The busy portion of Free Agency is behind us and Buffalo Bills General Manager Brandon Beane will only be signing guys to plug holes, while keeping them under the $2 million dollar threshold, as to not affect Compensatory picks in the future. So, for the most part, the roster is set heading into the draft. While the Bills made some very good value signings, none of those moves preclude them from going out and getting upgrades across the board. Here is my third 2023 NFL Mock Draft of the season.
Round 1, Pick 27 WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
Bills Assistant General Manager Brian Gaine got one last look at Flowers at his Pro Day last week, a workout that many scouts and media personnel raved about.
Flowers finished last season with 78 receptions for 1,077 yards in a Boston College Passing game that was led by Darrell Wyatt. Wyatt is the Wide Receivers Coach and Passing Game Coordinator. This is noteworthy because Wyatt was Gabe Davis’ Wide Receiver Coach at Central Florida for several years. So there is a relationship and understanding between the Bills’ brass and Wyatt.
Flowers may be undersized at 5-foot-9 1/4″ and 182 pounds, but he plays bigger. His running style is violent and aggressive. Regardless of what type of route he is running, he runs it with the same demeanor making it difficult for a defender to gauge breaks coming. He can turn screens and shallow crossing routes into bigger plays than they should be.
But he has some of that Cole Beasley to his game when defenses are trying to match his routes over the middle. Flowers has the gravitational pull to force coordinators and defensive players to pay attention to him, but then the physical traits and craftiness to run away from them.
Flowers isn’t just a slot receiver, though. Over the course of his career, he lined up as a boundary receiver 65.8-percent of the time. I don’t believe he is a slot receiver only, I believe he can win at all three levels from inside or outside. Flowers would be another alpha dog receiver on the Bills who has alignment versatility. A target that can work the middle of the field at all levels, which is something that QB Josh Allen needs back in the offense.
Round 2, Pick 59, LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Simpson is the son of Tim Simpson, a highly decorated Army Ranger who did 17 tours overseas. So you can tell where he gets his versatility and poise from. Trenton is a highly intelligent football player who served as Clemson’s Swiss Army Knife for several years. He, much like Matt Milano, played Safety, the slot overhang defender, and finally, last season bumped to an off-the-ball linebacker role.
The 6’2″ 232 pounds linebacker has the size and speed to essentially play anywhere you want on defense. Many coaches think that if he dropped a few pounds, they could use his 4.43 speed at safety. And to be honest, I liked his game the best when he was that nickel/safety hybrid player. His athleticism is just so good out in space, especially when he is working high to low.
But if the Bills were to draft him, I assume they would want him as their new Mike linebacker. And if so, I could see Simpson experiencing some growing pains especially if the Bills don’t add some big DTs in front of him. If he isn’t kept clean, he will get bounced around a bit in the box and will miss some rushing lanes because of his lack of ability to sniff out cutback lanes. But, if kept clean, his agility and change of direction will allow him to clean up.
Simpson possesses defensive back traits, so when it comes to pass coverage, it’s second nature. He can match crossers with ease, thanks to his athleticism and easy acceleration.
You can run match coverages with him, or just assign him a running back or tight end and not have to worry about him.
But the elements that I think new play caller Sean McDermott would love to have, are his abilities as Spy or pass rusher. Simpson was often used as the Spy when the Tigers played mobile QBs. Typically he would be Sugaring the center or aligned in the B-gaps, then pop out as the ball is snapped. Once the QB was moved off the spot, he would then become a heat-seeking missile.
He’s the type of defender that is a wildcard- much like Milano – because he can drop into coverage or be a complete game wrecker as a rusher. Whether he is aligned as a Safety, the Slot/Overhang player or just at linebacker depth, he has the speed to get home. This means that offensive lines have to keep tabs on him because not many running backs can handle his tenacity or athleticism. As a Tiger, he registered 64 total pressures on the QB. including 12 sacks. But 31 of those pressures and 7 sacks came as that hybrid player on the fringe of the box.
A small part of me hopes that if drafted by the Bills he becomes their Shaq Thompson, a former safety turned linebacker that was used as the Big Nickel or third linebacker early on in his career.
This would put Simpson on the fringe of the box to allow him to play fast and make plays. He can play in space, on the edge of the defense a little more until the game begins to slow down as it did for Thompson.
Shaq - Trenton Thompson👀 pic.twitter.com/zpAlxe71Iw— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) March 3, 2023
Then when ready, he can transition into a Mike role. He would just offer tremendous value as a chess piece and would likely make more impact plays coming into the box, not beginning in it. Either way, I trust this staff to develop Simpson regardless of where they place him. Just get him on the field!
Round 3, Pick 91: DT Jaquelin Roy, LSU
Roy finished with 34 solo tackles against the run last season, which places him third in his draft class in that statistic. He would be a great backup Nose Tackle to DaQuan Jones in 2023. Jones played 61.2% of the snaps, and that snap rate led the Bills’ defensive line, most of which were as a Shade nose tackle. The Bills need to exercise more load management for Jones because he was doubled-teamed at an incredibly high rate for most of the season. He was super effective, even with that said, but all of us saw the hit the defense took when he wasn’t in the lineup late in the season.
Double team rate at defensive tackle (x) by pass rush win rate at defensive tackle (y), updated through Week 5.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 13, 2022
-It's what we usually call the Aaron Donald chart...but right now might be the Chris Jones chart.
-Hello Maliek Collins and DaQuan Jones! pic.twitter.com/yq4kqek6TW
Roy plays with impeccable hand placement and leverage. Consistently plays with his eyes over his hands allowing him to control offensive linemen even with sub-par arm length (32 3/4 in)
Jaquelin Roy had a Top-30 visit with the Bills.— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) March 11, 2023
Nice rep from him here. 2i technique (typical NT alignment in G-front). Wins hand placement, Center works through his hip but the hand placement, leverage, strength and eyes on the ball win out. pic.twitter.com/PucNWnF0Si
Roy is stout and tracks the ball well.
Watch how quick off the ball he is. He shoots into the A-gap and gets hand leverage, which forces the cutback. He then disengages with an arm-over to make this tackle.
We see flashes of his quickness as a pass rusher, but this is an area that I want to see him improve in. Very rarely does he have any semblance of a pass-rush plan, which may or may not be due to the scheme he played in. But I do think there is some rush ability hidden in his 6’2 3/4″ 305-pound frame. Watch how quickly he jumps two gaps over and then pries the pass rush lane open.
Roy could get a majority of the snaps as NT2, but he does have the ability to bump a little wider into a 2i or 3 technique if needed. In 2022, he played 283 snaps in the A gaps (NT) and 367 snaps in the B gaps as 3 technique or 4i when the Tigers were in their 3-4 defense. While the Bills just brought Phillips back and still have Tim Settle in the fold, NONE of the Bills DTs are signed beyond this year. So, adding depth progressively is the route to take.
Round 4, Pick 130: TE Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion
This tight end class is quite stacked! Which makes the 4th round the sweet spot to get a talented tight end to pair with Dawson Knox. A tight end in the 4th round this year would likely be a day two pick in other years. Kuntz is one of the most athletic tight ends ever, measuring in just over 6’7″ and 255 pounds.
Zack Kuntz is a TE prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 10.00 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 1 out of 1054 TE from 1987 to 2023. #Correction, but didn't knock him out of the top spot.https://t.co/mpZ9CLNDkc #RAS pic.twitter.com/vIUzepU1VE— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 24, 2023
The tight end is a highly versatile player with a long, lean frame, and impressive catch radius. He uses his length well when the ball is in the air, often outreaching defenders for contested catches, but I would like to see him display a little more physicality in his game. His lower body flexibility facilitates his agile route breaks, and he is a dangerous two-way go tight end, meaning he can break to either side of the field with equal effectiveness.
He is an effective vertical threat with the speed to stretch the field on deep routes, while also having ability to line up out wide or in the slot and run clearing routes. He has great body movement to avoid defenders and maintain his speed while running routes. I can picture Kuntz running corner routes from a slot alignment when the Bills run their Smash concepts. Josh will be able to throw it up the field more than flat, and allow Kuntz to go up and get it. He played in the exact same offense Mike Gesicki did. The Old Dominion Head Coach Ryan Rahne was the offensive coordinator at Penn State when Gesicki was there, and Kuntz ran a lot of the same routes Gesicki did and brings some of the same athletic traits, but with better blocking skills.
Kuntz is a positional leverage blocker who uses his body position to gain leverage against defenders. His movement skills help him get angles on defenders and make blocks in space, and he drops his hips on contact to create lift in the run game. He has the tools to be a very effective run blocker and is a valuable asset to any team’s offense but just needs to continue to grow and bulk up.
Round 5, Pick 138: Center Olusegun Oluwatimi, Michigan
I personally have Olu graded in the mid-3rd to mid-4th round, so this was a value pick. Olu demonstrates very good balance and is an exceptional communicator, with control of the offensive line calls and the ability to receive information from outside and communicate it effectively to the quarterback.
He shows good angles to moving targets at the second level once he does lock on, he uses his balance to continue to cover up the defender. He consistently calculates angles and sorts stunts well, staying level with his teammates.
He finds work as a puller and displays exceptional timing when pulling to the next level after coming off Feed or Combo blocks.
But Olu is more reactive than aggressive and is more of a catcher in 1-on-1 blocks, which does not allow him to create displacement or control the defender in the run game. Additionally, he plays too high in the run game and can get knocked back. While he does show the ability to pull, his range on pulls is limited, which could scare teams that like to use their centers as pullers on a consistent basis. I think he has the demeanor and balance to be a strong pivot man once the Bills move on from Mitch Morse.
Round 6, Pick 204: S Gervarrius Owens, Houston
The Bills sent Senior Personnel Executive Matt Bazirgan and College National Scout Alonzo Dotson out to Houston for their Pro Day last week, so I am sure they got a good look at Owens aside from WR Tank Dell. Owens is 6-foot, 195 pounds, and reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range at his Pro Day. The four-year starter racked up 203 total tackles at Houston, which includes 44 stops. He’s a defender that has some experience playing Boundary Corner early in his career, some slot but has settled in nicely as a Safety. Of his 2.396 snaps, 1,070 of those snaps were as a Free Safety, but his best role may be as a Box safety where he registered 542 snaps.
When he comes to making a tackle, he has some power behind it. Which is why with his size, he could be a strong box defender.
But regardless of what position he played or where he aligned, Owens made a fair amount of plays on the ball. Over the course of his career, he accrued 14 pass break ups and 4 interceptions. Including 6 pass breakups and 1 interception in 2022.
But my worries about his game are his angles to the ball and tackling. Far too often he takes some shoddy angles to the ball which will lead to missed tackles. He had a 15.1% missed tackle percentage over the four years as a starter in Houston. If he can clean up his angles, that will put him in a better position to fit up runners and to be in a better position to make form tackles. As a late-round draft pick, you better be able to play special teams and Owens can. He racked up 361 snaps on Special Teams most of which were on the field goal block team, then the punt return and kickoff coverage units.