When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces that the Buffalo Bills are on the clock with the 9th overall pick this Thursday, one of the three aforementioned players will likely be available. The longshot of the group is obviously the ultra-talented Clemson product, Sammy Watkins. Watkins’ draft stock has been gaining steam over the last month, and there is a decent chance that he will be taken by the Rams with the second pick in the draft. Unless the Bills trade up, and will cost them a significant amount of draft picks to do so, a more realistic scenario is that both Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron will both be available for the Bills should they stay put.
Ultimately, my opinion is that the Bills should take whichever offensive playmaker is the highest on their board when it’s time for their selection. Additionally, I would be hesitant to trade up the board too far, even for Watkins. Several prevailing opinions have the Bills selecting an offensive lineman with their pick, citing the need of selecting a player who can contribute immediately towards the protection of quarterback E.J. Manuel. However, I also believe that adding another weapon for Manuel could help his development more than what could amount to a marginal improvement in pass protection. The offensive tackle position in this draft class is extremely deep, and there is a good chance that a top talent will still be available for the Bills in the second round, should they choose to take a wide receiver or a tight end with their first pick. (See: 2012 draft with Cordy Glenn)
Under the assumption that Watkins will not be available, I would be more than happy with the Bills selecting Evans at nine. Both players would bring size and play-making ability to their respective positions. While he doesn’t possess blazing speed (4.53 40 time), Evans’ 6’5”, 230 pound frame is built like a NFL number one receiver. He is physical at the point of the attack, and has strong hands that will help with jump balls and tough catches in traffic. He could also provide Manuel with a legitimate red zone threat, something that 2nd year players Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin can’t bring to the table. Projected starters Stevie Johnson and newly acquired Mike Williams figure to open the season as the Bills primary receivers, however, Johnson only has two years remaining on his contract after he labored through an injury filled 2013. Even though acquiring Mike Williams only costs the Bills a 6th round pick, he still needs to prove that his off field concerns are a non-issue going forward. Adding competition to a young receiving group in the form of Mike Evans makes a lot of sense to me.
A case can also be made for the Bills to select a difference making tight-end at nine. The consensus expert opinion is that North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is in a class of his own at the position in this year’s draft class. Scott Chandler proved to be a nice target for Manuel last year, but he does not have the high-ceiling potential that a prospect like Ebron possesses. At 6’4”, 250 pounds, Ebron is slightly shorter than Chandler, but makes up for his height with superior athleticism. After running a “disappointing” 4.60 40 time (still the second best combine time for tight ends), Ebron’s draft stock has still risen over the past month. While there are concerns around his hands (11.43% drop rate with the Tar Heels in 2013), there is simply no denying his athletic ability and pure raw talent gap between him and the rest of the tight end class. Would less than stellar hands keep the Bills from drafting Ebron with the 9th pick? Would Doug Whaley opt to pick a top-tier tight end over a prototypical NFL sized wide receiver if both Ebron and Evans were on the board at nine?
My preference of the two is Evans. I’d take my chances on what could be an extremely productive receiver for years to come, and a player that could help E.J. all over the field. Evans has the ability to play on the outside, fighting for 50/50 balls, running deep outs and digs, as well as making the back shoulder grabs. He also has the skillset to play out of the slot, utilizing his 6”5” frame and strong hands to battle for tough catches over the middle. Deploying various formations and alignments with a deep receiving corps should provide Manuel with the necessary weapons to aid in his development. The deciding factor for me would be the concerns around Ebron’s hands – especially for a position that would be expected to make most of their catches in traffic and in the red-zone.
Bills fans, would you be happy if one of these names was announced for your team on Thursday night? If so, which player would you prefer? If not, which player do you think makes the most sense for the Bills in the first round?