With the Super Bowl approaching, fans of the 28 franchises that aren’t still in the tournament are looking ahead to free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft with hopes of finding the right pieces to turn their team around. The NFL Draft has become a year-round event as fans speculate on the pro potential of their favorite college players.
Free agency will certainly dictate much of what happens in the 2016 NFL Draft, but here’s my first way too early Buffalo Bills Mock Draft.
Round One, Pick 19
EDGE Noah Spence, E. Kentucky
6’3” 262 lbs
Last year, the Buffalo Bills made major upgrades to the offense, trading for LeSean McCoy, signing Charles Clay and Percy Harvin, in addition to drafting John Miller and Karlos Williams. This year, it appears that the big changes will come on the defensive side of the ball, after an underwhelming 2015 season.
Noah Spence originally attended the Ohio State University and was named to the 2013 All Big-10 team, but after failing multiple drug tests for molly, he was dismissed from the team and transferred to Eastern Kentucky. By all reports, Spence has turned his life around after rehab and has passed every drug test administered to him. He finished the year with 65 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 15 hurries and three forced fumbles and was named the Ohio Valley conference player of the year.
Spence is an incredible pass rusher with strength, speed, quickness and intelligence and can beat offensive linemen in a variety of ways. If it weren’t for his off-field issues, he’d likely be a top-five pick in this class.
Alternate Selection: DL Jarran Reed, Alabama
Round Two, Pick 49
S Darian Thompson, Boise State
6’2” 213 lbs
The Bills’ safeties were disastrous in the 2015 season, particularly after Aaron Williams suffered a season-ending neck injury. Corey Graham transitioned from cornerback to safety, but was a liability in coverage. Duke Williams, the team’s fourth-round pick from the 2013 NFL Draft came into the year with high expectations, but he couldn’t get on the field—and when he did, it wasn’t pretty.
Rex Ryan’s defense relies on quality safety play and Darian Thompson is a big, physical safety with range that is equally talented against both the run and pass. In his senior year, Thompson had 65 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack, 5 interceptions and 4 passes defensed. Over his time at Boise he has amassed 19 interceptions, making him the all-time Mountain West leader in that category.
Alternate Selection: WR Tyler Boyd, Pitt
Round Three, Pick 80
DL Chris Jones, Mississippi State
6’5” 308 lbs
With Mario Williams reportedly being released this offseason, coupled with the transition to a true 3-4 defense, the Bills need a true five-technique end that can slide inside in sub-packages. Chris Jones is a freak athlete out of Mississippi State that stands 6’5” and weighs in at 308 pounds. The former 5* recruit and basketball star has tallied 97 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, nine pass breakups and 58 QB hurries in his three years with the Bulldogs.
Jones is a powerful, athletic and versatile lineman that would be a great addition to Buffalo’s defensive front.
Alternate Selection: LB Kendall Beckwith, LSU
Round Four, Pick 114
WR Tajae Sharpe, UMass
6’2” 195 lbs
Percy Harvin was supposed to be a major weapon opposite Sammy Watkins for the 2015 Buffalo Bills, but after injuries and mysterious rumors of retirement, the wide receiver position is once again a question mark. In the last few weeks, the team has brought in receivers with size in Leonard Hankerson, Jarrett Boykin, Greg Salas and Greg Little, so it’s clear that they covet a bigger target for quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Tajae Sharpe hasn’t gotten much attention due to playing at UMass, but the 6’2” 195-pounder is a great route runner that will make contested catches, can high-point the ball and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. In four seasons (three as a starter), he’s caught 277 passes for 3,486 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Alternate Selection: QB Jacoby Brissett
Round Five, Pick 144
LB Antonio Morrison, Florida
Buffalo’s linebacking corps underwhelmed last season and with Nigel Bradham set to become an unrestricted free agent, the team needs to find an inside ‘backer to play alongside Preston Brown. Antonio Morrison is undersized for an inside linebacker, weighing in at just around 230 pounds, but he plays like he’s 250. Morrison racked up 293 tackles, 20 for a loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his career with the Gators. He’s a violent, rangy and aggressive linebacker that could potentially develop into a quality starter with proper coaching.
Alternate Selection: CB Cyrus Jones
Round Six, Pick 174
OT Joe Haeg, North Dakota State
6’5” 300 lbs
Carson Wentz got the hype at North Dakota State, but Joe Haeg, his blindside protector, was a big part in his success as well. Haeg was routinely named the Missouri Valley Conference Linemen of the Week throughout the year as he rarely surrendered sacks or even hurries. The Bills have a glaring hole at right tackle, and while Haeg isn’t a player that’s ready to come in and start from day one, he’s got the traits you look for in a tackle—length, athleticism, a quick kick-step and a good punch. He’ll need a year in an NFL weight room before getting on the field, but he’s a nice prospect that could be a value Day 3 pick.
Alternate Selection: K Roberto Aguayo, FSU