A team’s pre-draft visitors offer at least some insight into who they’re potentially looking to draft each spring. For example, the Bills have drafted one of their pre-draft visitors in the first-round of every draft since 2010. That’s of course excluding last year when they didn’t have a first-rounder, however, both, G John Miller & RB Karlos Williams were pre-draft visitors in 2015 that Buffalo took with their third & fifth-round picks respectively. So while the draft remains largely unpredictable, the pre-draft visit list can be a great place to start when determining who Buffalo will select at No. 19 and beyond come April 28.
With a week until the draft there have 20 pre-draft visits, confirmed at One Bills Drive. Here’s a brief overview of each of their respective skill sets:
Eli Apple – CB, Ohio State
Apple is a speedy cornerback who as a redshirt freshman in 2014 earned a starting job in the secondary for the Buckeyes and held onto it for the past two seasons. During OSU’s championship season he recorded 53 tackles, three interceptions and 13 passes defended, but saw those numbers dip in 2015 where he made 33 tackles, a single interception and eight defended passes. Apple’s long arms allow him to be physical with receivers at the line and he’s shown solid route anticipation in both zone and man coverages. His biggest weakness is that often times he waits too long to disengage receivers. Being handsy at the line is important, but as we’ve seen in the NFL the smallest touch or grab too far downfield will result in a penalty. Overall he’s the perfect size for his position and possesses the intangibles and instinct to be successful in the NFL, it’s just about translating it on the field. He’s still very young.
Bell is yet another talented Buckeye in a class riddled with them, who will likely be taken in the first-round as the top rated safety in 2016. He spent the majority of his last two seasons at OSU as the starting, single-high safety and proved extremely reliable in man coverage. Last year he recorded 65 tackles, nine pass deflections and snared two interceptions – one of which he took back 16 yards for a touchdown against Minnesota. Athletically, he’s beyond ready for the NFL, in fact he could likely start immediately and adjust to the speed of the game as he goes. His ability to take accurate pursuit angles and attack ball carriers is also very encouraging. Perhaps his biggest area of improvement would be in making tackles in open space. All things considered though, Bell enters the NFL ready to make an immediate impact given his aggressive and instinctual decision making ability from the secondary.
Vernon Butler – DT, Louisiana Tech
Projected: First or Second-round
Slated as a late first-round, early second selection, Butler is one of the many game changing defense tackles that could be available to Buffalo at 19. Out of high school he was just a two-star recruit, yet still received offers from several SEC schools like Mississippi State and Ole Miss, yet choosing Louisiana Tech instead. In a smart move he stuck around for his senior season and bolstered his draft stock for 2016 after making 48 tackles, 10 for a loss and a career-best four sacks, earning himself First Team All-Conference USA recognition. Having spent most of his college career lining up as a three or five-technique, he’s exemplified a versatility on the defensive front that would make him appealing to Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense, filled with moving parts. He possesses a fantastic jump off the ball and is surprisingly quick for being a 6-foot-4, 325-pound force. Also, his strong upper body allows him to bully would be blockers, something he occasionally relies on a bit too much. In a deep class of defensive tackles Butler is considered part of the top tier, and would be a valuable pickup if those slated ahead of him at the position are off the board.
Projected: First or Second-round
Concerns over Cook’s leadership ability and personality originally left him slated for the third maybe even fourth round. Over the last few weeks though those worries have dissipated and the Michigan State quarterback’s stock has risen. He’s now listed as the fourth best QB available behind Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch, and could wind up a late first, early second-round selection depending on how the dominos fall. If Buffalo really wants Cook they’ll have to play their cards right because unless they take him at 19 – unlikely, considering Rex Ryan’s history of defensive first-round picks – then he probably won’t be there when they’re on the clock again at pick 49. Either way, Cook maintains what is considered the ideal build for an NFL quarterback at 6-foot-4, 217 pounds and is comfortable throwing from the pocket. He’s also an extremely confident passer, who shows beautiful touch with his ball placement downfield. The biggest concern surrounding Cook is in regards to his shoulder, which he hurt during his senior season causing him to sit out a crucial game against Ohio State. When he did return to the field it was evident his ability to drive the ball wasn’t there and once the season was over he forewent his opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl, resting that shoulder instead. An MRI cleared him of needing surgery, so that’s obviously good news, however NFL teams can never be too cautious when it comes to quarterbacks and injuries to their money maker.
Jack Conklin – OT, Michigan State
Conklin’s journey to legitimate first-round draftee is an inspiring one for all those young football players out there. He went largely unnoticed out of Plainwell High School in Michigan, receiving a whopping zero FBS level scholarships. However, thanks to a late promise from Michigan State head coach that he could earn a scholarship in 2013 if he joined the program as a walk on in 2012, Conklin became a Spartan, earned that scholarship a year later and established himself as the team’s starting left tackle for 38 of his 39 career games. On top of his unwavering work ethic, Conklin comes equipped with a strong core and steady center of gravity, perfect for absorbing contact from oncoming defenders. He also plays very smart, exhibiting a deep understanding of different protection schemes. He’s definitely not the best blocker in space and struggles at controlling speedy edge rushers. No reason to cast doubt on Conklin though, given how hard he’s worked just to get to this point. Expect him to only improve as he faces top notch talent at the next level, establishing himself as a solid tackle for the franchise lucky enough to draft him.
Cravens has NFL ties to several current players including his cousin TE Jordan Cameron of the Miami Dolphins, and distant cousin LB Manti Te’o of the San Diego Chargers, just to name a few. Now it’s his time to make a name for himself at the pro level. While at USC Cravens made a career changing switch from strong safety to linebacker in 2014 and it went swimmingly, to the beat of 68 stops, an impressive 17 of those for a loss and five sacks. He followed that up with an 86 tackle, 15 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sack performance as a junior in 2015. In both seasons he earned first team All-Pac-12 accolades. He’s demonstrated an innate ability to diagnose plays and uses his solid closing speed to make a play on opposing ballcarriers. Also, all those years of playing safety gifted him with some soft hands when dropping into coverage. Where Cravens lacks is in regards to his build – he’s 6-foot-1, 226 pounds – and development, which lags a bit behind some of the top linebacker talents of the class. That’s obviously okay, he is still figuring out the linebacker position. But it’s a major reason why he’s considered a second-round pick instead of a first. He’ll need some time to grow. Still though, depending on what void the Bills decide to fill in the opening round, Cravens may offer a them a nice option a linebacker on Friday.
Taylor Decker – OT, Ohio State
Decker may be rated lower then MSU’s Jack Conklin, but there’s a case to be made that he’s the better of the two, one reason being, he has experience playing tackle on both sides of the line. As a sophomore in 2013 he started each of the Buckeyes’ 14 games at right tackle before switching to left tackle one season later for the program’s national championship run, then remaining there this past season. In total Decker started 42 consecutive games at Ohio States, so he’s durable to say the least. Additionally he comes with a large frame, solid core strength and a lengthy reach, which allow him to physically wear down opposing defenders when engaged. He’ll need to work on lowering his tall pad level to prevent oncoming rushers from beating him at the point of attack, as well as developing a quicker jump off the snap of the ball. As a top four tackle in this draft it’s unlikely that Decker is still available when the Bills are on the clock at 19 and even if he is, they have bigger fish to fry.
Kelvin Fisher – S, UTEP:
Fisher’s situation is interesting considering his father is the Bills’ director of scouting. Was his visit more of a favor for a friend type deal? Or is there an actual interest there from Buffalo’s front office? We’ll find out, but you’d be hard pressed to find a mock draft with his name on it. Buffalo may see something in him other teams don’t and could maybe hold off to to sign him as an undrafted free agent. Nonetheless, Fisher actually spent the first two years of his college career at Arkansas before transferring to UTEP in 2014. In his senior season he recorded 33 total tackles, one interception, four pass breakups and one QB hurry.
A product of Georgia’s 3-4 system, Floyd brings some very raw talent and experience with him to the NFL. He recorded 74 tackles in 2015, but a career-low 4.5 sacks, which is a bit concerning that the number didn’t grow in his senior season. To compare, he had 6.5 and 6 sacks respectively in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. His 4.59 forty time – faster than the class’s top receiver Laquan Treadwell – would lead you to believe he could have mustered up a better sack total in his senior season. That explosiveness however, makes him a hot commodity as well. Like Ohio State’s Darron Lee, it’s easy to imagine Floyd lining up in a natural outside linebacker depth or moving up to a nine-tech at the end of the line to rush the passer. His 6-foot-6 stature allows him to see a lot of the field and diagnose the play. There aren’t a lot of players on either side of the ball entering the draft that can match the agility of Floyd, but his lanky build could be considered a red flag and the issue becomes can he hold up in the NFL without putting much more weight or muscle on. He already weighs 244 pounds. As one of the top athletes in the class, Floyd will certainly find a role somewhere, especially given his tantalizing pass rushing skills. But, – buyer beware – if Floyd ends up lacking durability he could also go down as a first-round bust.
Cardale Jones – QB, Ohio State
Projected: Third or Fourth-round
Had he come out in 2015, Jones could have easily been a third round pick or higher after lit it up on the biggest stage to lead Ohio State to a National Championship as a backup. A year and several uninspiring performances later though, Jones’ stock definitely took a hit. The good news for the former Buckeye; he’s got all the tools to be a successful NFL quarterback. A strong arm. A sturdy frame. Above average pocket mobility, on top of being calm, cool and collected when facing adversity. The bad news; he’s still very raw as a pocket passer and needs to develop better footwork. Luckily, those are the things that can be taught if Jones is willing to learn. And if he can develop those aspects of his game, combined with the talent he’s been gifted, it’s very easy to picture Jones as a reliable QB at the next level. If the Bills think Jones is their guy they’ll be able to wait until the third or fourth round to select him, while addressing other needs in the earlier rounds.
Projected: Second- or third-round
Needing to add to their depth at safety, drafting Joseph would certainly makes sense for the Bills. Right off the bat the the glaring problem with the Mountaineer is that he’s coming back from a torn ACL, suffered during non-contract drills at practice last October. In today’s day and age though knee injuries of that nature aren’t as daunting to overcome – Adrian Peterson’s 2012 campaign is a perfect example of that. Plus, prior to Joseph’s injury he had already snared five interceptions through the first four weeks of the season and sat in a tie for the statistic atop of FBS leaderboard. Looking back further, Joseph made 92 tackles, forced three fumbles and added one interception in 2014. Should Buffalo elect to select Joseph they’d get a true thumper of a safety, who makes instinctual decisions to fly up from the secondary and make plays. He may be one of the most physical tacklers in the this class, he loves contact. If he can reign in his reckless abandonment style of play just a bit in the NFL, he’ll become a controlled, yet powerful presence for somebody’s defense. Maybe it’ll be the Bills.
Cyrus Jones – CB, Alabama
From a Bills’ standpoint Jones can offer two things, first, an experienced cornerback that provides them with some depth at a position facing questions, and second, a lightening fast kick and punt returner, the latter of which was noticeably abysmal last season. In his Junior season, Jones defended a team-high 16 passes, while making a career-best 46 tackles. Then this past year he saw both categories take a hit (36 tackles, 9 passes defended), but a lot of that likely had to do with how dominant the Crimson Tide’s front seven was. The guys in front of Jones made most of the stops on opposing ballcarriers before they even had a chance to reach the secondary. Now, that’s not to say he can’t run up to make plays in run support, which he’s proven to do over his career, carrying some nice pop behind him. In coverage he has great recovery speed to keep himself on the hip of any receiver and is keen on going up to get the ball at it’s highest point when making an interception. Where he’s likely getting docked by scouts is in his 5-foot-10, 197-pound stature, which is a bit undersized for their liking, and will open up some mismatches with some of the league’s bigger receivers. Regardless, Buffalo knows first hand that size isn’t everything; Ronald Darby stands at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds and did just fine for himself as a rookie in the NFL. Jones’ also has a tendency to be a bit too handsy with receivers downfield, so he’ll have to keep that to a minimum in the pass interference-hyper NFL.
Bronson Kaufusi – DE, BYU
Kaufusi began his career for the Cougars backing up former top-five pick Ezekiel Ansah, now of the Detroit Lions, so he had some big shoes to fill to say the least. Kaufusi responded by increasing his tackle and sack numbers each season, ultimately finishing with 64 and 11 at the conclusion of his senior year. Kaufusi brings with him a nice, long wingspan, a full arsenal of block shedding techniques and an aggressive attitude. He doesn’t shy away from contact. He’ll surely need to work on his pass coverage where he often takes too long to change directions attempting stick with his man – something that may make him a liability to Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense that needs versatile defensive ends. Still, if Buffalo decides Kaufusi is their guy, they’ll likely be able to wait until day two to fill an important vacancy at the position.
Myles Jack and Reggie Ragland may be considered the top linebackers of this class, but Darron Lee is a close third. And while Buffalo has been linked to Ragland since the start of the NFL off-season, what Lee can offer is that he’s a natural outside linebacker and more athletic. As just a redshirt freshman, Lee piled up 81 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and a pair of picks, earning Defensive MVP honors in Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win over Alabama that sent the Buckeyes to the National Championship. One year later he earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors thanks to similarly stout numbers of 66 total tackles, 11 for a loss and 4.5 sacks. It’s his range and athleticism that makes him a good fit for the Bills because he can line up in a natural linebacker position or shift down to a nine-tech and rush off the edge. With voids to fill at defensive end and outside linebacker Lee’s versatility allows him to play a hybrid of both. He’s also shown an ability to drop into coverage, which we know is important in Rex Ryan’s defense. The only concerns with Lee are in regards to his size – he’s just 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds – and, like Ragland, his over aggressiveness, which at times causes him to take bad angles. Overall though, Lee is that ready to start player the Bills are looking for in the first-round.
Kolby Listenbee – WR, TCU
Barring any trading up or down by Buffalo, there is a chance Listenbee is still on the board when they are on the clock Friday with their third-round pick (80th overall). He and Leonte Carroo seem like very viable options at that juncture of the draft. Anyway, Listenbee is a product of that prolific TCU offense that ran teams out of the stadium. When you think about it, the senior wideout was a perfect fit for that style of offense given his background running track. He’s a speedster and a true deep-threat for whoever winds up with him. He also displays great hands and body control going up to catch passes. Statistically he hauled in 30 receptions for 597 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2015 – down a bit from the 41 reception, 753 yard performance he amassed in 2014. A few things stand out as weaknesses for Listenbee, starting with his 6-0, 197-pound frame. Can he absorb big hits over the middle? Also, he was mostly asked to just “go,” fire off the line of scrimmage at TCU, so his route-running ability will start out very raw.
Antonio Morrison – LB, Florida
Slated as a seventh round pick or potential undrafted free agent, Buffalo can wait a long time to get Morrison if there is truly some interest there. The most promising trait of Morrison is his relentless drive, which helped him to recover in just six months time from two devastating knee procedures last January, to be back on the field anchoring the Gators’ defense for his senior season in 2015. What’s more impressive is that he went on to rack up 96 tackles and a career best 2.5 sacks. From a skill standpoint Morrison makes quick, instinctual decisions and has a great frame for lowering the boom on opposing ballcarriers. Having served as a two-time captain at Florida he also knows how to be a vocal leader, constantly communicating with his teammates on the field, which we know was an issue for Preston Brown and the Bills’ defense last season. Where Morrsion struggles is in shedding blocks, playing a bit too overaggressive at times and dropping into man coverage, but it’s not like he’d be expected to start immediately. He’d have time to develop in a backup roll for Buffalo.
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Ogbah, like Kaufusi, is another edge rusher that Buffalo can maybe wait to draft until Friday, projected as a second-round selection. If it were any other year the Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year and All-American may be in the top-three at his position and most definitely a first-round pick, but a deeper class of defensive ends has him ranked seventh. In his senior campaign, Ogbah put up some stout numbers: 63 total tackles, 16.5 of them for a loss, and 12.5 sacks. As he sets his sights on the NFL he brings with him a well-proportioned build and a physical style of play. In college he used brute strength to bully his way into opposing team’s backfield and disrupt everything. At the next level though he must use a combination of that muscle and speed to have similar success. He definitely possess all the intangible skills NFL scouts look for, now it’s just about putting them all together on the field. Ogbah could wind up being a great value pick for the Bills in round two, if they don’t draft a DE on Thursday.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Projected: Fourth or Fifth-round
Prescott could be considered the best dual threat quarterback in this draft after showcasing his talents in the SEC, to the beat of 7,242 passing yards, 56 passing touchdowns, and 16 interceptions (just five of which came in his final season), along with 1,574 rushing yards and 24 scores over his junior and senior campaigns. That’s no fluke. If Prescott can do it against the most “NFL ready” defenses in the college game, why can’t he do it against the real thing? Buffalo may be the team that gives him a shot considering that they can wait well into the fourth, maybe even the fifth round to snatch up Prescott. Having just led the league in rushing a season ago thanks in large part to the mobility of first-year starter Tyrod Taylor, the Bills certainly wouldn’t shy away from adding another dual threat QB to develop behind him. As is usually the case for quarterbacks making the transition from the free-flowing offenses of college to the pro-style ones of the NFL, Prescott will have to establish a better pocket presence and enhanced footwork. Outside of those teachable skills though he’s got a live arm and his tape shows a guy who can scan the field effectively. He will have to answer to his recent DUI arrest, but everyone knows Rex Ryan hands out second chances like Oprah hands out free stuff, so it may not even hinder Buffalo from taking him. Really for them it just comes down to how early or late they’re looking to draft a quarterback.
As the top rated inside linebacker in the Class of 2016, Ragland has been linked to the Bills at No. 19 since the very first mock drafts. With a week until the draft he’s still comfortably in that conversation. Ragland possesses great linebacker instincts, controlled aggression, sound tackling ability and a muscular frame. He’s so talented that most scouts believe he’ll be instantly successful in any scheme he’s thrown into. 3-4, 4-3, you name it. His biggest flaw is perhaps being a little too aggressive at times, which has led to him taking bad pursuit angles and missing a few tackles here or there. But outside of that it’s hard to pick apart Ragland’s game. Now, it may seem counterintuitive for Buffalo to add a immediate starter at inside linebacker when they already have a veteran in Preston Brown, but what’s great about Ragland – as he showed in the Senior Bowl – is that he is versatile. While he excelled at MLB for the Crimson Tide to become the SEC Defensive Player of the Year this past season, he can just as easily shift to an outside linebacker position and thrive. Ragland is the real deal and because of where he played college ball he’s well equipped for the fast paced NFL defenses . If he’s there at 19 it’ll be hard for Buffalo to pass on him.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Rankins has the skill set to be a force on someone’s defensive line as soon as next season. There will be no need to wait for him to develop because he’s mostly there already. Of course – like any rookie – there will be some growing pains along the way adjusting to the equally tough lineman he’ll face at the next level, but Rankins should have an immediate impact. His talent was on display at the Senior Bowl where he was dominant, displaying solid lateral movement and a nice burst off the line of scrimmage. He’s got a little speed behind him too, having run a 5.03 40-yard dash, and he carries less weight, weighing in at 299 pounds. In some respects drafting Rankins wouldn’t make much sense for the Bills because he’s primarily an A-gap rusher, which is generally where Marcell Dareus will line up. However, with the athleticism Rankins bring to the table he can clearly be versatile in the trenches, so Rex Ryan could find a use for him. Of course that’s if he even falls to them at 19, considering he’s projected as a top-15 selection.
Reed is one of several Alabama players liked to the Bills at No. 19, as they look to fill some holes in their front seven. Believe it or not, Reed actually transferred to Bama in 2014 out of Junior College and he immediately found himself a niche along the Crimson Tide’s defensive line. In his junior year he made 54 tackles and one sack, then increased his tackle total to 57 this past season. At 6-foot-3, 307 pounds Reed can be an absolute wrecking ball in the trenches and he’s quicker than you’d probably expect a 300-pound man to be. He has a great sense of his surroundings when engaged with opposing lineman and displays an uncanny ability to clog up the middle of the defense and force offenses to look outside to make plays. That said his sack numbers – just one in each of his two seasons at Bama – are a bit concerning, perhaps indicating that he isn’t necessarily a game changing pass rusher like Buffalo is looking for. Also, that speed comes with a price because he can often tire out quickly, rendering himself useless during longer series. There is no denying Reed is an NFL ready talent, but there are some obvious areas of weakness in his game at this point too.
Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State
Projected: Third or Fourth-round
What’s intriguing about Washington is that he’s got great upside for a guy projected to go in the middle rounds. In his junior campaign Washington recorded 48 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Then as a senior in 2015 he added one tackle more (49), but saw his tackles for a loss and sacks dip to seven and four respectively. That was still good enough for him to earn All-Big Ten Second Team honors. He’s versatile in regards to where he can line up along the defensive front and possesses a terrific initial jump off the ball. Also very good at shedding blockers to get into the backfield and make stops. Washington could definitely be more instinctual with his decisions – something that would help him make even more stops. Of course his Fiesta Bowl suspension after getting arrested for soliciting a prostitute is a concern as well. From an ability standpoint though, Washington is a value pick in the third or fourth round, who can have an almost immediate impact on the field.
* Denotes a player the Bills will are most likely considering with the 19th overall pick