The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is here and the Buffalo Bills will be doing their due diligence on every NFL Draft prospect in attendance in search of players that can turn the team around. Rex Ryan stated that in 2016, he’d be running his defense—a hybrid 3-4 pressure-based scheme—while General Manager Doug Whaley and Player Personnel Director Jim Monos have each claimed to want more pieces on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at quarterback and wide receiver.
So which players should Bills fans keep an eye on throughout the week of drills? Here at Building the Herd I highlighted a few players at positions of need that could attract the Buffalo Bills’ brass.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Dak Prescott is one of the more overshadowed quarterbacks in the 2016 NFL Draft, although he has the potential to wind up as one of the best when all is said and done. Prescott has a strong arm to make all the necessary throws, and while he has good mobility and will extend plays with his legs, he’s shown that he can win from within the pocket.
The Bulldogs ran a spread offense with a lot of read option elements, so he’ll get the “system QB” label, but Prescott is a player to keep an eye on.
OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State
If the Bills can’t retain left tackle Cordy Glenn, they’ll need to shift their focus to the offensive line in order to keep their No. 1 rushing attack alive. Taylor Decker is an impressive player and athlete, standing 6’7” and weighing 315 pounds. He was a three-year starter for one of the nation’s most lethal rushing offenses and was named an All-American after allowing just one sack and four total pressures in 2015.
He’s a former basketball player, so he should stand out during the speed and agility drills during the NFL Scouting Combine.
Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Vernon Butler isn’t a well-known commodity…yet. Coming out of Louisiana Tech, the 6’4” 325 pounder with 36” arms hasn’t gotten to show his skills on a big stage, but he’s one of the best interior defensive line prospects in the draft. He’s versatile enough to play all three positions in an odd front and moves ridiculously well for his size. Butler finished the 2015 season with just three sacks, but had 27 pressures, 33 run disruptions and 12 stuffs. He’ll be selected in the top-20 if he performs well in Indianapolis this week.
Chris Jones, Mississippi State
Chris Jones is another under-the-radar prospect, but the former No. 2 overall recruit and standout basketball player has one of the highest ceilings among defensive linemen in the 2016 draft class. He’s another versatile lineman with great size (6’6” 308 pounds) and would be an ideal five-technique in Rex Ryan’s hybrid defense.
In 2015, Jones played just 61% of the Bulldogs’ defensive snaps but still managed to record 40 tackles, 2.5 sacks and generate 30 pressures, 27 run disruptions and 11 stuffs. He’s still a work in progress but he should excel in just about every drill at the combine and will likely find himself drafted in the latter part of the first round.
Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
Kyler Fackrell is an intriguing prospect that has experience playing with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in a 4-3, as a stand-up linebacker in a 3-4 and also as a 4-3 strong-side linebacker. Standing 6’5” and 250 pounds with nearly 33” arms, Fackrell fits the mold of your ideal edge defender.
Despite missing the 2014 season with an ACL injury, Kyler Fackrell finished his collegiate career with 251 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 23 hurries, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups and four interceptions—one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Fackrell can set the edge against the run as a force defender as well as get after the quarterback by using his length and power to overwhelm opposing linemen. In 2015, Fackrell recorded five sacks, 25 pressures, 29 run disruptions and 14 stuffs. Of his 80 tackles, 45 of them came two-yards or fewer from the line of scrimmage.
I’ll be keeping an eye on his three-cone and shuttle times to see if his flexibility and bendiness as a pass rusher that I saw when watching him matches up with the timer.
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Leonard Floyd was a productive defender for the Georgia Bulldogs, recording 17.5 sacks, 28.5 tackles for loss and 54 pressures in his three years as a starter. He was moved around the defensive front often, playing as an inside linebacker on most base downs and moving up to a defensive end role in sub-packages or obvious passing situations.
He’s got the ideal length you want from a “SAM” or edge rusher, but he’ll need to show up to the NFL Scouting Combine much heavier than his listed 232 pounds from college, while still showing the same explosiveness and change of direction ability that made him so productive.
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Reggie Ragland was one of the best linebackers in the country during his time with the Crimson Tide, racking up 185 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, eight pass breakups and an interception in his last two seasons. In 2015, he missed just five tackles while notching 20 run disruptions and 10 stuffs.
Ragland is a fantastic run defender, but he’ll need to prove that he can stay on the field for all three downs in the NFL, so the three cone and shuttle drills will be huge for him. He’ll also need to show up lighter than the 259 pounds he weighed in at during the Senior Bowl.
Joshua Perry, Ohio State
Josh Perry has been overshadowed by fellow defenders Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Vonn Bell, Adolphus Washington, Eli Apple and Tyvis Powell among others, but he was quietly one of the most productive members of the Buckeye’s defense. In his last two seasons, Perry recorded 229 tackles, 16 for a loss, 6.5 sacks and five pass breakups.
Standing 6’4” 254 pounds, Perry is a fantastic athlete for his size. He’s smooth in his backpedal when dropping into coverage and is capable of quickly flipping his hips and changing direction. He generated 13 pressures, 24 run disruptions and 14 stuffs in 2015, while holding opposing receivers to a 7.7 yards-per-catch average on 14 of the 22 times he was targeted.
I’ll be watching his speed drills, as like Ragland, Perry will need to provehis value as a three-down defender.
Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Karl Joseph is one of the most impressive defensive backs to watch, as he’s got incredible range to go along with a knockout mentality that you like to see out of a safety. He suffered a torn ACL that sidelined him for the 2015 season, but he’s a 42 game starter that recorded 280 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, nine interceptions, 13 pass breakups and forced seven fumbles in 3+ years.
Size will be a concern, as Joseph was listed at 5’11” and 197 pounds, so he’ll need to show up in the 205-ish range. Also, he’ll need to show that he’s as explosive as he was before, so the drills will be huge for his draft “stock.”
Jeremy Cash, Duke
Jeremy Cash thrived as a do-it-all player for the Duke Blue Devils, lining up in the box, the slot and even on the edge as a pass rusher during his three years as a starter.
In his career, Cash recorded 333 tackles, 38 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, six interceptions, 15 pass breakups and forced four fumbles. According to ProFootballFocus, his 46 stops and 19 quarterback pressures in 2015 were most among safeties and his 18 tackles for loss are an outstanding number for defensive backs, and he’s the only defensive back that ranks in the top 100 of that category.
Watching Cash, it’s clear that he’s a limited athlete that will need to find a niche as a box player in the NFL, so he’ll look to prove otherwise during the combine.