This would usually be the weekend NFL teams gather in Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine.
Evaluating prospects and poring over medical reports is a big part of that process – as are steaks (and wine) at St. Elmo. With the combine called off because of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, it’s made for a different predraft process.
Most of the work in evaluating prospects will come from on-campus pro days, which start next month. As such, there will be no talk of combine "risers" and "fallers." Remember that a pedestrian time in the 40-yard dash by eventual Bills draft pick A.J. Epenesa is thought to be a reason he slipped out of the first round and to Buffalo in the second. Nevertheless, it's a good time to project how the first 32 draft picks in April might play out.
Keeping in mind that free agency will alter draft needs, here is The Buffalo News’ first mock draft of the 2021 offseason, taking on the first round, plus the Bills’ two other top-100 selections:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson. No need to overthink this one. Lawrence has been destined for this spot since he was a true freshman.
2. New York Jets. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU. It makes sense for a new coach to want to bring in his own guy at quarterback, which is what Robert Saleh and the Jets do here by trading away Sam Darnold and turning to Wilson.
3. Houston Texans (projected trade with Miami). Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU. In a blockbuster trade, the Texans send quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Dolphins in a package that includes the No. 3 pick and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (plus more). With the pick that originally belonged to the Dolphins, the Texans add a potential No. 1 receiver for Tagovailoa.
4. Atlanta Falcons. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State. Quarterbacks are going to dominate the top 10. This is another situation with a new coach (Arthur Smith) getting to build around his guy. The Falcons could look to trade Matt Ryan, or keep him while Fields gets a year of grooming.
5. Cincinnati Bengals. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon. Other than Lawrence at No. 1, this is the easiest pick to make. The Bengals have their franchise quarterback in Joe Burrow. Now, they have to protect him.
6. Philadelphia Eagles. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama. The Eagles owe it to new starting quarterback Jalen Hurts to give him some weapons, and Smith is arguably the best in the class in that regard. He also has been lauded for great character traits.
7. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade with Detroit). Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State. The Lions are in a good spot to trade down, content to add even more draft capital after already doing so in the trade of quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams. With Jared Goff a capable starting quarterback, Detroit can auction off this pick to a quarterback-needy team like the 49ers, who appear to be ready to pull the plug on Jimmy Garoppolo.
8. Carolina Panthers. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida. Quarterback could be in play here, too, but Pitts is a good pick at a position of need. Bills fans dreaming of the tight end who had 12 touchdowns in eight games falling to them will be disappointed. The chances of Pitts slipping to No. 30 are slim to none.
9. Denver Broncos. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech. The Broncos’ secondary was decimated by injuries in 2020. Denver also released A.J. Bouye this offseason, so Farley fills a clear need.
10. Dallas Cowboys. Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern. Opening holes for Ezekiel Elliott and protecting Dak Prescott should be the top priorities for any player selected here. Slater can do that.
11. New York Giants. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama. This has been a fairly popular pick in mock drafts for a good reason. Waddle would provide a big-play option for quarterback Daniel Jones.
12. Detroit Lions (projected trade with San Francisco). Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State. Parsons sat out the 2020 season, but has the type of coverage ability that makes him valuable as a three-down defender.
13. Los Angeles Chargers. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, Southern Cal. The Chargers don’t have to look far for a new protector for promising quarterback Justin Herbert. Vera-Tucker played guard and tackle in college.
14. Minnesota Vikings. Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (Fla.). A wide receiver and safety in high school, Rousseau is still developing as a pass rusher, but he showed week-over-week improvement.
15. New England Patriots. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama. Bill Belichick found out just how painful life after Tom Brady is in 2020. Belichick will surely call up his buddy Nick Saban to get a good scouting report on Jones.
16. Arizona Cardinals. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama. The Cardinals need to replace another Patrick, Peterson, in their secondary.
17. Las Vegas Raiders. Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan. Paye’s stock might rise after Michigan’s pro day. He’s viewed as perhaps the best athlete in this year’s class.
18. Houston Texans (projected trade with Miami). Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (Fla.). As you might have heard, the Texans moved on from J.J. Watt this offseason, leaving a big hole on the defensive line.
19. Washington Football Team. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech. Quarterback is an obvious need, but with no obvious fit here, Washington starts to rebuild the offensive line first.
20. Seattle Seahawks (projected trade with Chicago). Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina. You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts. With reports suggesting that quarterback Russell Wilson would accept a trade to Chicago, the Bears should be willing to move heaven and earth to acquire him.
21. Indianapolis Colts. Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington. The Colts need to get younger at edge rusher. Tryon had eight sacks in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season.
22. Tennessee Titans. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoha, LB, Notre Dame. The Titans need help all over their defense, so drafting someone who can play multiple positions makes sense.
23. New York Jets. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU. After trading Jamal Adams to Seattle last offseason, the Jets find his replacement with this pick acquired from the Seahawks.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers. Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama. The Steelers have big issues with the salary cap and plenty of holes. One obvious one is at center following the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson. Why not keep Lawrence and Etienne together at the next level?
26. Cleveland Browns. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa. The Nagurski Award winner had a pair of pick-sixes last season, along with four sacks. He’s another versatile defender – one of several to go in the first round of this mock.
27. Baltimore Ravens. Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida. Death, taxes and the Ravens having a need at wide receiver.
28. New Orleans Saints. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri. Is Drew Brees going to retire? If so, why hasn’t he yet? The Saints are one of the toughest teams to project with that uncertainty hanging over them.
29. Green Bay Packers. Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded to the team drafting a quarterback (Jordan Love) in the first round last year by winning the MVP. So, maybe the Packers should finally reward Rodgers by giving him some help at receiver.
30. Buffalo Bills. Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State. The Bills have all sorts of uncertainty along the offensive line ahead of free agency. If Daryl Williams priced himself out of Buffalo with a strong season at right tackle, the Bills will need to find a cost-controlled replacement. There is the option of moving Cody Ford back to right tackle, but if the Bills want to keep Ford inside, Jenkins would provide an immediate starting option. The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder was a co-recipient of the Thurman Thomas Award in 2019, which is given annually to the Cowboys’ most outstanding offensive player. Jenkins plays with the type of attitude that Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll appreciates.
31. Kansas City Chiefs. Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern. The Chiefs could lose starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland in free agency.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State. Oweh is a project (despite generating pressure, he did not have any sacks last season), but his physical tools are enticing. The Bucs might have a big need at edge rusher if Shaq Barrett leaves as a free agent.
Other Bills picks
61. Round 2. Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina. Surratt came to the Tar Heels as a quarterback, but made the somewhat unusual transition to linebacker. If the Bills are unable to re-sign Matt Milano, linebacker becomes a big need. Surratt’s first year at linebacker was in 2019, and he quickly made himself at home, starting 11 games (and appearing in 13), finishing with 115 tackles, including 15 for losses, 6.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries. He was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.
94. Round 3. Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina. The Bills double down on Tar Heels, with Brown bringing a big-play element that is potentially lost if Buffalo moves on from John Brown as a cap casualty. Dyami Brown enters the NFL off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, producing 20 touchdowns over that time. He also averaged more than 20 yards per catch, an eye-popping stat that shows the type of explosiveness he has. Continuing to add weapons around quarterback Josh Allen should be a top priority for General Manager Brandon Beane.