Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Every NFL team will use both free agency and the draft to build on strengths and mend weaknesses. Our goal here at GMENHQ is to update our readers on the player radar for the three New York based teams, starting in Buffalo. We will compare and analyze individual talents on a weekly basis until the draft is completed in May.
Buffalo Bills – Select at #9 in the 2014 NFL draft. With a record of 6-10 in 2013, the Bills have plenty of weaknesses within. Most notably the Bills need help within their LB core, their OL, and like most teams in the NFL — they could use another weapon for their young, inexperienced QB E.J. Manuel. The offense ranked 19th overall with 338 yards per game, while the passing game ranked 28th in yards per game averaging only 193 with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Clearly air production needs to be enhanced dramatically for them to be a contender in the AFC East and beyond. Manuel compiled a 58.8 completion percentage totaled 1,972 yards in ten injury riddled starts. Let’s give him another season and perhaps some help at TE. With that in mind, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is likely to be the first TE off the board in May; but at 9? I’m not quite ready to bring him up that high, as tight ends usually do not warrant the top of the draft consideration. A wowing performance at the combine could change that perception.
I really can’t see either Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews or Auburn OT Greg Robinson falling this far. Those, as of now, seem to be the only two elite OT prospects worthy of a top-10 pick, which leaves the Bills in a predicament if they intend on improving their offense in round one. I think Notre Dame OG Zach Martin is extremely underrated, and he’s as close to a lock ten-year starter as you can get. I would have no problem with him in this spot, but in all honesty I am praying he’ll somehow drop to the Giants.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills really need another LB to play next to Kiko Alonso. Mr. Alonso certainly did his part racking up 159 tackles four interceptions and two sacks in his rookie season. In my draft from late January, I had Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack going just ahead of the Bills at #8 — that’s the guy from around the corner at Buffalo University that has already been embraced by the community, as well as setting school records while playing for the Bulls. Most analysts have him just above UCLA DE Anthony Barr. Barr was considered a top-10 pick early in the process, but has since lost some of his momentum. The Bills could also be looking at Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley. I think he’s a fantastic play maker but I would be hesitant to spend a top pick on him.
All this speculation leads me here: With the 9th pick in the 2014 NFL draft… the Buffalo Bills select… North Carolina TE Eric Ebron. Manuel can’t be judged on his rookie season. Between his injuries and the inconsistency of their offense it was merely an experiment. Now it’s time to build on it. Second-year head coach Doug Marrone is an offense-first type of guy, and understands the importance of mismatches in the NFL. Ebron will give Manuel a safe play across the middle of the field, and allow Manuel to keep hitting his patented short throws with a better success rate for more YAC. As long as Ebron displays a good mental approach to the game at the combine, his athleticism would make for a safe pick at #9.
The NFL Combine begins a week from today on Tuesday February 19. Much of the information we read now will change after workouts. In my opinion, that is a smoke screen. What we know about the players now shouldn’t change too much because the kid has a 20” vertical leap vs. a 35” vertical. Does it tell you something about ceiling potential? Sure. But their play at the collegiate level often goes overlooked as a result. The most important part of the combine is the interview process.