In recent seasons, the Bills have shown a willingness to draft “project” players – guys with really no shot to contribute right away but who could develop into something special.
Back in 2008, the Bills took a stab in the seventh round on a big man from a Division I-AA/FCS school who had only played a few years of organized football. (In fact, he orginally came to Northwestern State on a basketball scholarship.) The Bills stashed the young man – OT Demetrius Bell – on their bench for a year as he learned the skills necessary to play tackle in the NFL.
After a few rocky seasons, Bell came into his own in 2011, playing very well before an injury cut his season short. Unfortunately, Buffalo developed him a bit too well, as he left as a free agent last month for big money. His 5-year, $34.5 contract with the Eagles shows that he was a pretty good find in the 7th round.
Last April, the Bills rolled the dice again, drafting a player so obscure I’d be surprised if he was even on the Draft boards of most of the league’s teams. When the name “Michael Jasper, DT, Bethel (Tenn.)” popped up as Buffalo’s final selection in the 2011 Draft, 99.9% of Bills fans went “Who?” and immediately scrambled for their computer to figure just who the heck this guy was.
It turned out Jasper a 400-pound mountain of a man who despite being very big and very raw football-wise, was and is an incredible athlete. After trying him at defensive tackle in the 2011 preseason (and releasing him thereafter), the Bills signed Jasper to the practice squad and quietly switched him to offensive line. He earned a promotion to the 53-man roster very late in the season, so he must have been making some progress. Jasper will attempt to make the team as a guard in 2012, and we’ll see if this project pays off.
Now it is 2012, and with 10 picks in the draft (including 2 7th-rounders), the Bills can afford to try their hands at finding another diamond in the rough. That project could very well be an offensive tackle from tiny Division II school Concordia University by the name of Tyler Hendrickson.
Our friends at NFL Mocks recently did a profile of Hendrickson I highly recommend you check out. Hendrickson is another mountain of a man – 6’8, 330 pounds. He’s also a very good athlete – outperforming guaranteed first round pick (and very possible Bills selection) Riley Reiff in the 40-yard dash and 3-cone drill. Before putting on the weight to play offensive line, Henrickson was a tight end and defensive end in high school, and was also captain of the ice hockey team. In fact, he was planning to try his hand in junior hockey with a goal to make the NHL before he decided to give football a shot. The dude is an athlete.
And I’m just blindly conjecting that the Bills might take a stab at Hendrickson either – in his interview with NFL Mocks he mentioned that the Bills and Dolphins have contacted him.
It makes sense the Bills would – they just seem to have a soft spot for huge men from tiny, obscure college programs.