The Need: Bills were 10th in points per game in 2016, and now they’re 23rd. They possess the 30th-ranked passing offense in yardage, and are the 24th-best passing offense in opponent adjusted efficiency. They were 1st in rushing TDs a year ago, and now they’re 16th. Is this offensive swoon Dennison’s or Tyrod Taylor’s fault? Buffalo hasn’t had the sustained benefit of Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews, and lacks its starting LT, Cordy Glenn. The O-Line isn’t good enough, particularly on the right side, and his receivers aren’t healthy enough. You have a problem when Deonte Thompson is your top WR with 300 yards on the season. Tyrod threw for only 56 yards against the playoff-caliber Saints, and has broken the 200-yard mark in only 4 games this year. His yards per completion have dipped from the previous month. Every month. Glenn’s injury has necessitated moving a rookie, Dion Dawkins, to the blind side, leaving a millstone at RT. Tyrod also has liabilities at RG, as well, while leading the AFC in 10+ yard runs to the left side. Taylor has been bottom 5 in the NFL in time to throw all season, due in part to not seeing open receivers, avoiding tight windows, fear of the interception, trying to be the pocket passer that he’s not, slow speed of processing, a lack of healthy WRs with separation, and a porous O-Line which exacerbates all of the above. Defenses know that they can put 8 in the box, stop Shady, and “make Tyrod a quarterback” in order to win. Rookie Nathan Peterman makes the quick read and gets the ball out quickly, but his 0 TD 5 INT half-start showed that he’s not ready for live fire. In sum, give Tyrod a better line and healthy receivers who can separate, and you might have something. At worst, Taylor is a Top-15 quarterback currently in a bottom 5 passing offense that enhances the running game, won’t throw dumb INTs, and won’t lose you any games. That combo has put more than one QB deep into the playoffs. In order to find another rookie better than what we have, the Bills would have to offer more than a RD1#18 (900 pts) and RD1#21 (800 pts). Our trade chart shows what it would take to get up to RD1#5 (1,700) and take a Top 3 QB. We’d need to get ahead of the Browns, Giants, Niners, Jets, Fins, and/or Broncos. Is this the best use of the acquired draft capital? Beane & Co. will have to determine if it is.
The Archetype: “It’s a quarterback league. I mean, who are we kidding?” GM Brandon Beane said recently. “If you look at the playoff teams, the consistent guys that at least qualify for the playoffs or are close every year, most of them have a legit quarterback. If you want to use the word franchise, whatever word you want to use, so I understand that. Cam in Carolina was, is, a franchise quarterback. If you’re a GM, you have to find a franchise quarterback. It obviously helps keep you on a consistent playing field if you have one, so I get that…. I come in early to work out with some of the guys and [Tyrod’s] in here early….Obviously, the things he’s done great are his feet. He’s made plays not only with his feet but his arm, and I think he’s been tough. I see that. He seems like he’s made smart decisions….[but] the quarterbacks that are succeeding year after year after year consistently make plays from the pocket.” It’s clear Beane seeks a franchise, consistent pocket passer, playmaker, particularly late in games. Beane had Cam Newton in Carolina, and his unique combination of height, weight, and forty time isn’t in this draft in one player. Only three starting QBs, Tyrod included, are 6’1 or smaller.
Bill Belichick talks about Tyrod with great regard –very wordy for a laconic head coach: “Big challenge, huge challenge, really a good football player, good feel for the pocket, hard to tackle, hard to contain, good balance. He’s a good football player. Very competitive guy. Good arm, good vision….defend him on every play…Schematically it takes away a player that you would normally have to defend the running game…”
Unfortunately, Tyrod hasn’t been able to put the game on his shoulders when asked. He’s moved the chains on third/fourth down, though.
Says DraftTek Senior Analyst Austin Smith (@NfldraftAustin): “Right now I’d go with Darnold, Rosen, or Rudolph comfortably. Mayfield is a gamer, but with serious limitations and character concerns. I really like Lamar Jackson. He has improved his throwing so much from last year. Allen is boom or bust. [He] is so hard to even scout due to Wyoming being god-awful this year. After that, I can’t believe guys like Falk and Ferguson would be any better than what [the Bills] could potentially get by spending money in free agency. They’re not worth reaching for…I think a guy like Finley could get a look as an early consideration. I’ve watched him some, though, and his throwing motion is pretty crazy. Not fluid or compact. He would need as much coaching as a guy like Peterman.”
Quarterbacks That Fit The Bills’ Archetype:
Mason Rudolph Oklahoma St (RD1#4, 2 games scouted by Bills)
6-4, 235, 4.77
If Rick Dennison is still around at Draft Day, he will prefer Rudolph. Rudolph’s sideline-timing throws are the best in this draft class, and an ideal match for a West-Coast horizontal game. It doesn’t end there, as he’s among the best deep-ball throwers available in the 2018 Draft, which would be vital in the winds off Lake Erie. The OSU career leader in passing yards, touchdowns, and total offense can make laser-precise throws to the short-range and intermediate-range targets, just what Rico wants for this system to hum. His 63.3% completion rate against AP-ranked teams is in the highest echelon of this year’s draft crop. Worth noting: Rudolph got to throw to James Washington. You will notice Rudolph’s active feet when confronted with pressure, and how cool he remains in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield. Rudolph makes throws with anticipation, and appears to go through progressions on both halves of the field. He proceeds quickly through those progressions, and often completes the accurate throw to his second or third read. [split stats] [Best of Rudolph] Position Fit For Bills: A+
Ryan Finley North Carolina State (RD4#133, 2 games scouted by Bills)
6-3, 205, 4.80
Unlike most QBs in any draft, Ryan Finley, a transfer from Boise State, makes reads across the field and throws to all levels of the field, and does so with impressive anticipation. He rivals Rudolph in this regard. He’s quick through his reads and decisive, using a quick release that is needed in the West Coast Offense. Finley’s anticipation and aim gets the ball into tiny windows. Finley’s 75%+ accuracy in the 0-20 yard range is just what Dennison is looking for with the horizontal scheme he employs. Finley doesn’t have the deep-ball talent or throwing motion of Rudolph, but he has a knack for avoiding turnovers, vital in the WCO. In fact, Finley had the FBS’s longest INT-free streak through October, extending back into last year. He finally threw one Oct 28 vs Notre Dame, at which point he’d thrown 12 touchdowns. He sure looked good vs Louisville. and Florida State. [split stats] [highlights] Position Fit For Bills: A+
Lamar Jackson* Louisville (RD1#26, 1 game scouted by Bills)
6-2, 205, 4.47
Like Rosen (below), Lamar Jackson had to endure drops from his receivers and a turnstile O-Line. Running for his life, Jackson made highlight-reel plays, showing Tyrod-like running ability. In fact, Jackson ranks 10th among QB and RBs as of this writing in rushing yards and rush yards per carry . The Cover1 Scouting Notebook on Jackson chronicles Jackson’s ability to put an entire team on his back with his strong arm, accuracy even on the run, quick-flick-of-the-wrist passing, and timely plays to win games (I can’t say these about Tyrod). Critics will cite his poor lower body mechanics, but his throws on the run make one think again. The biggest difference between Tyrod and Lamar is processing speed in his reads. Lamar has that, and Tyrod does not. Jackson’s 52.8% completion percentage vs AP-ranked teams is lower than the others mentioned here (and lower than Tyrod’s college numbers), but supporting cast must be taken into account. While Jackson does need work, his throwing and running ability would be just pure entertainment to watch –just perhaps not from Day One– at New Era. Jackson’s not the prototypical size you want in a QB, and he has one more year of eligibility left. [split stats] [Lamar Jackson TDs] Position Fit For Bills: A-
Sam Darnold ** USC (RD1#2, 3 games scouted by Bills)
6-3, 225, 4.74
Redshirt Sophomore Darnold might be the anti-Tyrod; he tries to thread the needle into tight windows too often. Darnold is leading FBS in turnovers (16), but I can’t blame Darnold entirely for his swoon in midseason that likely cost him a Heisman nod. His INTs in the losses to Washington State and Notre Dame are good defensive plays and less than full-on effort by the WRs. Darnold’s superb anticipation is unlike Tyrod’s. Darnold’s a quick processor; he anticipates where his receivers will be well in advance. In the West Coast look, the QB and WR are creating separation through spot-on timing. Not happening between Tyrod and the WR du jour. In other ways, Darnold is exactly like Tyrod. He’s poised, demonstrates pocket awareness, knows when to pull it down and scramble, and uses his feet to maintain his base. Both have enough power to make all the NFL throws. Darnold has the greater accuracy, but sometimes lacks Tyrod’s “touch”, the ability to match velocity with varied situation that Tyrod has learned over time. Both need the right scheme and right offensive coordinator (ahem) to assure their success. McBeane will like Darnold’s reassurance and swagger; it’s not the “know it all” swagger of another QB on this list that hymes with “Chosen”. The QB coach will have to analyze Darnold’s throwing motion, as it’s wonky, slow, and not immediate like Mayfield’s. He wastes time in a “wind-up”, and then throws over the top. Darnold doesn’t have the body of work that McBeane prefers, and they’d need to spend more than their first two draft picks to move up for him. Darnold has two more years of eligibility remaining. [split stats] [Highlights] Position Fit For Bills: B+
Josh Rosen* UCLA (RD1#10, 2 games scouted by Bills)
6-3, 210, 4.97
Rosen is arguably the most draft-ready prospect. The Bills’ scouts will admire his polish and technique, from keeping his feet active in the pocket, to his effortless throwing motion, pretty spirals which would cut through Lake Erie winds, his ability to read the entire field, very impressive anticipation, and an already-advanced ball placement. His 66.7% completion rate is among the highest in his class. Rosen has the hallmark wins like his rally to beat the Aggies. So why isn’t Rosen a slam-dunk for the first QB off the board? Rosen’s Combine forty time will be among the slowest in my Top 20, he sometimes waits too long to throw (a movie the Bills have seen before), and worst of all, he doesn’t display the Bills’ “1/11 of the offense” philosophy. One scout confided, “Typical California kid. He thinks he’s smarter than his coach.” In all fairness, Rosen had the hot tub removed from his freshman dorm. Read the interview with Bleacher Report, where Rosen said, “football and school don’t go together“, which will remind fans of Cardale Jones. Rosen still has that dangerous “it is up to me” mindset, trying to be more than the 1/11th, and I predict that the dissonance between Rosen’s high-ceiling performance on the field and his off-the-field issues will be too grating for McBeane. Rosen has one more year of eligibility remaining. [split stats] [Rosen vs USC] Position Fit For Bills: C+
Nick Fitzgerald* Mississippi St (RD5#176, no game scouted by Bills)
6-5, 229, 4.68
Fitzgerald suffered a gruesome leg injury recently. If he opts to declare for the 2018 draft rather than return for his last season of eligibility, Fitzgerald is an intriguing fit for the Bills. He has nice height and body proportion for the QB position. As Dak Prescott’s successor, Nick has the downfield accuracy that McBeane looks for, as well as the grit, toughness, and work ethic that McDermott has often mentioned as necessary team traits. Fitzgerald has the arm that can sling the 60- or 70-yard deep ball to keep defenses honest. With three years of solid stats, he passes the Bills’ experience test. Fitzgerald broke several SEC records last year, including 100-yard rushing games by a QB (8, the most in 20 years), average yards per rush by a QB (7.1), rushing TDs (16), and beat Dak Prescott’s total offensive yards record (3,798). Fitzgerald has the speed to continue to offer Bills’ opponents the threat of a run, vital if the team is going to move on from Tyrod. Here, Fitzgerald is compared favorably to Jalen Hurts of Alabama. Fitzgerald and Dak Prescott are the only Mississippi State players with 25 career passing TD and 25 career rushing TD. He is becoming more vocal as a leader, he’ll have to prove himself in the accuracy department (45.5% and 49.4% against AP-ranked teams), and he does needs to work through his progressions more quickly. Fitzgerald has that one more year of eligibility remaining. [split stats] [highlights] Position Fit For Bills: B-
Bryan Schor James Madison (RD7#240, 1 unconfirmed game scouted by Bills)
6-2, 213, 4.74
Who is the most-likely-drafted quarterback you haven’t heard of? This guy. Schor led the FCS in completion percentage (73.1%), pass efficiency (186.2) and yards per pass attempt (10.11) and was named FCS National Performer of the Year. I can’t confirm it, but reportedly Whaley’s Bills had scouts at the 2016 FCS Championship, and Schor’s James Madison squad won it, finally wresting the championship trophy away from a 4-year run by North Dakota State (heard of Carson Wentz?). Schor checks the boxes for toughness, too: after suffering a broken collarbone he played 3 weeks later, going 30-for-37 passing and tying the JMU mark with 5 TD passes. Poise under pressure? Yep, he has that, too. Effort? Schor is the first there in the morning and last to leave at night. He says he learned it from his father, who got up at 4:30 every morning. Schor is exceptionally smart, and could handle any scheme an NFL-level OC would throw at him. On the field, Schor is able to feel where the heat is coming from and escape with his feet and body control. He’s also quite adept at reading progressions. Only one James Madison quarterback was ever drafted; his name was Mike Cawley (1996 Colts RD6, Falcons 1996, then CFL). He spent time with the Bills in 2000 and was released during final roster cuts in late August. [split stats] highlights] Position Fit For Bills: B-
Nic Shimonek Texas Tech (RD7#250, 1 unconfirmed game scouted by Bills)
6-2, 225, 4.90
The Bills should take a flier on Shimonek or Schor. Shimoneck was tied with Mason Rudolph in number of games with 3+ passing TDs in the 1st half of games. He transferred from Iowa’s pro-style system because he thought he’d do better in the spread system he’d excelled in high school. The walk-on essentially filled the vacuum left when Baker Mayfield left Texas Tech, and he red-shirted per NCAA rules. When Davis Webb (RD3#87, Giants) transferred in 2015 and Pat Mahomes (RD1#10, Chiefs) left for the NFL, Shimonek took the helm. He has three years’ worth of stats with a vector of improvement each year, even stepping in when Mahomes was injured in the Jayhawks game in 2016 and the Texas game this year. Shimonek can sling it in the wind, so, check. He’s extremely strong, efficient, confident, and protects the ball well, but he’s a gunslinger for better and for worse in Kliff Kingsbury’s iteration of Mike Leach’s Air Raid Offense. His offense is racking up insane numbers: 549.8 total yards per game. Some question some of Shimonek’s decisions under pressure, but his coach extols his toughness and work ethic: “He’s the hardest worker on our team and leads by example, but he’s got a fiery side to him as well,” Kingsbury said.” Shimonek would likely be a second QB taken with a late comp pick. He wouldn’t be the only QB the Bills add to their roster if they take one this late. Scouts will need to decide if Shimonek’s success in a run-and-shoot offense will translate for him as it still might for Mahomes and Webb, who continue to ride the pine. Shimonek’s a fifth-year senior. [split stats] [highlights] Position Fit For Bills: B-
“Wait…Where’s Baker Mayfield?” you might be asking. I love watching Mayfield play, and if he gets past Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott’s interview process and the Bills draft him, I’ll buy season tickets to see him play. Mayfield’s attraction is his blitz avoidance , the way he wins inside and outside the pocket , his deep-ball accuracy, his grit and toughness, his run of Heisman finishes (likely his 3rd this year), a 77:13 TD/INT ratio over his last 2 years, his uber-high completion rate (70.4% of his throws against AP-ranked teams, as of this writing), an insane 11.8 yards per attempt, and his head-to-head Bedlam battle with Mason Rudolph where Mayfield threw for 598 yards and five TD for the win. Could Mayfield be the next Russell Wilson? He has the Bills’ 4-years-of-stats requirement sewed up; he’ll have 47 game notches on his gun stock by the time the season ends. The negatives would have to be thoroughly vetted for him to become a Buffalo Bill. Put Mayfield’s nether-regions-grabbing incident aside for a moment. McBeane would have to consider his 6’0″ height (Tyrod’s 6’1″). His terrible weight transfer/footwork issues. the excess of 50/50 balls, his arrest. I’d make the position Fit for the Bills an A on the field, a C- off the field. Of course, we drafted a brash young kid to play in Buffalo a long time ago. That worked out pretty well.