The Buffalo Bills selected seven new players in the 2014 NFL Draft last week. Here is a little background on each player and a prediction on how well his collegiate play will transition to the professional level.
First round: Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (fourth pick overall)
Arguably the cream of the crop in this year’s receiving class, many have speculated that the Bills unnecessarily broke the bank by trading away their first- and fourth-round picks in next year’s draft to get Watkins. But as always, the numbers never lie. As a freshman in 2011, Watkins was named to the Associated Press’ All-American first team. Only Adrian Peterson, Herschel Walker and Marshall Faulk have accomplished this feat. Watkins stumbled a little in his college career when he was suspended for the first two games with the Tigers in 2012. He also had a sophomore slump finishing with 57 catches for 708 yards and only three touchdowns. However, Watkins went through a vigorous workout this past season, and his hard work paid off as he finished with 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. Watkins had 26 receptions of 30 yards or more. Hours after the Bills drafted Watkins, the team traded its No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson to San Francisco for a conditional 2015 draft pick.
During interviews, Watkins appeared extremely humble. Watkins will more than likely be the No. 1 receiver this season with Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Mike Williams rounding out the top of the depth chart, but the team expects him to help quarterback EJ Manuel make strides in his second year. Watch for Watkins to add some spice to the Buffalo offense due to his immediate acceleration after receiving the ball. However, if things don’t go as planned, the trade with the Cleveland Browns to get Watkins might cost general manager Doug Whaley his job. Still, at least we have a GM in Buffalo that is willing to make bold moves like this one.
Second round: Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (44th overall)
The Bills made sure that the offensive line was one of their top priorities in this year’s draft, and Kouandjio will help. The team isn’t scared of his past medical reports, however. Kouandjio had ACL and MCL surgery in his left knee in 2011 as a freshman, but had done fine afterward with the Crimson Tide. Kouandjio was a consensus first-team All-America choice this past season and was one of the major keys to Alabama’s success the past couple of years. According to reports, Kouandjio likely will be the starting left tackle over Erik Pears, who is still on the roster. If he can remain healthy, this 6-foot-7, 322-pound rookie should make a huge impact on a line that ranked 28th in the league last year in sacks allowed per pass play and give Manuel more protection.
Third round: Louisville linebacker Preston Brown (73rd overall)
Brown had an impressive career with the Cardinals as a three-year starter, recording 21.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and seven sacks over his four seasons. The Bills already have a strong linebacking core with Kiko Alonso and Manny Lawson, along with the newly acquired Brandon Spikes, so Brown is the perfect guy for the team’s defensive rotations.
Fourth round: Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell (109th overall)
Although Duke is not known for being a football school, Cockrell turned the nation upside down after having a dominant performance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M. He held A&M’s top receiver Mike Evans to just four catches for 72 yards and led the Blue Devils to a 10-4 record last season. Cockrell also was a first-team All-ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) selection the past two seasons, and his total of 54 deflected passes is the most in school history. The Bills secondary lost a star in the offseason as Jarius Byrd and the “Byrd’s Nest” flew to the Bayou to play for the New Orleans Saints. If Cockrell is able to have the same type of performances like he did in his battle against Evans, he could be another huge asset to an already loaded Bills defense.
Fifth round: Baylor guard Cyril Richardson (153rd overall)
If you win the Jim Parker Award for the best offensive lineman in the nation, then you know you’re ready for the NFL. This could be a huge steal for the Bills, and Richardson could help improve the team’s up-tempo offense. This senior was part of an offensive line that gave up only 22 sacks. Baylor’s offense led the nation in scoring (52.3 points per game) and in total offense (nearly 620 yards per game) this past season. Richardson accounted for 12 blocks down field last season. Richardson also added that he is excited to play under head coach Doug Marrone, who is a former offensive lineman. Watch for that connection to be a key to helping Richardson make the transition.
Seventh round: Florida Atlantic linebacker Randell Johnson (221st overall); Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (327th overall)
In 12 games last season, Johnson started in seven of them and finished his career with 30.5 tackles for loss of yards, which could make him a diamond in the rough on the roster, as the Bills have used various blitz packages over the past few seasons. Henderson, however, had a murky past with the Hurricanes after being suspended three times. Hopefully, he is able to turn things around and add more depth to an offensive line that has been plagued by injuries the past few seasons.
Joseph Kraus is a sophomore at North Tonawanda High School.