The NFL playoffs have dwindled down to just two teams following the weekend results, which means it's now time for the annual week-long break. And for the first time in the offseason, the NFL Draft comes into focus.
The entire league will descend upon Mobile, Alabama for the week for the annual Senior Bowl -- an event that features draft-eligible college football players working out with the top decision makers from each team in attendance.
As for the Bills, it will be the first time -- with a brand new coaching staff -- that they'll be starting the pre-draft process together. Before we get into some names to know, first, three things you should keep in mind for the practice week:
1) Wednesday and Thursday are the key days for prospects
- While there is also a practice on Tuesday, a walk-through on Friday, and the actual Senior Bowl itself on Saturday, the days to learn the most about a player for draft purposes are on Wednesday and Thursday. Those are the two days of padded, full-contact practices in which the two NFL coaching staffs run drills to best emulate what scouts and GMs want to see from the prospects and how they could translate as professionals. Saturday, while it is the build-up of the week, doesn't offer as much to evaluators as those two days of practice in the middle of the week.
2) Bills draft needs
- While there will undoubtedly be draft needs added and subtracted based on how free agency goes over the next two months, but there is at least a basic knowledge as to what they could most intently be looking for at this point. That list, in no particular order, likely includes quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, linebacker, and safety. The Bills will also need to address depth at other positions, but the ones listed are near the top of the list.
3) Senior Bowl is a week to rise, not fall
- With an all-star game such as this one, it's important to remember one thing: the two days of practice are a small sample size, and should not completely derail an evaluation of a prospect. The one thing that it can do, though, is to help lift a player that has a standout week to get a longer look from other teams as the draft process continues. There are stories every single year of a player helping improve their draft stock based on having a great week of practice and meetings with teams. It's also a chance for the players to speak with teams informally, really, for the first time.
Alright, now that we've got the basics down, of those positions listed earlier, who are some names to keep tabs on as the week progresses? A quick look:
Davis Webb (Cal), Nathan Peterman (Pittsburgh), and C.J. Beathard (Iowa)
- With Deshaun Watson declining the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl this week, the game is missing a really marquee name at the position. However, a couple of projected mid-round players like Webb and Peterman have a chance to shine and put themselves in a positive light. For Webb, it's how his game translates to an NFL system under center, but there's no doubting his size (6-foot-5, 230-pounds). Beathard is also worthy of watching, considering his arm strength. This is a week to mine for gold, without any clear-as-day blue chip prospect at the Senior Bowl.
Amara Daboh (Michigan), Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington), Travin Dural (LSU), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky), Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), and Artavis Scott (Clemson)
- Of this group, I'm most excited to see Taylor, Kupp, and Reynolds. Taylor is a smaller player but is an explosive player against some weaker competition at Western Kentucky. Going against a fairly good cornerback group in Mobile, Taylor could bust out from the pack. Kupp is an intriguing name based on his size and production, and like Taylor has a clear opportunity to show he belongs with the 'big boys' after spending his college career at Division FCS Eastern Washington. Reynolds has great height and needs to stand up well against the physicality of some of these cornerbacks.
Zach Banner (USC), Adam Bisnowaty (Pittsburgh), Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), and Dion Dawkins (Temple)
- While it seems the majority of the group might have to kick inside to guard, I'll be interested to see if they use Lamp at offensive tackle. He is one of the most highly rated players in Mobile this week but is projected by many to be a guard. If given the opportunity, Lamp will go up against some solid pass rushers like Daeshon Hall, Keionta Davis, and Josh Carraway. You won't be able to miss Banner, who is listed on the Senior Bowl website as 6-foot-9 and 360-pounds. Banner is likely a right tackle in the NFL, which is a major need area for the Bills. If he can match up well against speed, it could help him immensely.
Ryan Anderson (Alabama), Alex Anzalone (Florida), Duke Riley (LSU), and Ben Boulware (Clemson)
- Anderson is the most highly rated linebacker in Mobile and at 6-foot-2 and 260-pounds likely best suits a 4-3 defense as a strongside linebacker -- a position that the Bills could stand to obtain a starter for. Boulware is a bit of a buzz name for fans, after his impassioned speech following the Clemson victory in the National Championship. However, he needs to prove that he has enough speed to be a versatile inside linebacker, and potentially, more than just a special teams/role player in the NFL.
Lorenzo Jerome (St. Francis - PA), Justin Evans (Texas A&M), Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut), and Rayshawn Jenkins (Miami - FL)
- The safety group is led by Jerome and Evans, but the former is the most intriguing name of the bunch. Jerome is the classic case of small school defensive back trying to make everyone remember his name at the Senior Bowl against players from power Division FBS programs. He's already highly regarded by some -- potentially even a Day Two pick -- and could certainly help his stock even more with a good week of work.