When the Buffalo Bills released Kelvin Benjamin, they provided an indication as to how bare the cupboard was with respect to skill positions on the team. It’s made rookie quarterback Josh Allen‘s learning curve all the more challenging. Elite play at that most important of positions is undoubtedly important. But there’s only so much you can do without a competent arsenal of pass-catching weapons.
It’s a big reason Allen’s completion percentage is only slightly above 50 percent. Not only that, his 479 rushing yards leads the team. So in addition to the inadequacies at wide receiver, Buffalo is getting a woeful amount of production out of their ground game. While it’s impressive that Allen became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to rush for 100+ yards in consecutive games after last Sunday’s contest against the New York Jets, that’s not how you win in today’s NFL.
All of it speaks to the need to retool this off-season. With the Bills enjoying the third-most salary cap space heading into 2019, free agency is certainly an avenue the team will employ. And who knows. General manager Brandon Beane may figure out a way to make Le’Veon Bell an offer he can’t refuse. But every year, there are also those potential game-changing prospects available through the NFL draft capable of making an immediate impact.
Upgrading the Buffalo Bills Skill Positions Through the 2019 NFL Draft
Make no mistake about it. The Bills brass has been hard at work scouting players as they prepare for the 2019 draft. BuffaloRumblings.com, the Bills’ SB Nation blog, recently put together a piece that hints at which top prospects are on the team’s radar. They used a combination of Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller‘s big board and info provided by NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread who regularly tweets out which teams get credentialed for certain college games.
There are certainly needs on both sides of the ball the Bills need to address. But the focus of this article is the skill positions. Whether it’s running back, wide receiver, or tight end, this team needs upgrades all over the place. There are plenty of examples from this season which underscore the situation. Charles Clay dropping a potential game-winning touchdown catch certainly qualifies. LeSean McCoy looking like a running back on the wrong side of 30 does as well.
Taking it all into account, here are some draft-eligible skill position players who put together standout collegiate careers and would look good in a Bills uniform come 2019.
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
N’Keal Harry came into the 2018 season as one of the top receiving prospects and certainly lived up to the hype. He finished as the Pac-12’s second-leading receiver with 1,088 yards and added nine touchdowns. He’s an immensely polished route-runner and can consistently separate from coverage. That latter quality is something the Bills current crop of pass-catchers struggle with. Harry currently projects as a mid to late first round pick so might not be available in the second round if Buffalo decides to address another need with what looks to be a top 10 selection in round one.
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
A big reason for Kyler Murray taking home the Heisman Trophy is the phenomenal play of Marquise Brown. The man known as “Hollywood” accounted for 1,318 receiving yards which ranked seventh in the nation. He’s a diminutive presence at 5’9″ but he boasts incendiary speed which makes him extremely dangerous after the catch. It shows in his 17.57 yards per receptions which came in at second in FBS among players with at least 75 catches.
Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
It’s possible that the Bills have a potential instant impact pro in their own backyard. That certainly describes Anthony Johnson who put together an impressive campaign for the Buffalo Bulls. Only 10 FBS receivers found the end zone more often than he did. Johnson possesses a unique combination of size, big-play ability and contested catch acumen that NFL teams salivate over.
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Ole Miss finished slightly under .500 Matt Luke‘s first season as head coach. But it wasn’t because of their offense which led the SEC in passing yards per game. A.J. Brown indelibly played a part, ranking sixth nationally with 1,320 receiving yards. A gritty possession receiver, Brown has all the makings of a reliable red zone target which could really help Josh Allen in year two of his pro career. What he lacks in raw speed he more than makes up for in terms of physicality as well as an ability to break tackles.
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
NFL teams are always searching for those do-everything receivers with a versatile skill set. That’s what Deebo Samuel brings to the table. Not only can he line up outside the numbers and act as a downfield vertical threat. He can also play in the slot and get the job done underneath. Samuel’s quickness allows him to gain separation and makes him dangerous in open space. He also excels high-pointing the football in traffic.
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Not since 2014 has an NFL team selected a player from Iowa State in the draft. That’s bound to change this year with David Montgomery among the top running back prospects. He earned first-team All-Big XII honors this season as one of four backs in the conference to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. Montgomery is a shifty runner with solid instincts which enables him to find running lanes into the second and third level of the defense. Miller considers him the most NFL-ready of this year’s crop of running backs.
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
A simple perusal of the raw stats showcases what Darrell Henderson is capable of. He ran for a whopping 1,909 yards in 2018, good enough for second in FBS behind only Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. He also registered 22 touchdowns which were tied for the most nationally with another running back prospect, Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary. He’s a stocky player with a good center of gravity and is a decisive runner who exhibits the type of burst teams at the next level like to see in running backs.
Benny Snell, Kentucky
More than one Kentucky player will have their name called in Nashville this coming April. Perhaps the most prominent one is an edge rusher who has the same name as the current Bills starting quarterback. But running back Benny Snell is another prospect who’s definitely on the radar of NFL teams with a need at the position. Snell epitomized the term “bell cow” with the Wildcats in 2018. His 21.92 carries per game ranked him fifth among FBS players and he was one of two SEC backs to average over 100 yards per contest. He exudes a solid combination of patience and vision while also showcasing the ability to make plays both between the tackles and down the sidelines.
Bryce Love, Stanford
Let’s face it. 2018 was a forgettable season for Bryce Love. It began with the Stanford back a clear Heisman Trophy frontrunner. But a nagging ankle injury prevented him from generating any momentum towards winning that award. Nevertheless, the talent is there. He demonstrated his capabilities in 2017 when he rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns at 8.05 yards per carry. Love is far from a volume back but he’s exceedingly quick and electric in space. If he can show the ability to catch passes out of the backfield at the Senior Bowl, it’ll do wonders for his draft stock.
Noah Fant, Iowa
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of George Kittle, a former Iowa tight end enjoying success at the next level, Noah Fant is most draft analysts’ top prospect at the position heading into 2019. At 6’5″ and 243 pounds, Fant has the ideal frame for an NFL tight end. He’s also highly athletic for his size, due in large part to his basketball background. One of the things Allen lacks is a vertical threat on seam routes down the middle of the field. That’s a dimension that Fant can add to the Bills offense. He’s also a willing and able blocker in both run support and pass protection.
Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
Another highly athletic tight end, Irv Smith Jr. is a proven playmaker. He averaged 17.05 yards per reception for Alabama this year which ranked fourth among FBS tight ends. Smith also has connections to the Bills coaching staff with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll having served in the same capacity with the Crimson Tide prior to 2018. Much like Fant, Smith would provide Allen with a dynamic, big-bodied presence down the middle. He could be available when the Bills pick on day two of the draft.
Caleb Wilson, UCLA
One of few bright spots for UCLA in Chip Kelly‘s first year as Bruins head coach, Caleb Wilson tallied 965 receiving yards this year which led all FBS tight ends. He’s fundamentally sound from a pass-catching standpoint which shows in his ability to catch the ball with his hands as opposed to his body. Though not particularly twitchy, he has a good initial burst and is able to separate during route transitions. Wilson is functional as a blocker but might need to bulk up to deal with the enhanced physicality of the NFL.