While NFL Free Agency is open, the first wave has completed with the Buffalo Bills bringing back a few of their own while adding guard Connor McGovern, WR Deonte Harty, and backup QB Kyle Allen into the mix. Modest money was spent on these acquisitions if you consider some of the escalators and structures of the contracts. If you are interested in learning about these players, we covered them in The Film Room this week.
Even with those players added, I still don’t think it precludes the Bills from still signing or drafting guys at their positions, it just may shift some of the priorities with how they may match up with the talent in the draft.
That’s why I took a different approach to this seven-round mock draft, so let’s dive in!
Round 1, Pick 30 (trade with the Philadelphia Eagles): LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
I have a second-round grade on Campbell, but given where he is likely projected to go, I just don’t see him making it to the Bills’ second-round pick. The Eagles offered this swap to move back a few picks and pick up an extra third-rounder (No. 94). For my board, this selection was a bit of a reach but let’s be honest, a lot of these prospects at the end of the first-round are typically second-round grades by most teams’ standards anyways.
Head Coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have always prioritized their linebackers, especially their Mike linebackers and I feel that they will do so again. This draft doesn’t have many true middle linebackers so I believe they are more than willing to make a move to go get one of the few Mikes in this class.
The move worked out and I was able to select Campbell, who reeks of process. Campbell has the size of Tremaine Edmunds standing tall over 6’4 5/8″ and the athleticism to match. But his processor is further ahead than when Edmunds was coming out of college. He finished his career with 205 solo tackles, five interceptions, and six pass breakups.
He quickly diagnoses run plays and calculates the leverage he needs to win his gap, which is extremely important given that his arms (31.875) are short for his size. It rarely is an issue, however, because he more than makes up for it with his key and diagnose skills and good technique by leading and landing his hands on offensive linemen.
Cleaning up in and around the box won’t be an issue. He is firm at the point of contact when teams want to play downhill bully football. He holds his ground, plays with physicality and can disengage to make the tackle.
He’s kind of the perfect linebacker prospect when you think about Stacked linebackers. He holds his ground on his interior gap but then runs and chases with the best of them. Look at him scrape and leverage down the line of scrimmage, stay over the top of the blocker, and show off his range to make the tackle near the boundary. Sideline to sideline speed!
The Hawkeyes are the college version of the Buffalo Bills’ defensive system. They run a lot of Two-High Shells, specifically a lot of Quarters coverage (33.6% ranked 18th) a dash of Cover 6 (13.2% ranked 16th), and some Cover 2 (9.7% ranked 44th). So he will pick up the Bills’ system very quickly. Campbell is so good in Zone coverage whether you are asking to drop to a landmark or to play Matchup Zone. Once he diagnoses who is running through his zone in the concept, like a magnet he attaches to them.
You can see why former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is working with Campbell this offseason, I am sure he sees a lot of the traits and skills that he possessed as a player. On this play Campbell is communicating the possible route concept that is about to unfold, informing his teammate that they may need to execute a switch to match it. Sure enough, after the snap, Campbell makes the ‘push’ call, which is telling his teammate he is now responsible for the RB, and Campbell will overtake the No. 2 over the middle. Look at how he suffocates the route and gets right into the man. Underneath routes against him when he is in Zone are so difficult to execute because he routinely chokes these routes off.
Campbell is just so good at pairing his assignment within the structure of the play but also trusting what he sees. On this play, he comes downhill to stop the run but the Buckeyes are running play-action. As he opens up to the boundary he takes a quick peek at the route combination and gains depth.
He gets his eyes on the QB and recognizes he’s under pressure and the QB is going to slide to his left.
Campbell opens up and looks across the field to locate any targets, but there aren’t any. The Buckeyes have a three-man, half-field route combination.
He gets to his depth, settles, and notices the QB setting to throw the ball. Now we get to see how quickly he is able to react to the throw…
Watch his reactive athleticism and play on the ball. Remarkable…
Round 2, Pick 59: DT Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin
I’m sure the start of this draft is a tough pill to swallow for Bills fans looking for offense, but stay with me. Benton is a shade under 6’4,” weighs in at around 309 pounds, and spent most of his time as a Nose Tackle (lining up in the A-gap 700 snaps), but I believe his primary position will be at three-technique (typically B-gap player) a position he aligned at 611 snaps over the course of his career. We got a great look at him down in Mobile, AL during the Senior Bowl and he was easily a top-five player there. The penetrating style of his game and violence were not only seen in person but felt. You could feel his aggression coming out during one-on-ones.
Benton would be a fantastic backup, but when I say backup, we know that the Bills love to roll their defensive linemen, so that role is going to get 30-40% of the snaps. Benton would instantly be an upgrade to Tim Settle who was a disappointment last season.
Benton plays light on his feet and is able to quickly scrape down the line of scrimmage, then pounce when the running back decides when he is going to commit to a gap.
His lateral quickness will be a major asset in the Bills’ scheme because of how often they slant their defensive linemen in the run and pass games.
While his burst off the line of scrimmage is tough for linemen to handle, I don’t know how they are able to take the Club move he busts out against the run…
And the pass…
Benton finished his collegiate career with 68 total pressures, which includes 10 QB sacks and 24 QB hits, so he made his presence known. His up-the-field nature fits the Bills’ scheme and his violent style is reminiscent of starting nose tackle DaQuan Jones.
Round 3, Pick 91: TE Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan
Another pick that doesn’t look sexy but Schoonmaker is the perfect complement to Dawson Knox.
Luke Schoonmaker is a TE prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.75 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 26 out of 1020 TE from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/Jd1VNkpNhF #RAS pic.twitter.com/chng7ofvKI— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2023
Schoonmaker is one of the top tight ends in this class in the short area (0-9 yards) and falls perfectly in line with the typical archetype for the Bills at his position. If the Bills want to go to two tight end sets more, he will be able to work the short and intermediate areas whereas Knox can stick to his role as a target for Allen down the field in the intermediate and deep areas. His body control immediately flashes on film. He avoids defenders during his release at the line of scrimmage. When out in a route he uses that control to work around zone defenders quickly and precisely.
We also see the athleticism and body control at the top of routes. Watch him run this Whip route to the middle of the field.
The precision of some of his route stems and burst to create separation at the top are impressive and this may be the portion of his game that TE coach Rob Boras can help make the biggest improvements in.
My favorite aspect of his game is his blocking. He is an extension of the offensive line, the kind of guy that you have in to help run your four-minute drill to close a game out. Kromer will enjoy molding this kid with Boras by implementing some of the blocking techniques that both of these guys did when they had Tyler Higbee in St. Louis/Los Angeles.
In Boras' 2nd year as the OC w/ the Rams which was 2016 (TE Coach 2012-2014), the Rams drafted Tyler Higbee (6'6" 249 pounds, 4.67 sec 40) in the 4th round.— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) March 5, 2023
In 2015, their TEs were Jared Cook (6'5" 246 pounds) and Lance Kendricks (6'3" 243 pounds).
This could be nothing or it… https://t.co/N4LYZJox0L
Schoonmaker plays with very good hand leverage and is able to create lift with his hands, a Kromer staple.
Luke Schoonmaker Michigan— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) March 4, 2023
*Tall, lean target
*Agile releasing off the LOS
*Fluid body control
*Extension of the offensive line
*Blocking immediately pops
Gets hands inside
Constantly fighting to win hand leverage
Creates lift… https://t.co/bH0N8a708g pic.twitter.com/3MkpAkBWkV
Round 3, Pick 94: RB Roschon Johnson, Texas
Johnson doesn’t get much shine because of how amazing Bijan Robinson is, but it does appear the Bills have some interest in one of the two Longhorn backs.
Bijan Robinson was reportedly taken out to dinner by the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday night before Texas’ pro day.— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) March 10, 2023
Roschon Johnson was reportedly present at the dinner as well.
The Bills RB1 last year, Devin Singletary, is set to become a free agent.
The Bills currently hold the… https://t.co/UIuJoPzUVJ pic.twitter.com/VpAOBwFSTd
Johnson would be a fantastic addition to the Bills’ running back room of James Cook and Nyheim Hines. The contrast lies in him being just over 6 feet and carrying 225 pounds. Johnson is the type of upright, bruising runner that needs a pretty clear highway to get to top speed. But that typically isn’t a problem in the Bills’ spread offense, a unit that leads the league in yards before contact per rush at 2.32 yards. That’s .12 more than the second-ranked Kansas City Chiefs. Plus, the Bills’ offense sees a lot of light boxes, in fact, they saw the sixth most light boxes last year with 217 and once again were really good in yards before contact per rush ringing in at 2.86 yards, which was the second highest vs. six defenders in the box or less.
NCAA RB Leaders by Missed Tackles Forced/Touch— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 17, 2023
+min. 225 touches, Power 5-only, since 2015
1. Roschon Johnson (0.394)
2. Javonte Williams (0.389)
3. Bijan Robinson (0.387)
Johnson forces missed tackles at an incredible rate because he runs hard, with great lean and physicality to cause tacklers with bad angles or arm tackles to miss.
But he is also very proficient with his off-hand which is an underrated skill that we don’t talk about enough.
Johnson had similar or higher production numbers in several key categories to Robinson, he just didn’t get the volume. Johnson also converted 80% of his third and 1-2 yard rushing attempts last season, which was 10th in the class. Johnson would be another solid third-round running back who would be plug-and-play.
Round 4, Pick 130: WR Nathaniel Dell, Houston
The Bills signed Deonte Harty and released Isaiah McKenzie so this may seem like a redundant pick, but Dell was sticking out like a sore thumb for the prior two rounds. While it may seem like the Bills’ receiving lineup is a reiteration of “The Smurfs” from a couple of seasons ago or yesteryears, these sorts of targets work for Allen. He prefers separators, guys who can either use their quickness or speed and route running to create space. Dell can do that.
He got to showcase some of his release package down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, which was encouraging because we didn’t get to see it all that often on his film.
Have watched lots of @seniorbowl 1-on-1’s over the years, not sure we’ve ever seen this scissor move release. 👀— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 9, 2023
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Tank Dell is just different.#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/jjVfMCI1gr
Dell finished the 2022 season with 109 receptions for 1,398 yards, which was second and first overall, respectively. He comes from an offense that can require a lot of adjustments made by the receiver based on the coverage or leverage, which will translate well into the Bills’ offense.
He’s the type of receiver you manufacture touches with in the Jet Sweep and Screen game, but also on shot calls from the slot. That’s an element the Bills haven’t really had. Most of their slot guys have done their work in the short area. Having a vertical threat who can split the Two Safety looks that the Bills see can create issues and lead to big plays. Dell’s flashes in the slot are encouraging and if that becomes a focus or area of concentration, his suddenness and ability to separate on some of those routes will become an easy button for the Bills’ offense by year two.
WR Nathaniel Dell, Houston— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) January 2, 2023
Leverage read O
Will cause issues vertically from slot
Works around underneath defenders
Explosive once the ball is in his hands
Flashes suddenness on traditional slot routes, can still improve
Easy button separation pic.twitter.com/av2HqYpAlG
Round 5, Pick 138: OT Carter Warren, Pittsburgh
Carter Warren was one of my favorite linemen to study. He has positional flexibility and possesses long arms at 35 3/8 inches, which is something Kromer looks for. But the reason he was one of my favorite hog mollies to study was because of his hand usage, which is another core skill Kromer looks for. Warren consistently wins first touch due to his arm length and plays with active hands. He uses his inside hand as a guide to the pads of a pass rusher, latches on with his outside hand, and he is able to latch on consistently. At times you will see him throw fake punches which can interrupt or uncover a pass rusher’s plan and help him to engage and end the rep. His length and lateral agility also help him to easily reach out and touch a spiker, Power step inside and pass him to his teammate while then picking up the looper. Technically, he is one of the most proficient offensive linemen in this draft with his hands and I’m sure it has gotten the attention of Kromer. Unfortunately, he only appeared in four games last season. His season was cut short due to an undisclosed injury. I am sure that the injury was evaluated by all teams and if it isn’t anything major, the Panthers’ captain could develop into a starter in the near future.
Carter Warren, OT— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) March 2, 2023
*Can play LT & RT
*LONG ARMS 35 IN
*Impressive hand usage
No wasted movement
Strikes hit their mark
Uses fake punch to uncover pass rushers move
STRONG inside hand - lands it then looks to secure… https://t.co/0jPilaCYqf pic.twitter.com/9FBllHFX8F
Round 6, Pick 204: S Brandon Hill, Pittsburgh
Defensive players from Pittsburgh simply work for Buffalo, and they work because they run a very similar scheme to the Bills. Hill is an outlier when it comes to his measurables standing 5’10,” 193 pounds with 30.75 arm length. But he’s a good athlete for his size. He ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash and registered a 1.5 10-yard split. He finished last season with 73 total tackles thanks to his aggressive playstyle and twitched-up mentality. From play to play he is looking to fly to the ball and open up a can of whoop-ass on someone. Adding an athletic safety that is a scheme fit and who can play special teams is a good late flyer given Damar Hamlin’s situation and the loss of a couple of safeties due to free agency.