With the 2016 NFL Draft growing closer, General Managers and front office executives have their boards stacked and set for the most part. The Buffalo Bills are in a unique position, as they can truly go in a variety of directions with nearly all of their picks in this year’s draft. At BuildingTheHerd I decided to take a look at 10 2016 NFL Draft Sleepers, meaning players that have flown under-the-radar or will be selected in the middle rounds, that the Buffalo Bills should keep an eye on.
2016 NFL Draft Sleepers: Offense
WR Tajae Sharpe, UMass
Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson and Corey Coleman have hogged the majority of headlines surrounding the 2016 crop of wide receivers, for good reason. But the 21-year-old Tajae Sharpe has quietly been one of the most productive wideouts in the nation over the last three seasons as a starter for UMass, hauling in 277 receptions for 3,486 yards and 16 touchdowns.
In his senior year, the 6’2” 194-pounder caught 112-of-177 targets for 1,307 yards (503 yards-after-catch) and five scores. At the NFL Scouting Combine, questions arose surrounding his below average hand size (8 3/8”), which should’ve been answered with his three drops in 2015 and four in 2014.
He ran an average 4.55-second 40-yard dash, but he shows good footwork in routes that allow him to get open in short-to-intermediate areas on horizontal concepts. He’s got solid size and positions his body well to make catches away from defenders.
Tajae Sharpe isn’t going to be a No.1 wide receiver for a team, but he’s one of the biggest 2016 NFL Draft Sleepers at the wide receiver position.
TE Austin Hooper, Stanford
The Buffalo Bills’ offense relies on multiple tight ends that can serve as an extra blocker in their run-oriented offense, whether lining up attached to the offensive line, detached as a wing or in an H-Back position. Stanford runs an offense very similar to that of Greg Roman’s in Buffalo-after all, Roman was the Offensive and Run Game Coordinator there before following Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.
Austin Hooper is still a project, playing just two years for the Cardinal offense where he caught 74 passes for 937 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6’4” 254-pounder has room to fill out his frame and get stronger, something he’ll have to do if he wants to be more than just a “big slot” tight end. He’s a willing blocker with experience in a variety of alignments and understands the various route concepts within Buffalo’s offense.
He’s aggressive and can make acrobatic catches, but his route running needs some refinement.
Hooper isn’t a finished product by any means, so don’t be shocked if you see this 2016 NFL Draft Sleeper hear his name called in the fourth round.
QB Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State
The Buffalo Bills have been linked to just about every quarterback prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft, but Jacoby Brissett is an intriguing one. Standing 6’4” and weighing 236 pounds, Brissett has the prototypical size teams look for in a passer. His big frame helps him in the pocket, as he has the height to see the whole field and the bulk to shrug off oncoming rushers.
Brissett is a tough evaluation because he didn’t have much of a supporting cast around him—from both receivers and protection standpoints—so he would look for the big play probably more often than he should’ve. 46 of his 395 pass attempts were drops or throwaways, meaning that his 60.0% completion rate adjusts to 67.3% when accounting for those.
Brissett was pressured on 35.5% of his dropbacks, and was sacked 37 times on the year. However, he took care of the ball in those situations, completing 59% of his 172 attempts for 1,206 yards, throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions against the blitz.
He’s an aggressive passer that understands that he has to pick up the slack for the offense. This mentality leads to eye-opening splash plays like the one below against Florida State.
But oftentimes, it results in a throwaway or Brissett taking an unnecessary shot as a result of holding the ball too long, waiting for a receiver to come open.
Jacoby Brissett comes with caution, as he’ll need to be broken down and coached back up, but he has the traits to make him one of the more intriguing 2016 NFL Draft sleepers.
K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
The Bills kicking game has struggled as of late, with Dan Carpenter having arguably the worst season of his eight-year career in 2015. Carpenter connected on just 85.2% of field goal attempts, missing kicks of 54, 50, 48 and 30 yards in addition to shanking six extra point attempts. Making these statistics even more maddening is the fact that the Bills use a roster spot on Jordan Gay, a “kickoff specialist” and the only one of its kind in the entire NFL.
Roberto Aguayo enters the draft as a junior, after being a three-time All-American and having one of the best collegiate kicking careers in years. Aguayo scored 405 points in his three years and is the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, connecting on all 198 point after attempts and going 69-78 on field goal attempts for a 96.7% conversion rate. He became the 12th kicker in NCAA history to not miss a PAT and finished his career 49-49 on kicks inside 40 yards. Went 18-24 on kicks 40-49 yards and 5-8 on kicks 50+ yards with a career long of 53.
Aguayo was the placekicker on all 84 kickoffs in 2015, recording 48 touchbacks at an average distance of 65.9 yards. 38.1% of his kicks were returned, but for an average of just 16.9 yards per return.
Taking a kicker is never a sexy move, but Roberto Aguayo is arguably the best kicker in the country and is only getting better. Not only do you get his talent at a mid-round price tag, but it allows the Bills to release both Dan Carpenter and Jordan Gay, which would save roughly $2.1 million in 2016 salary cap space.
2016 NFL Draft Sleepers: Defense
DL Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
The Buffalo Bills are coveting versatility among their defensive linemen as they make the transition to Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense. They need coachable athletes on the defensive line that can fill in at a variety of alignments and techniques in addition to dropping into coverage a handful of times per game if needed.
Bronson Kaufusi is a 25-year-old that stands 6’6” and weighs 285 pounds and was a dominant force for the Cougars’ defense in 2015, recording 63 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles, two pass breakups and blocked five field goals/punts. He graded out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 1 pass rushing 3-4 DE registering 57 pressures and was No. 4 in run stops with 34.
Kaufusi showed the versatility to play all over the defensive line in both one and two gap techniques in addition to lining up in a two-point stance as a standup edge defender.
Bronson Kaufusi doesn’t show great explosion off the snap, but is able to win his matchups by utilizing his length and hands to control and shed opposing linemen while playing with a non-stop motor. Bronson Kaufusi isn’t the freaky speed rusher with the ability to consistently bend the corner, but he does have enough flexibility to quickly change direction when he runs around the arc.
Bronson Kaufusi is a fantastic run defender and makes an impact as both an edge defender or an interior defensive lineman, routinely showing the ability to two-gap and allow his teammates to make plays at the line of scrimmage. Kaufusi’s best asset is his hand usage, regularly getting inside the pads of linemen, shedding blocks with relative ease and hustling to finish the play.
Bronson Kaufusi would be a solid fit within Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. He can play as a two-gapping defensive end, a one-gapping three-technique in sub packages and has the athletic ability to stand-up as edge defender and drop into coverage or rush the passer.
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland
The Buffalo Bills need some depth at their rush linebacker position behind Jerry Hughes and Maryland’s Yannick Ngakoue could be the perfect fit. Ngakoue racked up 28 tackles for loss and 19 sacks over the last two seasons with the Terrapins, with 14.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks coming last season.
Ngakoue has a good first step with an initial burst that allows him to close the ground on the offensive lineman blocking him. He’s raw in terms of counter pass rush moves, but he has heavy hands and will use them to his advantage, while showing the hip flexibility to redirect himself towards the passer.
Ngakoue’s 57 quarterback pressures in 2015 ranked 5th most among edge defenders according to ProFootballFocus, but his 14 tackles and 11 stops against the run ranked second-worst. He struggles to get off blocks in the run game and can overpursue at times, so Ngakoue will need to begin his career as a situational pass rusher as he develops the rest of his game. Still, his production speaks for itself and Yannick Ngakoue is definitely one of the more interesting 2016 NFL Draft sleepers at the edge rusher position.
LB B.J. Goodson, Clemson
A year after Clemson middle linebacker Stephone Anthony found himself selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, his replacement, B.J. Goodson hopes to find himself picked somewhere in the second day of picks. Goodson only has one year of starting experience, but the defensive captain was productive, recording 108 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
The 6’1” 242-pounder was a force against the run for the Tigers’ defense, filling or shooting gaps to make stops at the line of scrimmage, or pursuing a ball-carrier from behind and bringing him down. ProFootballFocus credited B.J. Goodson with 48 run stops, ranking him No. 4 among linebackers.
Goodson was a reliable tackler, as his seven whiffs were the sixth-fewest at his position. He won’t be relied on as a “cover linebacker” but he understands route concepts and has the athleticism to be effective in zone drops and the instincts to watch the quarterback’s eyes and anticipate what’s happening.
He also provides value as a blitzer, generating 25 pressures on 106 pass rush attempts, the fifth-best total at his position. While Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd and Mackensie Alexander are likely to be first-round picks, don’t forget about B.J. Goodson, a 2016 NFL Draft sleeper.
LB De’Vondre Campbell, Minnesota
De’Vondre Campbell wore many hats as a linebacker on Minnesota’s defense, primarily as the “SAM” but played all over the field. In two years as a starter, Campbell recorded 208 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbls, five pass breakups and a blocked field goal.
Campbell has prototypical size of a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 “SAM,” standing 6’4” and weighing in around 240 pounds. Campbell is physical and athletic, but right now he’s better moving downhill—defending the run and blitzing—than he is moving backwards in deeper pass coverage. He has the athleticism to play in coverage, but can be a step slow to react to what the player he’s defending is doing.
Against the run, Campbell gets involved in every pile, while possessing the length and power to set the edge from a seven or nine-technique alignment. From the inside linebacker position, he knows how to use his hands to stack and shed oncoming blockers and has the awareness and athletic ability to redirect and make the play.
As a blitzer, Campbell notched four sacks, and eight additional pressures in 66 pass rush snaps during the 2015 season, ranking him 18th in efficiency.
De’Vondre Campbell brings the positional versatility that the Buffalo Bills’ defense covets, so don’t be shocked on day 3 if you hear this 2016 NFL Draft Sleepers name get called.
CB Cre’Von LeBlanc, Florida Atlantic
Nickell Robey had his ups and downs at the nickel cornerback position last year, and Florida Atlantic’s Cre’Von LeBlanc is an intriguing prospect that’s a joy to watch. The 5’9” 185-pounder plays with confidence and doesn’t back away from a challenge. He’s aggressive in press-man coverage, even when the opposing wide receiver is six inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.
In 2015, LeBlanc was targeted 56 times but allowed just 22 receptions (39.2%) for 307 yards and four touchdowns, while intercepting four passes and breaking up another 14. While he lacks the long speed to play on the outside, he can recover and will be physical to dislodge the ball from the receiver when he does get beaten.
LeBlanc isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty and will regularly get involved in the action against the run. The fact that he missed only two tackles this year is a testament to his aggressiveness and his technique.