he’s run out of opportunities, but clearly he has work to do to prove he deserves another shot in the NFL. Before being released by the Broncos, he had worked his way up to the No. 2 quarterback job, and some Denver fans were asking for him to play over Case Keenum. That never happened, but it’s a good indication of how at least one NFL team valued his on-field ability. The question now is whether the off-field headaches Kelly has been through make teams decide he’s simply not worth it. I agree that the AAF would have been a logical landing spot for Kelly. Perhaps it still will be. I predict that he will one day get another shot in the NFL, although it’s hard to predict when that will come.

[BN] Blitz newsletter: Joe Schoen on why roster building is more than collecting talent

Nathan Paul Rau asks: What free agents will the Bills’ primary targets be?

Scott Krahn asks: There has been a lot of talk linking Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown as possibly coming to Buffalo. Who do you think, if any, defensive free agents we may target?

Gordon Chudy asks: It’s obvious our management wants a certain type of player with regards to character. Which free agents fit what they’re looking for?

Ed Helinski asks: What will the Bills be doing to address quality depth on next year’s team?

Jay: Let’s go through these one at a time …

1. Unfortunately, Brandon Beane didn’t let me see his board. However, it’s not too hard to predict which direction the Bills might be looking at. For me, that starts at offensive line. Right tackle Daryl Williams is a former second-team All-Pro in 2017 who is coming off a knee injury. There is the obvious Carolina connection there. He would be a logical target, as would Panthers receiver Devin Funchess. Center is another position the team could look to upgrade. Denver’s Matt Paradis and Kansas City’s Mitch Morse are two names to watch, although both are coming off injuries.

2. I’ll disagree with the first part of that sentence — I don’t think the Bills are seriously in the hunt for either Bell or Brown. Listening to Sean McDermott talk about how he wants players who put the team first and then considering the actions of Bell and Brown, neither seems like a logical match. As for the second part, I think a veteran cornerback could be in play in free agency. The Bills will want to add competition for Levi Wallace opposite Tre’Davious White. Morris Claiborne grew up with White in Shreveport, La., and might enjoy reuniting with him.

3. It’s easier to come up with a list of which players might not fit that criteria. Seahawks edge rusher Frank Clark, for example, has some ugly accusations of domestic violence from his time at Michigan. I don’t see him being a fit for the Bills.

4. That’s where having 10 draft picks comes into play. The challenge will be for the Bills to find meaningful contributors on day three, when seven of those 10 picks are scheduled to be made. In the past two years, the team has found Matt Milano in the fifth round and Taron Johnson in the fourth round. Those are the types of finds that make it much easier to build roster depth.

Steve Adamec asks: Do you think the Bills should give up a No. 1, if it’s traded down from their ninth spot, with a player (see: McCoy, Shady) for Antonio Brown? I’m done being patient. I want to win NOW!

Jay: I would not make that trade. For starters, it opens another hole in the starting lineup. Secondly, I don’t view Brown as being a logical target for this front office. If he wasn’t happy catching passes from a future Hall of Famer, how will he feel when Josh Allen overthrows him for the first time? I’m also not sure that offer would be enough. The Steelers have a capable running back in James Conner, so it’s not like McCoy is needed.

Dave Patt asks: What do you think will happen at tight end? What ex-Bills players are in the AAF?

Jay: Cheap plug: I’ve got a story coming Monday on what Beane and Sean McDermott had to say about tight end. Quick answer: I expect them to address the position in both free agency and the draft, which makes sense given they have only one player under contract at the position right now.

As for the second part of your question, the former Bills in the AAF are punter Colton Schmidt (Birmingham), defensive end Ryan Davis (Orlando), linebacker A.J. Tarpley (San Diego), tight end Keith Towbridge (Atlanta), guard Cyril Richardson (San Antonio), quarterback Matt Simms (Atlanta), nose tackle T.J. Barnes (Atlanta) and cornerback Ron Brooks (San Diego). There are also several other players who were with the Bills during the offseason, but never appeared in any games. Additionally, there are former coaches like Dennis Thurman (defensive coordinator) and David Lee (quarterbacks) working in the new league.

Paul Catalano asks: Do the Bills take D.K. Metcalf if he’s there at No. 9, or are they more likely to trade down?

Jay: Well, after Metcalf put up a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at the combine Saturday, he’s certainly going to get more love as a possible top-10 pick. It’s not a stretch to say that type of time may even make it unlikely that the Bills might not even have the chance to draft Metcalf because he’s gone before No. 9 comes up. In the event he is there, they’ll definitely get serious consideration, but not to sound like a broken record — we have to see what happens in free agency. That will give us a better idea of what direction would make sense in the first round. In the meantime, expect Metcalf to shoot up the mock-draft boards.

T.J. asks: Jonah Williams in the first round and Dalton Risner in the second round?

Jay: Maybe one of them, but I don’t see the Bills going back to back with offensive linemen. Partly because I expect the team to address the line in free agency, perhaps with a big investment or two. If that happens, it lessens the likelihood of taking a lineman, particularly at No. 9 overall. I agree, though, that both Williams and Risner seem like they have the “DNA” the Bills always talk about looking for.

TNFP69 asks: Has anyone in any of the drills stood out above the rest of the players you have seen?

Jay: Keep in mind that only two groups have worked out as of Saturday. With those Saturday workouts not completed as of this writing, we’ll look only at Friday’s results. The clear winner was Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill, who blazed a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks also liked N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury, writing that he looked like a future Pro Bowler. That’s got to be intriguing for the Bills.

Dave McKinley asks: How’s the food?

Jay: In a word, awesome. Indy is one of my favorite road cities for the restaurants alone. Anyone making the trip absolutely must go to St. Elmo Steak House. It’s an institution. The shrimp cocktail is a must order. There are other great spots, too, like Kilroy’s for an after-dinner drink (or two). Thanks for all the questions this week!

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