Bills Combine Preview: Important things to listen and watch for this week

February 25, 2018
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Even though the Senior Bowl was already played last month, many around the NFL will tell you the annual college scouting combine is the unofficial start to every offseason.  

Every year, draft-eligible prospects descend upon Indianapolis to meet with and work out for league scouts, head coaches, and general managers.  As those teams continue to formulate their draft boards ahead of April’s draft, what they see and hear will either reinforce what they already felt about a player, or make them go back to review the tape to see what they missed.

But make no mistake.  With the combine taking place just two weeks before the start of free agency, NFL teams, including the Bills, have already mapped out the course they want to take heading into these critical next couple of months.  Now the object is to get as much of their task list done as possible.

Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott is expected to address the media later this week while in Indy.  There’s a possibility GM Brandon Beane could, as well.

Here are some of the more important things for Bills’ fans to watch and listen for throughout the week:
 

  • What’s the future of Tyrod Taylor?

While most have speculated for much of the season that the team would move on from the signal-caller this offseason, especially after McDermott benched the 28-year old in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman before the team’s week eleven game at the Los Angeles Chargers, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that the team won’t do that unless they know who his replacement will be.

Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the new league year. That means if he’s on the Bills’ roster at midnight on March 16, the team will pay him that amount and it will count against their salary cap. He’s also scheduled to earn a $10 million base salary in 2018. If he stays on the roster to begin next season, he will count a total of a $18 million on their salary cap (due to adding in his prorated signing bonus from last year).
 

  • College QB watch

Tying into the Taylor discussion and decision is the draft and the college QB crop.  The Bills own two first and two second round picks in this year’s draft and many have speculated they’ll be using some of that ammunition to move up as high as they can to grab one of the signal-callers.  So fans should pay attention to a lot of what surrounds this class that seemingly has something for everyone.

How will Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield handle the interview process?  Is he mature enough to be a leader of an NFL locker room, much less an offense?  How committed to football long-term is UCLA’s Josh Rosen?  Was Wyoming’s Josh Allen’s underwhelming season due to his own deficiencies or the cast around him?  Is Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph worthy of a first round pick?  How well and quickly can Louisville’s Lamar Jackson fit into an NFL offense?

 

  • Will Kyle Williams return?

It was at the combine last year that McDermott announced defensive tackle Kyle Williams would be returning for his twelfth season in a Bills’ uniform.  So there’s a possibility we may get an answer to the exact same question this year when he meets the media again.  However, this year’s situation is different.  Whereas last season Williams was under contract, even if he decides he wants to play this year, and the Bills want him back, he’s also a free agent currently without a contract.  So the two sides would also have to agree on the right money for the soon-to-be 35 year old.  That might not be easy.

Whether Williams returns for a thirteenth season or not, the Bills still need to add to their defensive line this offseason.  What kind of player are they looking for in the year’s prospects?  Both the defensive tackle and defensive end group will be interesting to monitor for Bills’ fans.

 

  • What linebackers fit McDermott’s system?

The Bills have several decisions to make at linebacker this offseason, starting with what to do with free-agent-to-be Preston Brown.  The 25-year old led the league in tackles last season, but he’s also not quite as athletic as McDermott traditionally likes to have at the middle linebacker position.  Outside backer Lorenzo Alexander is going to be 35 years old in May and has one year left on his contract.  They’ll most likely be looking for someone to at least challenge for his spot this offseason as well as be relied upon for the next few years.  So, what LBs at the combine fit the mold for what the head coach is looking for in both areas?

 

  • How big of a need is wide receiver?

Last year the Bills had some of the most instability in the league at wideout, and it started right away in training camp.  From trading Sammy Watkins, to signing Anquan Boldin, to Boldin retiring eleven days later, to trading for Jordan Matthews then having him in and out of the lineup due to injuries, to dealing for Kelvin Benjamin at the trade deadline, to rookie Zay Jones having to be their number one receiver, it was just chaos after chaos at the position.

Heading into this offseason, Matthews is a free agent and Benjamin (torn meniscus) and Jones (torn labrum) are both recovering from surgeries. Not the ideal start to the offseason at a position the team would really like to settle down in 2018.  On top of all of that, they allowed their WR’s coach, Phil McGeoghan, to leave to join the Los Angeles Chargers’ staff and hired veteran assistant coach Terry Robiskie to replace him.  They signed Rod Streater - who was having a fine training camp before he was hurt and reached an injury settlement with the club - to a reserve contract immediately after the regular season.  But there’s still plenty of work to be done.  This year’s wide receiver group has plenty of variety, and Bills’ fans should pay attention to them throughout the week.

 

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