The NFL Draft Combine has come and gone, and hundreds of position players have went through drills, impressing and disappointing scouts alike. As the first workouts of the offseason, on display for the entire league to analyze, have been completed, draft boards are starting to gain clarity and take shape. While only starting the pre-draft process, Bills GM Brandon Beane has gained insight into who he anticipates making part of the Bills’ 2018 draft class. With that, here is a post-combine version of my full Bills mock draft.
NOTE: This mock-draft is contingent upon the Bills’ approach to determining the team’s signal caller for 2018 and beyond. At the moment, with Redskins’ QB Kirk Cousins looking like a viable candidate to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, I project the Bills to either land one of the Vikings’ three quarterbacks rostered from last season (Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, or Teddy Bridgewater), or trade up to select UCLA QB Josh Rosen.
Round 1 (21): DT Vita Vea, Washington
Vea is a freak, plain and simple. The man is an absolute terror at 6’4”, 347 lbs, and will surely be a problem for interior offensive linemen for years to come. Despite his size, which would lead scouts to believe that he is solely a run-stopper, Vea is remarkably athletic and could pressure the quarterback and bounce outside unlike many other tackles with his makeup. At a minimum, he draws extra linemen towards him, which could leave easier paths to the quarterback for pass rushers like Eddie Yarbrough and Jerry Hughes. A more athletic version of ex-Bill Marcell Dareus, Vea’s motor and sheer gigantism will allow him to break up plays, even if double teams are sent in his direction. Frankly, landing him at 21 would be a steal for Beane and co., but Vea could fall due to his inconsistent technique and, at times, unpolished style of play. Additionally, mobility might become a concern down the line, as no scout could predict what kind of toll a full NFL season would take on a man of Vea’s stature. Nevertheless, under the tutelage Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier and Defensive Line Coach Bill Teerlinck, Vea can blossom into a perennial Pro-Bowler.
Round 1 (22): ILB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Evans is a purebred example of the fast, physical linebackers NFL teams crave in 2018. Evans is explosive and has a nose for the ball, which was on full display in the College Football Playoff when he had 17 tackles and a sack. And, as seen with his 5.0 regular season sacks, he has a variety of moves to shed blockers in his pursuit of the quarterback. On the downside, Evans can at times be too aggressive in pursuing the quarterback when he’d be better suited dropping back into coverage. Scouts also have some concerns about his ability to stay on the field, as Evans suffered through a groin injury throughout the course of his season, and overall tenure, at Alabama. Yet, he played through it, demonstrating toughness and grit that many believe will facilitate success for him at the next stage.
Round 2 (53): WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
As I stated in my Bills’ offseason preview, the team’s wide receivers’ strength in 2015 became a weakness in 2016: stretching the field. With a core group of Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, and Andre Holmes, Buffalo desperately needs a vertical talent like Washington. In three college seasons, Washington averaged over 20 yards per reception, thanks in large part due to his uncanny ability to blow past cornerbacks in pursuit of deep, high-arching spirals. Nevertheless, his skillset in other routes is limited, and he often has difficulty making catches in traffic and leaping to snag jump balls. While he wasn’t often challenged in college, his primary attribute makes him a perfect candidate for the Bills offense.
Round 2 (56): OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Carter is extremely long, listed at 6’6” with 34” arms, allowing him to swallow up shifty running backs easier than several other edge defenders. In 10 games this year, Carter made 61 tackles and forced three fumbles, earning him second-team All-SEC honors. Additionally, Carter’s agility gives him leverage against slower offensive tackles, which helps in any laterally-drawn up play. Granted, what Carter gains in upper-body strength, he lacks with his relatively weak lower-body strength: in turn, he often has trouble bringing down physical playmakers alone, as seen by his underwhelming amount of solo tackles. But with enough time in the weight room, Carter can become a viable NFL starter.
Round 3 (96): C/G Will Clapp, LSU
Clapp is fairly big for an interior lineman, listed at 6’5”, 314 lbs. Clapp’s big frame allows him to fend off multiple rushers at once. As a center, Clapp’s intelligence, ability to read defenses and make pass protection adjustments, and fend off pre-snap shifts fit the bill of a solid NFL starter. A hard-nosed “hog molly,” Clapp started all 13 games at center for the Tigers in 2017, and blocked for stellar hlafbacks like Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice as he moved from an all-conference to All-SEC selection. On the contrary, Clapp’s biggest defect is his athleticism: a top-heavy frame and lethargic lateral movement leave his quickness to be desired. This is a problem many young centers face, however: in sum, Clapp represents the consistency and durability needed out of an NFL center, a role he can surely succeed in over time.
Round 4 (121): CB D.J. Reed, Kansas State
Despite his small frame (5’9”, 188 lbs), the former junior college transfer became a fixture in Kansas State’s secondary, breaking up 28 passes over his two seasons with the Wildcats. This statistic demonstrates his ballhawk nature, Reed can also be utilized as a kick/punt returner because of his quickness and above-average hands. Without question, his size is a concern: 50-50 balls, going up against bigger receivers, red-zone deficiencies: all are issues Reed must address in order to make a substantial impact in the league. But at this juncture in the draft, Beane must look for high-reward prospects like Reed and hope to strike gold.
Round 5 (158): OT Alex Cappa, Humboldt State
I highlighted Cappa in my offseason preview as a late-round, small-school prospect the Bills should target, and there’s no better place to select him than here. At 6’7”, Cappa is the perfect height for a modern-day offensive tackle. While his game film is limited, Cappa has demonstrated aptitude in pass protection and run blocking with his impressive footwork and advantageous size giving him leverage over smaller edge rushers. Additionally, Cappa seems to have an unteachable sense of toughness, very similar to that of Denver Broncos’ OT Garett Bolles: he wants to lay out defenders on the blind side, and looks comfortable doing so. Naturally, the biggest knock on Cappa is the lack of competition he faced at Humboldt State; coming from a Division II program, it will be interesting to see how Cappa adjusts to the nature of a kitchen-sink blitz or a convoluted pass rush package on the NFL level.
Round 5 (166): RB Mark Walton, Miami
With the Bills’ final selection (assuming no more picks are swapped come Day 3 of the draft), I have the Bills taking Walton, a short yet physical power back who is always fighting for an extra yard. Walton is a downhill runner who isn’t afraid to create contact and bounce off defenders, especially given his ball security prowess: he did not fumble in his last 274 carries at Miami. Walton, nevertheless, often creates contact not because of physicality, but rather because of poor field vision. Excessive hesitation and straying away from his lead blockers can cause Walton to be brought down behind the line of scrimmage. Also noteworthy: Walton required ankle surgery that ended his 2017 campaign. Despite his drawbacks, Walton has the makeup to serve as a formidable understudy to Lesean McCoy who can eventually become a complementary third-down back, and a touchdown vulture.
*This mock draft was created before the Bills signed RB Chris Ivory to a two-year contract. As a result, the new selection is DT Folorunso Fatukasi, UConn.