Scouting The Scouts, Part 3

Photo of Utah DL Leki Fotu from utahtutes.com.

The Bills’ Front Office has been busy this year. As of Halloween, one or more Bills scouts have attended games or practices at 36 colleges, nine of them more than once (Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Purdue, Utah). Five schools have received visits from Brandon Beane and/or Joe Schoen, (Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, South Carolina).

This is my third installment. If you didn’t read Part 1 and Part 2, start there. The numbers after each player were their ranks on the DraftTek Big Board at the time of the scout visit.

2 Scouts At Game 10/13/2019 Utah 52, Oregon State 7
[Highlights] [Box Score]
UTAH–DL Leki Fotu (#58), CB Jaylon Johnson (#99), RB Zack Moss (#158), CB Julian Blackmon (#178), ED Bradlee Anae (#295)
OREGON ST–TE Noah Togiai (#176), WR Isaiah Hodgins (#217), G Gus Lavaka (#272)
Mid-round cornerbacks, larger running backs, versatile speedy LBs, and productive edge rushers are getting attention by the front office. CB Jaylon Johnson had 7 tackles and an assist in this game; he is an intriguing DB option for the Bills, and a philosophical fit. When he’s not a ballhawk, he’s a blanket in coverage. During practice, Jaylon’s level of effort is #1. He pushes himself very much like Tre White does. His speed on this INT is just other-worldly. While I see him as a Day 2 prospect, 247Sports recently ranked him the best CB in college football and the No. 12 defensive player overall, and he went #19 in its mock draft. His backfield mate, Julian Blackmon, is a CB/S type that Beane seems to seek out. He had 3 tackles and an assist for the Bills’ scouts. Formerly NFL.com’s #2 CB, he’s changed to Safety and is already excelling. Blackmon is slightly bigger than Jaylon, and is athletic (state champion in basketball as point guard and long jump) and strong, showing Buffalo’s (former) toughness vs the run. Like his teammate, Blackmon is a notoriously hard worker, driven from within. That fits our ethos. RB Zack Moss is fun to watch. He has amazing contact balance, something the Bills sure liked in Singletary. His weight is 215, so while he’s not as hefty as the thunder back I think the Bills would be looking for, Moss and Frank Gore are the same weight. Like Gore, Moss runs a slower forty, but using Gore-like patience and vision, he’s been very productive (6.9 ypc against AP-ranked teams in 2018), and is a receiving threat as well.

Photo of Ohio State ED Chase Young from si.com.

GM and Asst GM at Game 10/18/2019 Ohio State 52,Northwestern 3
[Highlights] [Box Score]
OHIO STATE— ED Chase Young (#2), CB Jeffrey Okudah (#27), ILB-OLB Malik Harrison (#43), RB J.K. Dobbins (#65), WR K.J. Hill (#66), ED Jonathon Cooper (#95), S Jordan Fuller (#104), CB Damon Arnette (#142). NORTHWESTERN–LB Paddy Fisher (#46), LB Nathan Fox (#153), ED Joe Gaziano (#170).
This is the Bills’ second look at Ohio State, especially Young, Okudah, Harrison and Dobbins, but don’t write off Northwestern. LB Paddy Fisher, who one of our scouts called “the next Luke Kuechly” due to his 6-4, 241 frame, smarts, and speed, and EDGE Joe Gaziano, surely got looks, although Gaziano would be better-suited to a 3-4, and the Bills have shied away from the Big Ten in Beane drafts. In this game, one of my favorite RBs, J.K. Dobbins had 18 carries for 121 yards (6.7 ypc), along with an impressive 3 catches for 70 more (23.3 ypr). He continues to shine in Bills-scouted games. He’s Gore-sized. LB Malik Harrison led all tacklers in the game with 7 tackles and 2 assists. I see him at home at any LB position, not just ILB. In case you want to trade up to pick 1-3, EDGE Chase Young had 2 tackles and a sack. Young’s a generational talent, but draft capital is what Beane uses better than most GMs. Safety Jordan Fuller, who has earned respect and admiration for his grind, maturity and locker-room presence, decided to put off declaring for the NFL last year because of “unfinished business”. That patience may be rewarded in RD3. He’s one of 5 safeties I like a lot (Delpit, Reed, Gilman, Fuller, Eisworth). CB Jeffrey Okudah is an early draft darling, touted as the draft’s top DB talent since Jalen Ramsey. He is tops on my CB board, and I swear he constantly seems to be playing at a higher RPM than his opponent. Now, the Bills’ zone scheme really doesn’t need his elite cover skills, but he seems to be fearless against the run, too. I’m giving him added points for performing under a new coach and new scheme. Double points for maturity, humility, and hard work.

Photo of Iowa DL5T A.J. Espenesa from theathletic.com.

2 Scouts At Game 10/19/2019 Purdue 26, Iowa 20
[Highlights] [Box Score]
PURDUE–DL Lorenzo Neal (#58), TE Brycen Hopkins (#125), LB Markus Bailey (#185)
IOWA— DL5T A.J. Espenesa (#7), OT Tristan Wirfs (#19), OT Alaric Jackson (#21), QB Nate Stanley (#125).
This is the second visit at both schools. I like the defenders just as much as the OTs here. Watch iDL Lorenzo Neal‘s hustle here, and wonder if Beane and his front office would double-dip at iDL two years in a row (he’s done it before). In 2018, EDGE A.J. Espenesa led the Big Ten in sacks (10.5) and led the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss (16.5), quarterback hurries (8), and forced fumbles (4). He’s keeping it up this year, and may have to be a trade-up option in RD1. The many looks by the Bills at OT in this draft is relieving to me. By now, folks are seeing what DraftTek’s O-Line Analyst, Longball, said last year: that Cody Ford is a “Phone Booth Guard” and a “holding penalty waiting to happen at OT” (he said the same thing about Dion Dawkins and Cordy Glenn, by the way). Hawkeyes LT Alaric Jackson and RT Trystan Wirfs both got looks here. Wirfs, RT #74 in the video, has impressive strength, valued by Bobby Johnson’s power-blocking scheme. He hang-cleans 450 four times, so strength plus good hands and balance offers a tackle great control. He’s athletic with good bend, although he’s maybe a tad slow for some of the pin-and-pull that the Bills have been doing. Alaric Jackson, LT #77 in the video, uses hand / arm placement and low center of gravity to leverage his EDGE out, like fresh powder on a Buffalo morning. Jackson’s working on getting his hands up earlier than last year.

Photo of Pitt RB A.J. Davis from 247sports.com.

Asst GM at Game 10/19/2019 Pitt 27, Syracuse 20
[Highlights] [Box Score]
PITTSBURGH—RB A.J. Davis (#134, my rank), LB Kylan Johnson (#226), CB Dane Jackson (#256 my rank).
SYRACUSE— EDGE Alton Robinson (#103), S Evan Foster (#167), EDGE Kendall Coleman (#228), OLB Andrew Armstrong (#290 my rank).
Assistant GM Joe Schoen had mostly defensive players to watch. The game pitted bookend pass rushers for Syracuse — EDGE Alton Robinson (4 assists) and EDGE Kendall Coleman (2 tackles) — against Pitt RB A.J. Davis, a junior. Davis did well in this game, carrying the pigskin 16 times for 103 yards (6.43 ypc) and a TD, and the ‘Cuse pass rush was pretty well schemed out of being a factor. OLB Andrew Armstrong is my own add; He’s Syracuse’s WLB and has been a core special-teams player during his first three seasons … In 37 games, he has 74 tackles (34 solo), three fumble recoveries, one interception and two passes defended. An athletic SS (83 tkl) and TE (448 yards and four td) in HS along with 20ppg basketball star and baseball pitcher (ERA (0.81), Armstrong was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in HS, and now actively supports the CNY chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Photo of Arkansas State WR Omar Bayless from arkansasonline.com.

Scout at Game 10/17/2019 Arkansas State 20, LA – Lafayette 37
[Highlights] [Box Score]
ARKANSAS ST—WR Omar Bayless (#51 my rank)
LA-L—OT Robert Hunt (UNR), RBC Raymond Calais (UNR), OLB Jacques Boudreaux (UNR)
While the Bills were undoubtedly there to check out Bayless, I’d say RBC Raymond Calais, LA-L’s change-of-pace back, surely got noticed, leading rushers with 8 carries for 144 yds (18.0 ypc) and 2 TD, including a 80-yard TD run and a 38-yard scamper. While he’s not an experienced receiver like his teammate Mitchell and smaller, Calais is more of a Singletary. The scout also saw OLB Jaques Boudreaux in his third-straight game with 10 or more tackles, as he had 11 on the evening. Bills certainly look like they’re shopping for speedy, athletic, productive-tackling LBs. OT Robert Hunt, 6-5, 322, is a man-mountain people mover. WR Omar Bayless was far and away the top topic of talk, though. Last time I checked (after 5 games), Bayless led the country with 137.8 receiving yards per game, and had notched 2 blocked punts as a special teamer. In those 5 games, Bayless had 36 receptions, 689 yards and 7 TDs –you read that right. His 19.2 YPC is the highest of the 9 FBS WRs with catch rates of 68% or higher.

Photo of WR Antonio Gandy-Golden by Leah Seavers.

Scout at Game 10/26/2019 Rutgers 44, Liberty 34
[Highlights] [Box Score]
RUTGERS—TE Kyle Penniston (#232)
LIBERTY—Antonio Gandy-Golden (#184, my rank), OT Kamaal Seymour (UNR).
There seemed to be more NFL scouts than spectators at this game, and the scouts were unabashedly there to see 6-4, 214 WR Antonio Gandy-Golden. He’s as raw as a steak in the freezer aisle, but his ability to high-point a pass might come in handy for the team taking him. He’s a decent downfield blocker with long arms and vice-grip hands.

Photo of Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor from ESPN.com.

Scout at Game 10/26/2019 Ohio State 38, Wisconsin 7
[Highlights] [Box Score]
OHIO STATE— ED Chase Young (#2), CB Jeffrey Okudah (#27), ILB-OLB Malik Harrison (#43), RB J.K. Dobbins (#65), WR K.J. Hill (#66), ED Jonathon Cooper (#95), S Jordan Fuller (#104), CB Damon Arnette (#142), DT3T Davon Hamilton (UNR).
WISCONSIN—RB Jonathan Taylor (#19), OCOG Tyler Biadasz (#22), OLB Zack Baun (#132), OT Cole Van Lanen (#187).
This was the Bills scouts’ fourth encounter with Ohio State. In this game, Wisconsin’s 5-11, 219-lb. RB Jonathan Taylor had a rough time (20-52-2.6) against once-and-future beasts, EDGE Chase Young and ILB Malik Harrison of OSU. Young showed some flexibility and domination, and ILB Malik Harrison (4 tackles) directed the defense. OSU RB J.K. Dobbins crushed it yet again with a 20-163-(8.2 ypc)-2 TD stat line. CB Damon Arnette is rising as a potential Bills CB, with 5 tackles and 2 assists, while most of the attention is directed away from CB Jeff Okudah (2 tkl). OLB Zach Baun led the Badgers in an 8-tackle, 2-asst, 1-sack effort. Unsung for the Buckeyes was fifth-year senior DT3T Davon Hamilton, who’d been playing NT throughout training camp, but moved to 3T due to injuries. He showed his position flex with 3 tackles and a sack. As I sour on Jonathan Taylor becoming a Bill, my Badger bet is on OT Cole Van Lanen, Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan’s Big10 Breakout Player. He’s a fit for Buffalo because he’s a snowplow in run-blocking, leading all FBS Tackles in PFF run-block grade. He’s right-sized (6’5/311) for the power-block scheme, and becomes a value late Day 2 in what will be the most-overdrafted year for OTs in a long while. Van Lanen’s house-mate is first-rounder C Tyler Biadasz, and we’ll be happy to find them both a realtor in Orchard Park.

Editor’s babble: That’s a lot of visits to watch OSU play. Hmmm. Thanks to Dean Kindig, as always, for his contributions to our blog. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.