Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Raiders Slay Their Dragon

16 Sep

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders square off this Sunday in the second week of NFL action, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to the AFC Championship game of the 1976 season, played in Oakland on December 26th between those 2 franchises. They had become heated AFC rivals at this point, and this was to be the third consecutive year they would battle for the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. There were stark differences in the two teams’ histories. The Steelers were perennial losers in the 1960s, elevated by coach Chuck Noll to become solid playoff contenders in the 1970s, and had 2 straight Super Bowl titles in their resume from the previous 2 years. Oakland had the winningest record in all pro football for a decade, but had earned a dubious distinction of not being able to achieve the ultimate goal of winning it all.

The Raiders were dominant in the regular season, finishing 13-1 overall, while the Steelers wound up 10-4 and were hampered by injuries. In fact, with both of their starting running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier out with injuries, Pittsburgh was at a distinct disadvantage going into the AFC title game. So this was going to be the best chance yet for coach John Madden’s Silver and Black troops to finally climb to the mountain top by slaying the dragon that had kept them out of the big game the last 2 seasons. As expected, the defenses of both teams dominated the game. Oakland scored the only first quarter points on an Erroll Mann field goal, then increased their lead to 10-0 in the second quarter when Raider linebacker Willie Hall intercepted a Terry Bradshaw pass and returned it to the Steelers’ one yard line, with Clarence Davis bursting  into the end zone  for a touchdown.  The Steelers, knowing they needed to answer to not let the game get out of hand, did just that. Bradshaw rebounded from his miscue to engineer a 75 yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 3 yard touchdown run from Reggie Harrison, who was filling in for the injured starting backs.

Not to be outdone, Raider signal caller Ken Stabler guided his team on a long, time-consuming drive, and hit Warren Bankston from 4 yards out to give his club a 17-7 lead going into halftime. With the way the defenses were playing on this day, that lead could almost be considered insurmountable, and when Stabler found Pete Banaszak for a 5 yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, Oakland led 24-7 and was clearly in the driver’s seat. Both team’s defenses took over again after that and 24-7 turned out to be the final score. Oakland had cleared a huge hurdle in finally beating the Steelers, and they wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Madden’s forces went on to dominate Super Bowl XI, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 to capture their long-awaited first Lombardi Trophy.


Willie Hall tracks down Steeler WR John Stallworth

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Another Joe Cool Production

09 Sep

The 2021 NFL season begins this Thursday, which also means the return of our weekly Throwback Thursday feature on Rayonsports. When Tom Brady guided his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to a Super Bowl title in 2020 he cemented his place as a certified G.O.A.T., winning the coveted Lombardi trophy for the seventh time. For our opening TBT story of the new season, we’ll harken back to a divisional playoff matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, who meet on the opening’s week schedule on Sunday. This matchup, played on New Year’s Eve in 1983, featured a classic, but typical performance by another quarterback who is roundly thought of as the G.O.A.T., the one and only “Joe Cool”, 49er signal caller Joe Montana. Ironically, Brady grew up in the Bay Area and his football idol growing up was Montana.

The 49ers, in the 1983 season, had already won a Super Bowl in 1981, but regressed badly in the strike-shortened 1982 season, finishing with a dismal 3-6 record.  Coach Bill Walsh rallied the troops in ’83 and the team again qualified for the playoffs, meeting the Lions in this divisional round clash at Candlestick Park. The young, hungry Lions, who limped into the playoffs with a mediocre 9-7 mark, held their own with San Fran in the first half but could only muster 3 Eddie Murray field goals. The 49ers countered with a pair of short rushing touchdowns, from Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler, to hold a 14-9 edge at the half. The lead jumped to 17-9 on a third quarter field goal for the Niners, but the fireworks were just about to begin as the game entered the final stanza.

Billy Sims, the elusive Detroit running back who had been his team’s most potent offensive weapon all day, broke loose and finally found the end zone for his team. He rambled for touchdowns from 11 and 3 yards out, and suddenly, the favored club from the Bay found themselves trailing 23-17. So it appeared that the game was now squarely in the hands of Montana, who never saw a deficit he felt he couldn’t overcome. His statistics to this point in the game were very pedestrian, as it was the defense, which intercepted Detroit QB Gary Danielson 5 times, that had carried the 49ers. As he had done in the past and would continue to do throughout his career, Joe Cool calmly guided his team downfield and with a little under a minute and a half left, connected with Freddie Solomon for a 14 yard score that lifted the Niners to a 24-23 victory.

It was a noble effort in a losing cause for Sims, who rushed for 114 yards and the 2 TDs on 20 carries. San Francisco’s luck ran out the following week as they lost to Washington in the NFC Championship game,  but Montana would continue to collect Super Bowl titles in upcoming years.


Billy Sims sparkled in a losing cause for the Lions

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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ 2021 Season Preview

03 Sep

Previewing the 2021 Buffalo Bills’ season is a bit different than previous years. The club has made steady improvement each season in the Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott era, culminating in an appearance (although a disappointing one) in the AFC Championship game. Here’s a breakdown of the club heading into a season of very heightened expectations:

Front Office / Coaching


Looking back at last year’s preview, the Bills were successful in a couple of areas. They managed to keep their coaching staff complete again, despite interest in both of their coordinators for head coaching jobs elsewhere. That means another year of continuity for all 3 phases of the game. Also, my lone criticism of Coach McDermott, that he had compiled a winless 0-6 record against Bill Belichick’s Patriots, was put to rest as the Bills swept the long-time AFC East dragons, including a 38-9 Monday night thrashing late in the year at Foxborough. They also completed a sweep of the entire division on the way to a division-winning 13-3 record. GM Beane did the remarkable by managing to re-sign key veterans Matt Milano, Darryl Williams and Jon Feliciano among others, and made slight tweaks, and possible upgrades, to the receiving corps by replacing the departed John Brown with vet Emmanuel Sanders and by bringing in Mitch Trubisky as a backup quarterback. The team used the early to middle rounds of the draft to beef up both sides of the trenches, while adding some possible future contributors in the later rounds.




Mitch Trubisky adds a veteran backup to the QB room


Josh Allen enjoyed a breakout season in 2020, cementing his status as a franchise quarterback and earning himself a massive contract extension. Mitch Trubisky, run out of Chicago as a perceived “bust”, gets a chance to reset his career as Allen’s backup. His experience and matching skill set to Allen’s make him an upgrade over Matt Barkley. Buffalo also has a pair of QBs on their practice squad in Davis Webb, who the coaches claim is invaluable in helping Allen prepare for games, and Jake Fromm, last year’s “Covid emergency” signal caller who can be groomed as a possible future backup since Trubisky is here on a one year contract.


Running Backs


Zach Moss looks to contribute in the Bills’ back by committee approach


Buffalo is fully committed to a running back by committee approach in 2021 based on the players they have kept on this year’s roster. Devin Singletary is the best all-around of the bunch, with elusive running skills and good pass receiving abilities. Zach Moss, back from an injury suffered in last year’s playoffs, is more of a short yardage power back. Matt Breida replaces T.J. Yeldon as the third back. He was brought in to add speed to the edge to the committee. Taiwan Jones is listed as a back but is almost strictly a special teams ace. Versatile Reggie Gilliam, who was a fullback in college at Toledo, was listed as a tight end last year, but now is back at fullback and even got a look as a tailback in the preseason. Like Jones, he is a major special teams contributor also.




Gabriel Davis is an unsung playmaker for the offense


The acquisition of Stefon Diggs in the last offseason was a major coup for Beane. He became Allen’s top receiving target, leading all NFL pass catchers in receptions and yards. Cole Beasley had his best season ever as a reliable slot option for the Bills’ young QB. Emmanuel Sanders replaces John Brown as the third receiver, and although he lacks Brown’s speed, he makes up for it with veteran savvy and the ability to play any spot and run the entire route tree. The surprise of 2020 was the emergence of rookie Gabriel Davis, who worked his way not only onto the roster as a fourth round draft choice, but into a prominent role as a major playmaker in the offense. Isaiah McKenzie is back to not only add his gadget play ability to the receiving corps, but also with the added responsibility as the team’s kick and punt returner. Jake Kumerow, Aaron Rodgers’ buddy in Green Bay with the nickname “Touchdown Jesus”, made the squad also after a fine preseason showing. The Bills also stashed a couple of receivers on the practice squad – injury prone Isaiah Hodgins and Allen’s old college teammate Tanner Gentry. Surprisingly, only 2 tight ends are on the 53 man roster. They are Dawson Knox, who has had issues with drops but has enormous potential, and Tommy Sweeney, who battled Covid and major side effects from it last year, and had some injury problems in the preseason.


Offensive Line


G Jon Feliciano is back to add grit to the offensive line


Continuity is the buzzword for the Bills in 2021, and the offensive line is an example of that being the case. Returning are center Mitch Morse, tackles Dion Dawkins and the underrated Darryl Williams, and guard Jon Feliciano, the self-appointed “mean streak” of the Bills’ line. The only “new” starter is guard Cody Ford, who has undergone position changes and lost most of 2020 due to injury, and now gets the chance to lock down a starting spot permanently. Rookie third round draft pick Spencer Brown is the new swing tackle, with the rest of the O-line depth being provided by Ike Boettger, who started at guard most of last year, rookie Tommy Doyle, and versatile Ryan Bates, who can man any of the 5 positions along the line, making him a favorite of a coaching staff that values versatility.


Defensive Line

Space-eating DT Star Lotulelei is back after opting out in 2020


Improving the defensive line play, and most importantly the pass rush, was a top priority for the Bills in the offseason. At the final cutdown to 53, Buffalo kept an unprecedented 11 players on the D-line. The starting four, by seniority if nothing else, should have Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei, returning after opting out last season, at tackle and vets Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison at end. Calling anybody starters is really a moot point as defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will employ a large amount of shuffling along the line to keep players fresh. Star’s return should help shore up the run defense and free up Oliver to make more impact plays. Hughes and Addison are good at racking up quarterback “pressures” but the Bills are looking for more “finish” from their front four. Translation: More sacks. To try to accomplish this, the team added an infusion of youth with their top 2 draft picks, Greg Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham. Rousseau flashed some brilliance in the preseason and Basham showed the ability to play both inside and out. They will both be major contributors. Another newcomer is Efe Obada, a free agent signing who has loads of potential but must now show production. Second year man A.J. Epenesa will also get plenty of playing time and showed in the preseason that he’s ready to make plays. Depth on the inside will fall to Vernon Butler, a veteran who was forced to play out of his usual 1-technique spot last year because of Lotulelei’s absence, Harrison Phillips, coming off an injury, and Justin Zimmer, a classic overachiever who the coaches love.




Matt Milano, playmaking LB, is re-signed and ready to go


The Bills’ defense requires their linebackers to be quick and rangy and excel in pass coverage. Young Tremaine Edmunds, the quarterback of the defense, fits that description and despite being a two-time Pro Bowler, could be primed for a breakout year. Matt Milano was re-signed and he also has the traits the Bills look for. He’s a ball hawk when he stays healthy and a major force on the defense. The Bills play a nickel defense a majority of the time but when 3 ‘backers are on the field the third starter should be A.J. Klein. He joined the team as a free agent last season and struggled early on, then had a couple of great games when filling in for Milano to solidify his place on the club. The 3 reserves, Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith and Tyrel Dodson, are key special teams players but also provide quality LB depth.


Defensive Backs


Levi Wallace is an underappreciated piece of Buffalo’s secondary


Cornerback Tre’Davious White is an All Pro and the best player on the Bills’ defense, but the rest of the starting secondary is unheralded. Unheralded, but solid as a rock. Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are very good at not allowing big plays, even if they get almost no mention as top NFL players. The annual quest to replace Levi Wallace as the starting corner opposite White failed again this year, and the former undrafted free agent should be back in his familiar spot. The slot cornerback is an important position in the Bills’ defense, and that spot is manned by Taron Johnson, who had a few monster big plays for the team last year. The only knock on him is durability as he’s missed multiple games with injuries in the time he’s been here. In reserve, the Bills have Dane Jackson, who made the final roster after spending most of 2020 on the practice squad, and Swiss Army knife Siran Neal, who can play corner or safety. Backing up Poyer and Hyde, who are durable as it gets, are Jaquan Johnson and rookie Damar Hamlin. All of the secondary backups will be special teams contributors.


Special Teams

Isaiah McKenzie becomes the Bills’ top kick returner in 2021


Buffalo puts a high premium on their special teams, and their roster is loaded with players whose main contributions will be with the bomb squads. Two of the three specialists, long snapper Reid Ferguson and kicker Tyler Bass, return. Bass set a team record for points scored last season as the offense thrived. Two key spots – punter and kick returner, will have new players. Matt Haack , signed away from Miami, is the new punter, while Isaiah McKenzie takes over the return duties from the departed Andre Roberts. Darryl Johnson, who was traded to Carolina on cutdown day, was a top special teamer who will be missed, but the team has plenty of capable guys to fill the ST roles. They include Taiwan Jones, Siran Neal, Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith, Reggie Gilliam and rookies Boogie Basham and Damar Hamlin.


Here’s your annual song to get psyched up for the upcoming season, the Bills’ Shout song:


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Buffalo Bills’ 2021 Draft Picks

28 May

Following a successful 13-3 season that saw them reaching the AFC Championship game, the Buffalo Bills drafted lower than usual in 2021. General manager Brandon Beane and the Bills’ front office had to work harder to identify players who can help the team reach it’s ultimate goal. Here is a summary of the choices they made:



Round 1 – Gregory Rousseau (Edge, Miami, FL) – a long, lanky pass rusher with loads of potential, he opted out of the 2020 college season so he joins the team as somewhat of an unknown. Still, at pick 30, he could be a steal as he’s capable of top 10 production. At 6’5 with a long wingspan, he could be effective at disrupting passing lanes.



Round 2 – Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. (Edge, Wake Forest) – Buffalo doubled down on one of it’s biggest needs, pass rushers. Some scouts think he may be more ready to make an immediate impact than Rousseau. The Bills have 2 30+ starters on the edges now so both of their top picks project to be future starters.



Round 3 – Spencer Brown (OT, Northern Iowa) – after addressing the defensive front in the first 2 rounds, the Bills added beef to the offensive line with this choice. He is 6’8 and 311 pounds and very athletic for his size. He’s a top candidate for the swing tackle spot in 2021 and possibly a future starting right tackle.



Round 5 – Tommy Doyle (OT, Miami, OH) – After doubling down on pass rushers early, the Bills do the same on the O-line with this pick. Doyle played hockey growing up so he has athletic ability. His strong suit is pass blocking, so he’s a good fit for Buffalo’s offense.



Round 6A – Marquez Stevenson (WR, Houston) – a speedster, his skill set closely matches the departed John Brown. That, combined with kick return ability, gives him a great shot at cracking an already deep receiving corps.



Round 6B – Damar Hamlin (S, Pittsburgh) – safety depth is thin entering this year’s training camp, so Hamlin has a good chance of making the final roster, especially since he comes with a reputation of being a top special teams performer.



Round 6C – Rachad Wildgoose (CB, Wisconsin) – his name alone will make him a fan favorite, but his ability to play both on the boundary and in the slot will make him popular with the coaches, who value position versatility. Like all of the late round picks, his willingness to contribute on the bomb squads will go a long way in his chance to stick.



Round 7 – Jack Anderson (OG, Texas Tech) – the Bills appear to have tried to add some meanness and physicality to the their O-line in this draft, and Anderson’s Junk Yard Dog mentality will help him in his long shot bid to survive. Also, the fact that he can also slide over from guard into the center position will make sure the coaches give him a long look.


As for undrafted free agents, the Bills inked a few intriguing players, but with their deep roster it’ll be hard for these guys to make the final 53. The Bills lost Lee Smith and Tyler Kroft from last year’s roster so tight end Quinton Morris from Bowling Green has a legitimate shot. Buffalo didn’t add a veteran cornerback for depth purposes for the first time in years, so 2 undrafted prospects, Nick McCloud from Notre Dame and USC’s Olaijah Griffin (rapper Warren G’s son) could sneak onto at least the practice squad. San Diego State safety Tariq Thompson tested unimpressively at his pro day, but was an extremely productive ball hawk in college. Backup safety is definitely a spot where an undrafted rookie can make his mark.

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One Play For The Rest Of Your Lives

27 May

The following is a first-hand account of a football memory written by Rayonsports columnist Connor Pohlman:

On a brisk October day, I was packing up my books in my backpack, getting ready to leave my last class of the day. I was a junior then, and was anxiously waiting for my playoff football game later that night. Our team was undefeated that year, and since I was a junior, I had a small role on the team, only playing a limited amount of snaps, but still cherished every moment I was fortunate enough to experience. This game was important, as the winner would go on to play at the time, New Era Field, for a chance to win the Section VI Championship. If only I knew that the remaining hours of the day would be a rollercoaster of emotions. Driving to the school on that game day was a nerve-wracking experience. I felt a lot of pressure to perform well for my teammates and my school. The sight of the large W which represented West Seneca West that is posted on the wall near the sports entrance would always give me butterflies in my stomach. When I walked into the locker room, the smell is one that still sticks with me to this day… yes, the stink of it. Looking back to it, I get a sense of nostalgia thinking about it though. I put my equipment on, and looked around at the seniors, who were
contemplating the fact that this game could be their last. I wanted to do everything I could to assure they would live to fight another day. Once everyone was ready and warmups were done, we all waited in the locker room for our head coach, Mike Vastola, to give his pregame speech.
Something that the entire coaching staff preached was being a good man first, then a good player second. I as well as them, believe in and try to live this philosophy. While walking out of the locker room onto the path to the field, I could already hear the sounds of the game. Music was playing, fans were murmuring, and cheerleaders were practicing their routines. The sound of our cleats walking in unison on the stone path sounded like soldiers marching in formation. This experience was virtually new to me at the time, as I had only been a part of one other playoff game my first year on varsity football. Before I knew it, I was out on the field for the opening kickoff. Once the ball met the air, I along with my teammates chased after it down the field. The play always seems longer than it actually is. Adrenaline running through my body, I jogged back
to the sideline once kickoff was over with, now watching my team perform. We got off to an early start going up 7-0. In a blink of an eye it was then 14-0. They went back on offense, but our defense shut them down fairly quickly. I would play a few snaps every now and then, and when the adrenaline rush wore off, I started to tire. At that moment, nothing could’ve tasted better than the cold water stored in the Gatorade squirt bottles. When we got the ball back, we methodically drove down the field and punched in another touchdown. 21-0. A few more drives of no scores followed our fast start and at halftime, the score was 21-0 us. Some of us were riding high, but the team leaders drove home the message that we haven’t done anything yet, and that the job
wasn’t finished. Taking a knee in our end zone listening to our captains and coaches talk to us was always a learning experience for me, but especially on this night. It was important for me to keep my emotions in check and not get too excited, as the game certainly wasn’t over yet. The feeling of my gloves going back onto my hands never got old. The second half of the game was underway, and we were in for a rude awakening. Starpoint had the ball to start the half, so we went out on defense. Their offense found something that worked, so they kept going to it. They eventually found themselves in the end zone for the first time all game. 21-7 now. It was at this moment where I realized a victory wasn’t as assured as I thought it was going to be. The mood on our sideline shifted, and I noticed some of our players and coaches had a nervous aura about them. I wasn’t sure how to feel exactly. Throughout the year, almost every game seemed to come easily. But now was when we were going to be truly tested with adversity. Just like when we were scoring, it seemed like mere moments until they scored again and it was 21-14. Blink again and it was now 21-21. Everyone started to lose hope when they got the ball back and managed to quickly score again. In the span of mere moments, they were now leading 28-21.

What I remember most about standing on the sideline was just taking in everyone’s attitude and demeanor about the situation. Many were disheartened, but our resilient guys never lost hope. “Just take it one play at a time boys. Just focus on the now, don’t worry about the score” Coach Vastola told my group of receivers I was standing with. When we got the ball back, we stayed hopeful and found the end zone again finally, evening the score at 28. From then on, the field became a western shootout, constantly going back and forth. 35-28, 35-35, 41-35, 42-41. The score would’ve been tied at 42 at this point, but Starpoint had a failed 2-point conversion. There was less than 3 minutes now in the game. The moment when Starpoint scored once more, and
had a successful 2-point conversion is when I could hear my heartbeats every thump. 49-42 with 2:11 to go. I didn’t take any moment for granted, appreciating every second and every little detail of my surroundings. My teammates are like brothers to me and I didn’t want it to end so soon. As our offense took the field for the final drive I just kept remembering, “come on guys, one play for the rest of your lives.” All we needed was one big play to secure a victory. Our offense drove down the field play by play, clock running still. I remember the time exactly. 47 seconds. That’s how much time was left when we scored a touchdown. The score was 49-48. Instead of going for the tie, our coach made the bold decision of going for 2 and the lead. When the ball was snapped, it seemed as if everyone at the field took one collective breath and held it. Everything happening on the field was in slow motion for me. I watched as our running back made one cut, and muscle his way into the end zone to take the lead. That moment of relief as we watched the clock run out with our team having one more point could not be understated. I ran into multiple teammates hugging them and jumping up and down.
I believe that football represents what America should look like. People from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, coming together to achieve one goal. That’s what I loved about playing football, and what I still love about the game today. From this game, I learned so much about appreciating every little moment of life, and everything I’m blessed to have in it. Never take anything for granted, enjoy the moment, and don’t worry about the future. This game taught me more about life and about myself than I could have ever imagined, and that is why I believe this moment made me grow not only as a football player, but as a man.

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NFL – Bills’ 2021 Mock Draft Predictions

20 Apr

The long wait is over! The seven round mock drafts for the Buffalo Bills for 2021, compiled by the expert staff at, are ready to be revealed. Here are the predicted choices for Buffalo made by Connor Pohlman, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz and Ray Prelewicz. I’ve added some comments to show why the picks would be justified:


Round 1, Pick #30

Connor Pohlman – Caleb Farley (CB, Virginia Tech) – a young corner to man the spot opposite Tre White is a popular pick among draft experts. Farley would be a top 10 prospect without injury concerns and there’s a chance he falls to this pick.


Josh Pohlman –  Caleb Farley (CB, Virginia Tech) – see above.


Scott Prelewicz – Joe Tryon (Edge, Washington) – scouting reports list his best position as an outside 3-4 linebacker but he has the versatility to play in any system. He opted out of the 2020 season so there’s hesitation to pick him by some clubs high in the first round.


Ray Prelewicz – Landon Dickerson (OL, Alabama) – a surprise pick with a long term goal of Dickerson eventually replacing Mitch Morse at center. He has played all 5 positions on the offensive line and the Bills value versatility highly.


Round 2, Pick #61

Connor Pohlman – Quinn Meinerz (G, Wisconsin-Whitewater) – a small college diamond in the rough, he opened eyes at the Senior Bowl and catapulted up draft boards. Not very athletic but makes up for it with exceptional strength and good technique.


Josh Pohlman – Pat Freiermuth (TE, Penn State) – the Bills are a little light at the tight end position on the current roster so a good prospect like Freiermuth makes sense here. He’s an excellent receiver with good hands and an adequate blocker in the run game.


Scott Prelewicz – Pat Freiermuth (TE, Penn State) – see above.


Ray Prelewicz – Asante Samuel Jr. (CB, Florida State) – there will be a number of good CB prospects available at this pick, but most are slot corners. Samuel has the ability to play on the boundary and with good NFL bloodlines, should be able to handle starting on day one.


Round 3, Pick #93

Connor Pohlman – Hamsah Nasirildeen (S, Florida State) – the Bills have a pair of solid starting safeties, but with both over 30 they need to plan for the future. One description of Nasirildeen has to appeal to the Bills considering the teams they face in the AFC – “tight end neutralizer”.


Josh Pohlman – Deonte Brown (G, Alabama) – at 6’3 and 364 lbs. he is an imposing road grader who could help the Bills improve their run game. Brown is a good pass protector and excels at neutralizing inside pressure.


Scott Prelewicz – Trey Smith (G, Tennessee) – very high character player who has encountered some medical issues with blood clots that may drop him down some teams’ draft boards. His best asset is power run blocking, which the Bills could use an infusion of.


Ray Prelewicz – Alim McNeil (DT, North Carolina State) – the Bills need to toughen up the inside of their defensive line, with the uncertainty of Star Lotulelei returning in shape from opting out in 2020. McNeil is an excellent DT1 prospect. He’s a top notch run stuffer with potential to develop as an inside pass rusher.


Round 5A, Pick #161

Connor Pohlman – Demetric Felton (WR, UCLA) – small, quick slot receiver who also lined up as a running back for the Bruins. His best NFL fit is as a gadget player in an offense that uses multiple receiver sets, which makes him ideal for Brian Daboll’s offense.


Josh Pohlman – Jonathon Cooper (Edge, Ohio State) – he mostly projects as a designated passing down edge rusher, but the Bills rotate their defensive linemen a lot so he could be a fit. He’s not the prospect that other Buckeye players like Chase Young or the Bosa brothers were, but he’s good enough to play in the NFL.


Scott Prelewicz – Anthony Schwartz (WR, Auburn) – a small but fast deep threat, he is a track guy but also a real football player. The loss of John Brown to the Bills could open up a spot for a home run hitter like Schwartz.


Ray Prelewicz – Elerson Smith (Edge, Northern Iowa) – definitely a developmental project who would need to get stronger to survive in the NFL but has very high potential. He is similar to Darryl Johnson, another later round gem uncovered by the Bills’ scouts.


Round 5B, Pick #174

Connor Pohlman – Tommy Kraemer (G, Notre Dame) – he’s a four-year starter for a major college program so his experience alone will help him in his quest to play in the NFL. He could be valuable O-line depth for the Bills but doesn’t project to being a starter.


Josh Pohlman – Josh Imatorbhebhe (WR, Illinois) – a big, athletic wide receiver whose lack of real production will drop him into the later rounds of the draft. He has enormous potential, however, and the Bills could afford to develop him on the practice squad as a future contributor.


Scott Prelewicz – Malcolm Koonce (Edge, Buffalo) – a local prospect that the Bills should have a good scouting report on. He’s a long, rangy pass rusher whose weakness is getting overpowered against the run. He’ll need development time but could become a solid pro.


Ray Prelewicz –  Malcolm Koonce (Edge, Buffalo) – see above.


Round 6, Pick #213

Connor Pohlman – Chris Rumph II (Edge, Duke) – he’s small but as a coach’s son understands the game well and plays with good technique. He may have to carve out a role as a versatile specialty defensive player with a role on special teams.


Josh Pohlman –  Malcolm Koonce (Edge, Buffalo) – see round 5B picks above.


Scott Prelewicz – Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (CB, Wisconsin) – here’s a guy who you hope makes it in the NFL for his name alone. A shoulder injury left him without much game tape for scouts to analyze but he can play either on the boundary or the slot.


Ray Prelewicz – Drake Jackson (C-G, Kentucky) – at only 290 lbs. his only spot in the NFL may be at center, unless he adds weight and strength. His best trait is experience, as he was a four-year starter in college.


Round 7, Pick #236

Connor Pohlman –  Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (CB, Wisconsin) – see round 6 pick above.


Josh Pohlman – Jaret Patterson (RB, Buffalo) – after the stellar season he had for the Bulls, including an eight touchdown performance, this would be an excellent final round pick for Brandon Beane. There is way too much high-end potential to pass up.


Scott Prelewicz – Damar Hamlin (S, Pitt) – he is a willing tackler and has adequate ball skills but can be susceptible to double moves in the pass game. A long shot prospect, as most seventh rounders are, who would have to make an impact on special teams.


Ray Prelewicz –  Jaelon Darden (WR, North Texas) – wide receiver is a very deep position group again this year, and some good prospects will fall into the late rounds. Darden is a small but fast option who would be good as a gadget player for Brian Daboll and also a possibility to boost the kick return production.

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2021 NFL First Round Mock Draft

19 Apr

The team of expert analysts at has once again put their collective heads together to produce a first round mock draft for the NFL’s upcoming selection meeting of college prospects. Connor Pohlman, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz  and Ray Prelewicz took turns making the clubs’ choices for the 32 picks. Here are the final results:


  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (Connor Pohlman) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
  2. New York Jets (Josh Pohlman) – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
  3. San Francisco 49ers (Scott Prelewicz) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
  4. Atlanta Falcons (Ray Prelewicz) – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (CP) – Penei Sewell, T, Oregon
  6. Miami Dolphins (JP) – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
  7. Detroit Lions (SP) – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
  8. Carolina Panthers (RP) – Rashawn Slater, T, Northwestern
  9. Denver Broncos (CP) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
  10. Dallas Cowboys (JP) – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
  11. New York Giants (SP) – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
  12. Philadelphia Eagles (RP) – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
  13. Los Angeles Chargers (CP) – Christian Darrisaw, T, Virginia Tech
  14. Minnesota Vikings (JP) – Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
  15. New England Patriots (SP) – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  16. Arizona Cardinals (RP) – Teven Jenkins, T, Oklahoma State
  17. Las Vegas Raiders (CP) – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
  18. Miami Dolphins (JP) – Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Florida
  19. Washington Football Team (SP) – Alex Leatherwood, T, Alabama
  20. Chicago Bears (RP) – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
  21. Indianapolis Colts (CP) – Sam Cosmi, T, Texas
  22. Tennessee Titans (JP) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
  23. New York Jets (SP) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
  24. Pittsburgh Steelers (RP) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars (CP) – Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC
  26. Cleveland Browns (JP) – Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi
  27. Baltimore Ravens (SP) – Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia
  28. New Orleans Saints (RP) – Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan
  29. Green Bay Packers (CP) – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
  30. Buffalo Bills (JP) – Jayson Oweh, Edge, Penn State
  31. Kansas City Chiefs (SP) – Zach Collins, LB, Tulsa
  32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (RP) – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern


Alabama coach Nick Saban, once again, produced a high number of NFL-ready players this season. Our mock draft totaled 7 first rounders altogether. Three clubs who need to improve have multiple first round choices to try to accomplish that – Miami, Jacksonville and the New York Jets. At the other end of the spectrum are the Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, all of whom have no opening round picks. The Seahawks, in fact, have only 3 picks in the entire draft.

COMING SOON: Our draft experts submit their seven round mock drafts for the local club, the reigning AFC East champion Buffalo Bills.

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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

28 Jan

The final entry of our four part Bills’ season review delves into what the team needs to accomplish in the off-season as far as adding talent to improve their standing. Having made it to the AFC Championship game in 2020, the challenges GM Brandon Beane faces are much different than in previous off-seasons. Nonetheless, there are still areas where the Bills need to get better next season. Here are our projections on the positions Beane has to address:


Running Back


As prolific as Buffalo’s passing attack was in 2020 behind the arm of Josh Allen, the run game was very much abysmal. Allen, on scrambles and designed runs, was the best run game option. There is some debate as to whether the team needs a more dynamic running back to improve the rushing attack, or a stronger offensive line. Free agency is not a good option if Beane decides on adding a playmaking back. Most of the options are either too overpriced, plodding runners or are aging. Some draft experts see the Bills possibly taking a back with pick # 30 in the first round, and if players like Clemson’s Travis Etienne or Najee Harris of Alabama are still on the board, Beane might be tempted to go that route. Both are versatile and explosive.


Defensive Tackle


Star Lotulelei’s decision to opt out of the season left a hole in the Bills’ defensive rotation that hurt their ability to contain the run. Buffalo might not want to wait to see what kind of condition Star, a big man, is in after not playing all year, and one name on the free agent market that stands out as a perfect fit for his spot is Dalvin Tomlinson of the Giants. He is a solid space-eater type of lineman with a high motor who would make the players around him, including Ed Oliver and the linebackers, so much more effective. It will take some salary cap finagling to be able to sign him, but I would like to see him be a top priority. In the draft, a couple of those space eating type tackles could potentially fall to the second round. They are Alabama’s Christian Barmore and Marvin Wilson of Florida State. In the middle rounds, an intriguing name is Tedarell Slaton from Florida, who is a mountain at 6’5 and 358 pounds.


Edge Rusher


Premier edge rushers in free agency are rare and usually expensive, and require an investment the Bills can’t afford at this point. There are some names on the list that stand out, but they are either 30+ years in age or will command dollars Buffalo doesn’t have, even if they cut ties with Trent Murphy and save some cap cash. That leaves the draft again. Edge rushers who project to be available when the Bills pick are Patrick Jones II of Pitt and Carlos Basham out of Wake Forest. Mid-round possibilities include Tulsa’s Zaven Collins and Shaka Toney from Penn State. Buffalo might also consider a late round flyer on a local product, University of Buffalo’s Malcolm Koonce.




In today’s NFL you can never have enough cover corners, and although late round 2020 pick Dane Jackson could be a candidate for a breakout season, Buffalo could go CB as high as their first round pick if he’s the best player available. Aaron Robinson of UCF has been projected to the Bills at that pick by Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network. Asante Samuel Jr. could fall to them at pick 30 also. He has NFL bloodlines as his father played in the league. If the Bills are looking for length at the corner, a later round gem might be found in Washington’s Keith Taylor or Robert Rochell from Central Arkansas. The free agent CB list is mostly older players over 30 or Buffalo retreads like Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey-Coleman.


Offensive Line


Among free agent tackles on the market, the Bills’ best option looks like re-signing Darryl Williams to man the right tackle spot for another year. Also, their best and least expensive FA choice at guard appears to be their own Jon Feliciano. That leaves the college ranks again. Using the best player available formula, if Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood or Tennessee guard Trey Smith fall to 30, either could be picked. There are plentiful choices from rounds 2-6 available among O-line prospects. The team would do well to look at players like Ben Cleveland from Georgia, Notre Dame’s Aaron Banks, Walker Little from Stanford, Dillon Radunz, a North Dakota State stud, and Spencer Brown of Northern Iowa.


Wide Receiver


This is definitely not a position of need for the Bills. However, should the team look to save cap space and add speed by not bringing back return specialist Andre Roberts, they might look for a cheaper and faster option like D’Wayne Eskridge of Western Michigan, who comes highly recommended by Rayonsports contributor and draft guru Josh Pohlman. Shi Smith from South Carolina and Dazz Newsome out of North Carolina are other later round possibilities.

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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

27 Jan

Part 3 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review deals with the defense and special teams. It was a tale of 2 seasons for the defense. They struggled to find their footing early in the year as they worked in some new players on the front line, then became a unit that forced turnovers in a late season run in which they wrapped up the team’s first AFC East title in 25 years. They then reverted to that early season form in a brutal championship game loss to the Chiefs. Here’s a position-by-position assessment of the defense and special teams for 2020:


Defensive Line


The Bills walked away from 2 of their mainstays of the 2019 D-line when they lost Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips to free agency. In their places, they brought in Vernon Butler, Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson, and got mixed results. Addison was a force in the pass rush while Butler and Jefferson were adequate at times and invisible other times. Ed Oliver’s play seemed to regress some from the previous year. He was beginning to emerge as a force late in the 2019 season but never showed the ability to be a consistent disruptive player this past season. The loss of Star Lotulelei, who played next to him but opted out of the season, probably was a factor. Justin Zimmer, a street free agent who fought his way into the D-line rotation, made more impact plays throughout the year than Oliver. Harrison Phillips came back from a serious injury and slowly worked his way back as the season progressed, and should improve even more next year with a full year of healing behind him. Besides Addison, the defensive end spots were manned by old reliable Jerry Hughes, veteran Trent Murphy and youngsters Darryl Johnson and A.J. Epenesa. Hughes was the team’s best pass rusher even if his sack numbers don’t show it. Murphy spent a lot of 2020 as a healthy inactive on game day and the likelihood of him returning next season is slim to none. Johnson is still an interesting prospect. He is a key contributor on special teams and a regular in the D-line rotation, and should only get better with experience. The same can be said for Epenesa. He looked like a green rookie early in the year but worked his way into regular duty also with solid if not spectacular play. The practice squad has 3 players who all were recalled for games during the season and will be back competing for jobs again in 2021 – Mike Love, Brandin Bryant and Bryan Cox Jr.




The amount of time NFL teams play standard 4-3 defenses that keep all 3 LBs on the field is almost as extinct as the fullback position is. In today’s pass-happy game even the linebackers who play regularly have to have special skills. The days of snarling physical monsters like Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke have long passed into history. Buffalo’s main pair of linebackers possess those necessary modern day skills. Tremaine Edmunds is an interesting case. He is still very young and has been a twice-named Pro Bowler, yet his game still has a ways to go to reach elite status. He has great physical tools – tall, rangy, quick and intelligent. Yet his playmaking ability still needs improvement. The other backer, Matt Milano, is similar. He can tackle with the best of them and is great in coverage, and until the title game fiasco the team was unbeaten in 2020 in games he played in. He’s also due to be a free agent and hopefully his skill set and still untapped potential make him a top priority to get re-signed. A.J. Klein was an enigma in 2020. He had a target on his back from fans early in the year as a reason the defense was struggling, then shined when Milano was hurt and he replaced him, almost playing at a Pro Bowl level himself. When Milano returned, Klein pretty much went back into obscurity. The rest of the linebacking corps consists of mainly special teams players – Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith and Tyrel Dodson. Lurking on the practice squad is an interesting name to watch for next season – Darron Lee. He is a former high draft pick with the speed and skills that translate to the modern game if the Bills’ coaches can harness them.


Defensive Backs


Overall in 2020 the Bills’ pass defense was a strength, but appeared lost and completely overmatched against the Chiefs in the title game. It’s uncertain if that poor showing was due to a lack of speed and ability from the players, or a massive failure of the scheme used that day. (Who leaves the best tight end in the NFL, Travis Kelce, virtually uncovered the entire game?) In any case, Buffalo has a good mix of youth and experience in their secondary. Starting safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are one of the top duos in the league, and have a capable mix of youth and experience behind them in Dean Marlowe, Siran Neal and Jaquon Johnson. Neal especially is a valuable, versatile piece of the roster as he can play corner or safety and is a top gunner on coverage teams. Josh Thomas is on the practice squad and has been signed to a futures contract for 2021, so the team sees some value in him also. At cornerback, the Bills have an All Pro in Tre’Davious White, and have him locked up contractually going forward. The annual attempt to unseat Levi Wallace at the other CB spot failed again in 2020, and at this point it’s time to admit that he has been an overall good player for the club. That doesn’t mean the Bills won’t welcome a better option again next season, and one player who will get the opportunity to take that job is 2020 seventh round draft pick Dane Jackson. He was a PS fixture this season but made some impact plays when his chance came as a recall on game days a couple of times this season. Slot cornerback has evolved into a starting position nowadays in the NFL, and the Bills’ player at that spot, Taron Johnson, cemented himself as a prime time star in 2020 with a pair of pick-six touchdowns. The Bills got mixed results from the free agent signing of veteran Josh Norman. He was hampered by injuries and was never completely able to take over Wallace’s job. He would appear to be an unlikely candidate to return next season, especially with Buffalo looking to add speed to the secondary to compete with Kansas City’s track star receivers. Two other players to consider for competition next year – Cam Lewis, a University of Buffalo product who spent the season on injured reserve, and practice squad member Duke Thomas.


Special Teams


The “bomb squads” made some improvements in 2020. There weren’t many game-changing plays but the units went from hurting to helping the Bills’ effort to win games. The team’s decision to jettison Stephen “Hausch Money” Hauschka in favor of rookie Tyler Bass as their placekicker was surprising, but turned out to be exactly right. Bass set a club record for points and is set as a mainstay for the future. He provided 2 of the few bright spots in the team’s loss in Kansas City with a pair of 50+ yard field goals. Punter Corey Bojorquez joined in the mediocrity of the team’s title game effort, but had a solid season overall. He also teamed with Bass and long snapper Reid Ferguson to form a nearly flawless extra point and field goal tandem. Andre Roberts, who is a free agent, delivered a Pro Bowl effort as the team’s kick returner, regularly providing the offense with good field position to start drives. His backup, Isiah McKenzie, returned a punt for a touchdown in the regular season finale rout of Miami. The coverage teams were pretty solid also all season. Undrafted free agent Reggie Gilliam was a part of those teams. He blocked 6 kicks in college at Toledo, including 4 in one season alone. If the Bills want to follow coach Sean McDermott’s edict to “improve in all areas in 2021”, then special teams coordinator Heath Farwell would be wise to try to take advantage of Gilliam’s unique skill.

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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

26 Jan

Part 2 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review will focus on the offensive side of the ball. Surprisingly, the offense was the strength of the team all year, mainly due to the play of quarterback Josh Allen. Here’s a position-by-position critique of the Bills’ offense:




Josh Allen’s play in his third season drew rave reviews around the NFL due to an improvement level rarely, if ever, seen before at the game’s most important position. He solidified his spot as a franchise QB by leading a dominant passing attack that thrived despite the lack of a consistent run game. Allen has established himself as one of the game’s rising stars. Veteran Matt Barkley was the backup again in 2020 but rarely saw action due to Allen’s durability. He did impress in the club’s final regular season game against Miami in which they rested their starters. His contract is up now, so the question is, will he be back or will Buffalo turn to a younger option. They have 2 of those on the roster. Davis Webb and 2020 draft pick Jake Fromm. Since the pandemic wiped out the NFL’s preseason, neither Webb or Fromm has truly been evaluated yet.


Running backs


This is a spot that is in need of an upgrade if the Bills hope to take the jump to championship level. Devin Singletary was average at best as the starting back, and is not an explosive runner. Rookie Zach Moss, in my opinion, surpassed him as the lead back before a late-season injury ended his season. The Bills could be looking at a feature back early in the draft if one turns out to be the “best player available” when they get their turn at pick 30. Veteran T.J. Yeldon has served strictly as an insurance policy since he joined the team. He’s flashed some brilliance when he’s gotten a chance to play, but the fact that he’s almost always inactive and his contract is up leads me to believe that his days are numbered here, probably by his own choice. There are a couple of other interesting options on the roster. Undrafted rookie Antonio Williams became a fan favorite and a realistic possibility to make the regular roster when he was recalled from the practice squad for the finale against the Dolphins and played great. Former rugby player Christian Wade will get his final shot at making the team in 2021. He has also shined in limited preseason showings and has gotten to learn the nuances of the game the last 2 years. Taiwan Jones is on the roster strictly for special teams. Veteran Devonta Freeman was added to the practice squad after Moss was hurt. Was he just season-ending insurance or will he be back in 2021?




The receiving corps was a major strength of the Buffalo attack in 2020. After adding veteran free agents John Brown and Cole Beasley in 2019, GM Brandon Beane made a bold trade to acquire Stefon Diggs from the Vikings to round out the starting 3 wideouts. He then proceeded to add another valuable receiving weapon in the fourth round of the draft when he “stole” Gabriel Davis. Beasley had a career year working out of the slot, while Brown’s production dropped, partly due to Diggs’ arrival as the main target of the passing attack. Isaiah McKenzie is a Swiss Army knife of a player who adds versatility to the unit, and is also the backup kick returner. He is due to be a free agent, and is one name the Bills should pursue, given his value in different areas. Andre Roberts, also an impending free agent, makes minimal contributions as a receiver but is an All Pro kick returner. The Bills also have some interesting prospects for the wideout position on their injured reserve/practice squad lists. Isaiah Hodgins, a 2020 sixth round draft pick, never got a chance to show his worth as he wound up on IR at the final cutdown. He is a rangy 6’4 receiver who is said to have excellent hands. Beane loaded up with extra insurance on the practice squad near season’s end. Kenny Stills is a veteran speedster known for his ability to go deep. Jake “Touchdown Jesus” Kumerow got some game action at Denver and scored a touchdown to put his name on the map. Duke Williams has been on the PS for 2 seasons now and has occasionally gotten a shot to play, but hasn’t cracked the full roster yet. Another interesting late season signee was Tanner Gentry, Josh Allen’s favorite target in their college days at Wyoming. Kumerow and Gentry have already been signed to future contracts for next season, while it remains to be seen if Stills is considered an option for 2021 or was merely a 2020 insurance policy.

The Bills carried 4 tight ends on their roster in 2020. Dawson Knox emerged as the undisputed starter during the season after battling injury and Covid issues early on. In his absence, Tyler Kroft filled in admirably but as the season progressed he was inexplicably relegated to inactive status on game day each week. Lee Smith, who is basically a tackle playing tight end, was used more often, mainly to help a rushing attack that never really meshed all year. The fourth tight end is undrafted rookie Reggie Gilliam. He contributed on special teams and was used as a blocking back on short yardage plays. Like Duke Williams, Nate Becker has been a practice squad regular for 2 seasons but seems to have not much of a future with the club. Speaking of future, Tommy Sweeney’s is a question mark going forward. He contracted Covid-19 and then developed a heart issue from it that could jeopardize his career going forward.


Offensive Line


The Bills solidified the offensive line as the season went on after some early shuffling, but after a disappointing finish at Kansas City in the title game and with some free agency pending, there may be some reshuffling going on in the offseason. The only spot set in stone at this point is left tackle, where Dion Dawkins is the man, freshly signed to an extension. Two starters, Jon Feliciano and Darryl Williams, are free agents. Williams was solid most of the year but played poorly against the Chiefs so his return is no sure thing, especially with Cody Ford returning from injury. There is speculation that the Bills could part with center Mitch Morse to save cap money. He was benched for a short time during the season so that speculation might have some truth to it. If Morse is let go, signing Feliciano becomes a priority since he would be the player to slide into the position. Ike Boettger quietly took over the left guard spot as the season progressed, and was decent, but with Beane always looking to upgrade the roster, his starting position is tenuous. As for the depth, there is versatile Ryan Bates, who can play any position, a skill the coaches value. Swing tackle Ty Nsekhe is a fine backup, but he’s also 35 years old. Brian Winters is an impending free agent. He had multiple chances to move into the starting lineup and couldn’t stay there, so I don’t see him being a priority to resign. Jordan Devey, a late season insurance add to the roster, is 33 and not a long term prospect either. The practice squad has a couple of interesting prospects. Jonotthan Harrison was a “protected” PS player most of the year, so the Bills must see some value there. Trey Adams is a big tackle prospect who was highly rated coming out of college until injuries hampered him. There is certainly room for improvement and an infusion of youth along the O line.



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