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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Double Doldrums

24 Sep

The NFL is on to week 3 of their schedule, and a matchup on the slate of games has the Detroit Lions taking on the Arizona Cardinals. Our Throwback Thursday feature is a game between these 2 franchises that was played on December 6, 1959, as both teams were winding down on seasons they couldn’t wait to get to the end of. Both were once proud NFL powerhouses that had fallen on hard times lately. Detroit, a club that won 3 titles in the 1950s and could be realistically put on a pedestal as the team of the decade, entered this contest with a lowly 2-7-1 record. The Cardinals were in even worse shape. Based in Chicago at the time, they were finishing off a dismal final season in the Windy City. Unable to compete with their neighboring team, the Bears, the Cards were slated to move to St. Louis for the 1960 season. Their 2-8 record entering the game was indicative of a franchise that was going nowhere. So basically this week’s TBT featured game is a contest with little historic significance between a couple of late ’50s bottom feeders.

The Lions, whose championship pedigree was much more recent than the Cardinals, reached back into that winning history to club their soon-to-be-leaving Chicago opponents, 45-21. Lion quarterback Tobin Rote, who had led his team to an NFL title just 2 years prior in 1957 and would later guide the San Diego Chargers to an AFL title in 1963, opened the scoring with a 9 yard touchdown run. They added a field goal, and in the second quarter the defense pitched in when Yale Lary scooped up a fumble and rambled 28 yards to paydirt to widen Detroit’s lead to 17-0. One Cardinal who refused to be disheartened was halfback John David Crow. He scored from a yard out to get his team on the board, but Rote got the points back with a 13 yard TD pass to Dave Middleton, giving the Lions a 24-7 lead going into the half. The Lions went to backup QB Earl Morrall in the second half, and he responded by hitting Jim Gibbons for a 33 yard score. When Terry Barr scampered 32 yards for a touchdown early in the final quarter, the game was all but over as Detroit took a commanding 38-7 lead. With John Roach being ineffective most of the day, Chicago turned to M.C. Reynolds to try to salvage some dignity. Reynolds hit Crow for a 36 yard touchdown and Woodley Lewis for another score from 20 yards out, but it was too little too late. Jim Doran recovered a fumble in the end zone for Detroit between the 2 Cardinal TDs, and the 45-21 final score was cemented. Crow’s 103 yards of total offense was tops for both teams, and Reynolds completing 8 of 10 throws for 170 yards and the 2 touchdowns in a relief role was impressive, but the Lions dug into their winning past to claim the victory, giving them a temporary respite from the doldrums they were mired in all year. Both teams lost the following week, which back then was the final week of a 12 game regular season. Little did either franchise know that their doldrums would continue to this day. The 1957 championship was Detroit’s last, and the Cardinals haven’t won one since 1947.

 

 

Detroit QB Tobin Rote (18) dodges Cardinal defenders

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tebow Mania!

17 Sep

As the NFL season enters week 2, we’ve picked out one of this week’s matchups, between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, as our Throwback Thursday feature for the week. We harken back to an AFC Wild Card game played on January 8, 2012 between these 2 franchises that was the apex of a phenomenon, at least at the NFL level, known as Tebow Mania. The Broncos had used a first round draft pick on the quarterback from the University of Florida, Tim Tebow, whose skills weren’t really on par with a top NFL signal caller, but who definitely had one distinct quality- he was a winner. The game was arguably the crowning moment of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s mostly forgettable NFL career. It was Denver’s first appearance in the postseason since 2005, and with home field advantage at Mile High Stadium the excitement level among Bronco fans was high. The Steelers did all the scoring in the first quarter with a pair of field goals as Tebow struggled to get his team’s attack off the ground, but the controversial quarterback came alive in the second stanza by leading Denver to 20 unanswered points, firing a 30 yard scoring pass to Eddie Royal and then finishing a drive with an 8 yard rushing TD. He guided the Broncos to two more field goals to lift Denver to a 20-6 halftime lead. The Steelers, a proud franchise with a rich winning tradition, rallied back in the second half. Wide receiver Mike Wallace cut the lead to 20-13 with a one yard end around run for a touchdown, and after both clubs traded field goals, the Steelers capitalized on a Willis McGahee fumble to drive to a tying touchdown on a 31 yard Ben Roethlisberger to Jericho Cotchery pass. Both defenses stiffened from there and the game went into sudden death overtime.

After winning the OT coin toss, Tebow and the Broncos wasted no time. Tebow, who had guided his team to an 8-8 record and an AFC West title after being named the team’s starter following a 1-4 start to the season, connected with his favorite target, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, on an 80 yard throw-and-catch touchdown pass that gave Denver a 29-23 victory and sent the Mile High crowd into a frenzy. For Thomas, the play capped a record breaking afternoon, as he finished with 4 catches for an incredible 204 yards receiving. The excitement only lasted a week for the Broncos and their fans. They were brought back down to earth the following week in the divisional round when Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots handed them a resounding 45-10 defeat.

 

Denver’s Tim Tebow in action vs. Steelers

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Freezer Bowl

10 Sep

The 2020 NFL season, in all it’s Covid-19 weirdness, is finally here beginning this week. Rayonsports is back with our weekly Throwback Thursday feature. To start the year, we’re looking at a week one matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals. For the opening TBT post of the season, we’ll travel back to January 10, 1982 for the AFC Championship game of the 1981 season played between these 2 teams. The contest went down in NFL lore as the “Freezer Bowl”. Played at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, is was the coldest game in NFL history as the temperature was -9 degrees Fahrenheit which, combined with the day’s wind chill factor, made it feel like -37 degrees. For the Chargers, based in San Diego, it was a rude awakening. Besides making their home in sunny southern California, they were coming off of a grueling overtime duel in Miami that was played in polar opposite conditions – 88 degrees with high humidity. The weather affected the coin toss as the Bengals won the opening toss and elected to take the wind at their backs instead of the ball. So when San Diego took the ball to start the second half, the Bengals wound up kicking off to start both halves.

Bengal coach Forrest Gregg used the unusual strategy figuring the howling winds would affect the Chargers’ high-powered passing attack, and it worked as Cincinnati jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a Jim Breech field goal and an 8 yard scoring pass from Ken Anderson to M.L. Harris. San Diego put together a drive against the wind that stalled, and their first attempt to get on the board was thwarted when kicker Rolf Benirschke missed a 37 yard field goal attempt into the harsh wind.  The Chargers got on the board in the second quarter, with the wind at their backs, as Dan Fouts found his All Pro tight end, Kellen Winslow, for a 33 yard touchdown. But that’s all they could muster, and the Bengals drove downfield against the wind, thanks to a long kickoff return from David Verser, to beat the wind and add a score on a one yard plunge by fullback Pete Johnson, upping their lead to 17-7. Johnson was the unsung hero for the Bengal offense on the day as he ground out 80 hard-earned yards. The Chargers were stymied the rest of the way by the weather and a tough Bengal defense. They drove into Cinci territory 5 more times but came up empty on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the Bengals added another Breech field goal, and when Anderson found Don Bass on a 3 yard TD pass to put his team up 27-7, the game was all but over. That wound up being the final score as the Bengals advanced to their first Super Bowl, where they would become the victims of Joe Montana’s magic in a 26-21 loss.

Ironically, Cincinnati’s coach Gregg had also been part of the other iconic cold weather game in NFL history as a guard for Green Bay in the 1967 “Ice Bowl”. For the Chargers, it was an especially long and sad trip home from the loss, as their return flight to San Diego was delayed for over 3 hours due to ice buildup on the plane.

 

Bengals, Chargers battle in the Freezer Bowl

 

 

Buffalo Bills’ 2020 Season Preview

08 Sep

The 2020 NFL season is sure to be like no other, with the Coronavirus threat changing all the rules as far as having fans attend games and keeping the players and coaches safe. The teams will have 53 man rosters as in previous years, but practice squads have been increased to 16. As the Buffalo Bills work to finalize their roster, we’re ready to preview the upcoming season, which starts this week. Here’s our position-by-position evaluation:

 

Front Office / Coaching

 

The Bills recently locked up head coach Sean McDermott with a long term contract extension, and hopefully plan on doing the same for general manager Brandon Beane. Continuity is now a major plus for the team with McDermott returning for his fourth season, and coordinators Leslie Frazier, Brian Daboll and Heath Farwell also back. The team brought in a new position coach who they think will be an upgrade in Eric Washington, the new defensive line coach. Beane has done an excellent job replenishing the team’s talent in his tenure, and this year he went out of his way to add a huge weapon in the passing game for QB Josh Allen by pulling the trigger on a trade with Minnesota for a top-flight receiver in Stefon Diggs. Despite surrendering his first round draft choice in the trade, Beane was still able to pluck some players in the draft who appear poised to contribute to the club right away. There is one fly in the ointment for the coaches. There are expectations that the team is ready to take over the AFC East crown, but the fact still remains they are 0-6 against Bill Belichick’s Patriots in the McDermott era.

 

Quarterbacks

 

QB Josh Allen is the undisputed leader entering his 3rd year

 

Josh Allen, entering his third season, is the undisputed leader of the offense now, and although he still showed a few rough edges in 2019, he has steadily progressed to the point where the team is comfortable with him as their “franchise” quarterback. He should continue to improve under the guidance of offensive coordinator Daboll and QB coach Ken Dorsey. Veteran Matt Barkley returns as the main backup, although Beane hedged his bets here somewhat by drafting Jake Fromm to compete for the position. The Bills, mostly because of Covid concerns, will carry 3 signal callers on the roster this year.

 

Running Backs

 

T.J. Yeldon is a multi-skilled RB who needs to find playing time

 

The Bills will carry 4 running backs on the roster this season and for the first time ever that RB room will not include a fullback. Two young bucks – Devin Singletary and rookie Zach Moss – figure to carry the bulk of the load. Singletary showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign last season and looks to build on that this year. Moss is a pounder who should be the team’s short yardage option, while also possessing decent receiving skills. T.J. Yeldon rarely saw the field last season but with Frank Gore gone he could play more often in 2020. The fourth back, Taiwan Jones, is strictly a special teamer but an important one as one of the gunners on kick coverage units.

 

Receivers

 

Newly-acquired WR Stefon Diggs (Liz Flores photo)

 

The shiny new toy in the Bills’ offensive arsenal is wideout Stefon Diggs, a top veteran obtained from the Vikings in the off-season. He joins John Brown and Cole Beasley, both brought in last season as free agents, as the team’s top 3 receiving options for Josh Allen. Rookie Gabriel Davis appears to have earned the fourth spot with an impressive showing in the shortened training camp. Isiah McKenzie is back as another reserve option. He was utilized extensively in gadget and “jet sweep” plays last year so OC Bran Daboll retains that weapon in his deck of cards for 2020. Andre Roberts made the team mostly as the team’s primary punt and kickoff returner, but can also be a reliable player when needed at the receiver position. Tight end is obviously a high priority position in Daboll’s offense, as the Bills kept 4 of them on the active roster. The starter is Dawson Knox, a possible emerging star if he can improve his ability to hang on to the ball. Tyler Kroft is the main backup, while veteran Lee Smith, a sometimes penalty liability, returns to provide blocking for the run game and leadership in the locker room. The fourth TE is a bit of a Swiss Army knife – rookie undrafted free agent Reggie Gilliam. Being that he played both fullback and tight end in college, he looks to be more of an “H-back” type of player who can fill multiple roles, including on special teams.  At some point during the season the Bills will have to make a decision on another 2019 draft pick, Tommy Sweeney, who starts the year on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.

 

Offensive Line

 

Tackle Dion Dawkins enters 2020 armed with a new contract

 

Buffalo’s offensive line stays mostly intact from 2019, except for the temporary loss of starting right guard Jon Feliciano. Anchoring the unit is center Mitch Morse, the big-ticket free agent signee from 2019. The left side, with underrated Quinton Spain at guard and newly re-signed Dion Dawkins at tackle, returns intact. The right side is still not completely set, but second year man Cody Ford will certainly start, either at guard or the spot he manned last season, tackle. If Ford moves inside, veteran Ty Nsekhe will likely be at tackle. Due to the possibility of Covid infections being high among linemen since they are engaged in close proximity battles on every play, the NFL recommended that teams stack their rosters with extra players at those positions. The Bills kept 10 O-linemen on their initial 53 man roster before temporarily placing Feliciano on IR. Among the reserves, Darryl Williams and Ryan Bates can play multiple positions. Brian Winters and Ike Boettger have mainly manned the guard spots. Also, there are 4 extra offensive linemen on the practice squad ready for action under the new league rules allowing more liberal activation from there to the regular roster each week.

 

Defensive Line

Ed Oliver, 2019 top draftee, starts at one DT spot

 

The Bills allowed a couple of their top 2019 contributors along the defensive front, Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, to leave via free agency, and starting tackle Star Lotulelei opted out of the season. Still, GM Beane managed to replenish the troops along the line in the off-season. Three of the four starters on the line are set – top prospect Ed Oliver at one tackle spot and veterans Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy at end. Among the candidates to fill Lotulelei’s position are Harrison Phillips, returning from a season-ending injury, and newcomers Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson, both free agent signees. Jefferson provides position flexibility that the Bills’ coaches desire since he can play both inside and outside. Another new free agent, Mario Addison, figures to fill the pass rush specialist role that Lawson played in recent years, while the remaining backups, who will certainly see plenty of action in the team’s D-line rotation, are a pair of prospects teeming with potential – Darryl Johnson and rookie A.J. Epenesa. Again, the Bills covered their bases depth-wise by keeping 3 extra front line defenders on the practice squad.

 

Linebackers

 

Young LB Tremaine Edmunds (Konezny USA Today photo)

 

The retirement of Lorenzo Alexander leaves a hole in the Bills’ linebacking corps since he was a heady, versatile leader on the defense. However, young middle backer Tremaine Edmunds has taken over the defensive signal calling role and has steadily improved so far each year. He is a budding star. Matt Milano, who arguably is another rising stud on the Bills’ D-unit, mans one of the outside slots. To replace Alexander, Buffalo signed veteran A.J. Klein, who will see the field only when the team isn’t in their nickel formation, which is a majority of the time in the modern NFL. The Bills changed up the depth spots at linebacker as all 3 backups are new. Tyler Matakevich was signed away from Pittsburgh, mostly for his special teams ability. Tyrel Dodson, a PS member for most of 2019, made the final roster this year. The biggest surprise to make the active 53-man list has to be the other reserve LB, Del’Shawn Phillips. Also, Andre Smith, acquired in a training camp trade from Carolina, is available on the practice squad.

 

Defensive Backs

 

NFL’s top paid CB Tre White (Adrian Kraus AP photo)

 

The shining star in Buffalo’s talented secondary is All Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, who recently signed an extension that makes him the highest paid CB in the NFL. He’s earned that distinction with stellar play so far in his career. At the other corner spot, a grizzled vet, Josh Norman, was brought in to compete with Levi Wallace to start, but injuries in camp kept him from doing that to a degree. It’s uncertain how the Bills will line up at that position on opening day. The Bills are secure on the back end of the secondary with a pair of highly underrated safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Backing them up are steady Dean Marlowe and an up-and-coming 2019 rookie, Jaquan Johnson. The important slot or nickel cornerback spot, which is almost a starting position these days, is manned by Taron Johnson. He has excelled at the job since he’s been in Buffalo but has had injury concerns. Maybe the most important member of the secondary is Siran Neal. He can play both safety spots and also the nickel corner, in addition to being a gunner, and one of the main players, on special teams. There are also a number of reinforcements ready on the practice squad should the injury bug bite this position.

 

Special Teams

 

Rookie placekicker Tyler Bass

 

The Bills invested heavily on improving their bomb squads for the upcoming season, re-signing Taiwan Jones to be a gunner on kick return coverage to go with their other gunner, Siran Neal. Tyler Matakevich was signed after being a ST star in Pittsburgh. Also, undrafted rookie Reggie Gilliam perfected the art of blocking kicks (he got 6 of them in his college career at Toledo). The Bills haven’t had a threat to do that since Steve Tasker. Andre Roberts, signed last year to put a charge into the team’s return game, is back to fill that role. Two thirds of the Bills’ kicking game return in long snapper Reid Ferguson and punter Corey Bojorquez.  Bojorquez beat out a couple of rivals to retain his job so the Bills must trust him. Buffalo is rolling the dice a bit in going with a rookie kicker, 6th round draft pick Tyler Bass, over veteran Stephen Hauschka. Hausch Money’s consistency and leg strength had diminished in the last couple of years, but it’s still a gamble.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Buffalo Bills’ 2020 Draft Picks

23 Aug

We’re a little late to the party this year in posting our evaluations of the Buffalo Bills’ choices in this year’s college draft, but with the season fast approaching and our season preview post due soon, it’s better late than never! The Bills used their first round pick as part of a trade with Minnesota for a proven veteran wide receiver, Stefon Diggs. Here’s an analysis of their remaining choices:

 

(James Coller photo)

Round 2 – A.J. Epenesa (DE, Iowa) – a quick, strong pass rusher to add to the team’s defensive line rotation. Known for a strong work ethic, he should fit in well with the Bills’ “process”.

 

Round 3 – Zach Moss (RB, Utah) – the Bills elected not to resign Frank Gore, so there is an obvious opening for another back on the roster. Moss is a tough inside runner who should excel in short yardage situations, and also possesses good pass receiving skills.

 

Round 4 – Gabriel Davis (WR, Central Florida) – the first of 2 big receivers the Bills went after in the draft. Davis had impressive stats in his junior year at UCF before declaring for the draft – 72 receptions for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns.

 

(Tammy Baker photo)

Round 5 – Jake Fromm (QB, Georgia) – Jake “Fromm State Farm” became a controversial pick after some questionable texts by him were revealed, but his football ability makes him a solid possibility to win the team’s backup quarterback job behind Josh Allen.

 

Round 6A – Tyler Bass (K, Georgia Southern) – the first of a pair of sixth round choices turned out to be a serious competitor for incumbent kicker Stephen Hauschka. Bass has an extremely strong leg to compete with Hauschka, who seems to have lost some long range ability with age. Having kicked in a small conference in the south, Bass will have to show he can handle booting in the Buffalo weather.

 

Round 6B – Isiah Hodgins (WR, Oregon State) – here’s the other big-bodied wideout GM Brandon Beane chose. At 6’4 and 209 pounds, he is an imposing red zone target with a great pair of hands, and will be solidly in the mix for a roster spot among a talented group of receivers the team has.

 

Round 7 – Dane Jackson (CB, Pittsburgh) – seventh round draft picks are always long shots to stick with an NFL team, but the Bills value depth in their defensive secondary so he has a chance. He played 4 years at Pitt so he is experienced, and was second team All-ACC in his senior year.

 

The Bills, as always, signed some intriguing undrafted free agents after the selection process was over, including Reggie Gilliam, a fullback from Toledo who comes into camp with a reputation for being a special teams standout, specializing in blocking kicks. Trey Adams, a massive 6’8 311 pound tackle from Washington, was considered a top prospect before injuries hampered him but if he stays healthy he can win a roster spot. Brandon Walton, a big tackle from Florida Atlantic, blocked for Bills’ back Devin Singletary in college. Ike Brown is a cornerback from Florida International who will be one of a large group of young CBs trying to stick with the team. The COVID-19 virus and the NFL’s decision to expand rosters and practice squads to account for possible positive tests during the season certainly gives a lot of these players a great opportunity to continue their careers. However, the shortened training camp and lack of preseason games definitely cuts down on their chances to show their worthiness.

 

 

 
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NFL – 2020 Bills’ Mock Draft Predictions

19 Apr

We are now less than a week away from the NFL’s 2020 college draft. The first round mock draft by our Rayonsports correspondents is in the books, and now the four of us will try our hand at identifying the 7 players that our local team, the Buffalo Bills, will select this week. Here are our picks along with scouting reports and some rationale as to why the choices make sense:

 

Round 2, Pick # 54

 

Connor Pohlman – D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia) – Recently Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller noted that the Bills will look to add more offensive playmakers in this year’s draft. With the addition of stud WR Stefon Diggs this offseason, the Bills’ offense looks to take that step and the addition of Swift will help them get there.

 

Josh Pohlman – Jonathan Taylor, RB (Wisconsin) – Taylor would be the perfect 1-2 complement to Devin Singletary and would be the best player available at pick 54. 2019 Bills’ RB Frank Gore became a free agent in the offseason.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Trevon Diggs, CB (Alabama) – cornerback depth is added by picking up the brother of recent trade acquisition – wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Curtis Weaver EDGE (Boise State) – GM Brandon Beane has put his team in position to pick the best player available and Weaver fits that description as well as filling a future position of need, with Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and newly-signed Mario Addison all getting up in age.

 

Round 3, Pick # 86

 

Connor Pohlman – Chase Claypool, WR (Notre Dame) – Beane continues to add offensive playmakers here and clocking in at 6’4 and 238 lbs. Claypool would be the primary big body target in a WR room filled with “smurfs”, as coach Sean McDermott said last year.

 

Josh Pohlman – Chase Claypool, WR (Notre Dame) – the final offensive piece for the Bills, a big-bodied receiver who can make contested catches. It would be a stretch if he’s still available at pick # 86 but would also be the best player available.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Matthew Peart, OT (UConn) – Jamaican-born prospect with long arms and great athletic ability who may need development but his ceiling is high.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Bryan Edwards, WR (South Carolina) – Edwards is a physical, possession type receiver who projects as a slot receiver, making him the eventual heir apparent to Cole Beasley as well as an immediate contributor as he learns the ropes of being an NFL player.

 

Round 4, Pick # 128

 

Connor Pohlman – Kenny Willekes, EDGE (Michigan State) – the Bills added DE Mario Addison this offseason, who has been extremely consistent in his time with the Panthers, racking up at least 9 sacks every year since 2016. Adding Willekes here is a good value pick and will help the Bills get younger on the edge, eventually replacing Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes.

 

Josh Pohlman – Alton Robinson, EDGE (Syracuse) – a dominant pass rusher who would be a nice replacement for UFA Shaq Lawson. He has a career total of 19.5 sacks for 102 yards lost in the ACC.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Darrynton Evans, RB (Appalachian State) – small school back who would be expected to complement Devin Singletary. He’s an explosive, shifty runner who is good in pass protection, a bonus for a rookie back.

 

Ray Prelewicz – A.J. Dillon, RB (Boston College) – Bills need a big, physical short yardage back to complement Devin Singletary and Dillon would provide an immediate plug-and-play option there. He is a 6’1 249 lb. bruiser who also displays some unexpected shiftiness in the open field.

 

Round 5, Pick # 167

 

Connor Pohlman – Tanner Muse, S (Clemson) – Jordan Poyer was just recently extended for 2 more years on his current contract, but adding Muse will add depth and youth to the position. While he won’t start at safety right away, McDermott and DC Leslie Frazier like to rotate their young DBs similar to Taron Johnson and Siran Neal in their rookie seasons. Muse could compete for the chance to start on special teams. The Bills were also heavily involved in Clemson’s pro day.

 

Josh Pohlman – Shaquille Quarterman, LB (Miami) – Quarterman is a potential replacement for retired linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Also, Matt Milano hits free agency in 2021, barring an extension.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR (Liberty) – a big (6’4 223 lb.) red zone target for Josh Allen. He has a big catch radius and showed tremendous improvement with his hands in his senior year.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Markus Bailey, LB (Purdue) – a tough, blue collar defender who has the tenacity to carve out a role for himself in the NFL. He would have to earn a spot on special teams while learning the nuances of the position, but with the Bills’ lack of depth at LB would have a chance.

 

Round 6A, Pick # 188

 

Connor Pohlman – Javaris Davis, CB (Auburn) – Davis brings youth and depth to a position the Bills have done a good job of improving this offseason with the additions of Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines. Davis could find himself rotating at nickel corner with Taron Johnson.

 

Josh Pohlman – Terence Steele, OT (Texas Tech) – there are still some questions along the offensive line. Dion Dawkins will be a free agent in 2021 barring an extension and Ty Nsekhe will be 35 years old in October.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Raequan Williams, DL (Michigan State) – a good hand fighter in the defensive line who would have to work hard to make the Bills’ roster. His versatility to be able to play any position along the line would help him.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Carter Coughlin, EDGE (Minnesota) – a consistent playmaker for the Gophers in his college career, Coughlin totaled 22.5 sacks and 8 forced fumbles. Some scouts question his height and strength but he is a high-motor guy and a good value pick at this point.

 

Round 6B, Pick # 207

 

Connor Pohlman – Francis Bernard, LB (Utah) – with the loss of veteran LB Lorenzo Alexander this offseason, the Bills lost a pivotal part of that #3 ranked defense. Newest signing A.J. Klein should become a starter at OLB, but the addition of Bernard will add good depth, coming from a Utah defense that played a major role in landing them in the AP Top 10 this past season.

 

Josh Pohlman – Reggie Robinson II, CB (Tulsa) – cornerback depth is always needed and with Josh Norman only on a one year deal there is room to make the roster. Levi Wallace and Tre’Davious White are potential free agents also barring extensions for them.

 

Scott Prelewicz – K.J. Osborn, WR (Miami) – he transferred from MAAC school University at Buffalo to Miami for his senior season and the jump wasn’t too big for him as he led the Hurricanes in receiving and contributed as a punt returner and on special teams, which gives him an edge in his attempt to stick in the NFL.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Jake Hanson, C (Oregon) – some scouts don’t think he’s strong enough to thrive in the NFL but his college coaches rave about him, especially his nasty temperament. He will probably have to show some versatility at other line positions to make the Bills’ roster if they pick him.

 

Round 7, Pick 239

 

Connor Pohlman – Austin Mack, WR (Ohio State) – the last pick of the Bills’ draft brings in a WR from a good college football program who made some big plays in the 2020 CFB Playoff.

 

Josh Pohlman – Rodrigo Blankenship, K (Georgia) – Bills’ kicker Stephen Hauschka will turn 35 years old in June. Last season he signed an extension and won’t be a free agent until 2022. Hauschka had a rocky start to the 2019 season, going 8-13 on field goals through the first 9 games. One game included an 0-2 performance (with a missed extra point also) that resulted in a 19-16 loss to Cleveland. It became clear that the Bills were exploring other options when they put in a waiver claim for Chase McLaughlin later in the season.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Trevon Hill, EDGE (Miami) – another Hurricane is picked. Hill enrolled at Miami after being dismissed from the team at Virginia Tech. He doesn’t have ideal size for an edge rusher but his play sometimes defied his lack of the prototypical body type.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Reggie Robinson II, CB (Tulsa) – big corner with good ball skills and a willing and able tackler in the run game. A versatile player who has also played safety.

 
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2020 NFL First Round Mock Draft

14 Apr

We here at Rayonsports  have decided to do a first round only mock draft of college players into the NFL, with the picks made alternately by Rayonsports correspondents Connor Pohlman, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz and Ray Prelewicz. Due to various trades, several teams have multiple picks in the first round. Those teams are: Miami Dolphins, with 3 choices, and Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders and San Francisco 49ers all with a pair each. Also, each of our contributors will offer a complete 7 round draft for the hometown Buffalo Bills, to be published sometime prior to the actual selection process. Here is how we see the opening round of this year’s draft, held “virtually” because of the Covid-19 virus, shaking out:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (Connor Pohlman) – Joe Burrow, QB (LSU)
  2. Washington Redskins (Josh Pohlman) – Chase Young, EDGE (Ohio State)
  3. Detroit Lions (Scott Prelewicz) – Jeffrey Okudah, CB (Ohio State)
  4. New York Giants (Ray Prelewicz) – Tristan Wirfs, OT (Iowa)
  5. Miami Dolphins (CP) – Justin Herbert, QB (Oregon)
  6. Los Angeles Chargers (JP) – Tua Tagovailoa, QB (Alabama)
  7. Carolina Panthers (SP) – Isaiah Simmons, LB (Clemson)
  8. Arizona Cardinals (RP) – Mekhi Becton, OT (Louisville)
  9. Jacksonville Jaguars (CP) – Derrick Brown, DT (Auburn)
  10. Cleveland Browns (JP) – Jedrick Wills, OT (Alabama)
  11. New York Jets (SP) – Andrew Thomas, OT (Georgia)
  12. Las Vegas Raiders (RP) – CeeDee Lamb, WR (Oklahoma)
  13. San Francisco 49ers (CP) – Jerry Jeudy, WR (Alabama)
  14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (JP) – Javon Kinlaw, DT (South Carolina)
  15. Denver Broncos (SP) – Henry Ruggs III, WR (Alabama)
  16. Atlanta Falcons (RP) – C.J. Henderson, CB (Florida)
  17. Dallas Cowboys (CP) – Kristian Fulton, CB (LSU)
  18. Miami Dolphins (JP) – Josh Jones, OT (Houston)
  19. Las Vegas Raiders (SP) – K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE (LSU)
  20. Jacksonville Jaguars (RP) – Jeff Gladney, CB (TCU)
  21. Philadelphia Eagles (CP) – Justin Jefferson, WR (LSU)
  22. Minnesota Vikings (JP) – Noah Igbinoghene, CB (Auburn)
  23. New England Patriots (SP) – Jordan Love, QB (Utah State)
  24. New Orleans Saints (RP) – DeAndre Swift, RB (Georgia)
  25. Minnesota Vikings (CP) – A.J. Epenesa, EDGE (Iowa)
  26. Miami Dolphins (JP) – Denzel Mims, WR (Baylor)
  27. Seattle Seahawks (SP) – Trevon Diggs, CB (Alabama)
  28. Baltimore Ravens (RP) – Grant Delpit, S (LSU)
  29. Tennessee Titans (CP) – Yetir Gross-Matos, EDGE (Penn State)
  30. Green Bay Packers (JP) – Tee Higgins, WR (Clemson)
  31. San Francisco 49ers (SP) – Xavier McKinney, S (Alabama)
  32. Kansas City Chiefs (RP) – Patrick Queen, LB (LSU)

 

joeburrow

Joe Burrow, LSU QB,  consensus top pick on most draft boards

Some highlights and surprises of this mock draft: Miami passing up Tua to draft Herbert (what happened to Tank For Tua?), New Orleans causing consternation in the Dolphins’ war room by snatching up Swift, the top available RB, two picks before the Dolphins, and the number of wide receivers (6) and cornerbacks (6) chosen. Five offensive tackles are included, a sign of how that position is becoming a premier one in the league. National champion LSU and Alabama have 6 players chosen each. Also, a question posed – would the Patriots have drafted a quarterback regardless of whether Tom Brady left or not? We’ll check back after the actual draft to see how close we came to the actual selections.

chaseyoung

Chase Young of Ohio State, consensus #2 pick some consider best player available

 

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

19 Jan

The fourth and final section of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review is our favorite part, where we put on the general manager’s hat and make suggestions as to what the team needs to do to improve going into next season. It’ll be a much easier offseason for Brandon Beane and the front office compared to last year, when they had major holes to fill all across the roster. Beane did yeoman’s work to fill those holes in both free agency and the draft, and the results of that work were positive as the team turned its’ record around from 6-10 to 10-6 while claiming a wild card playoff spot. Here is our list of needs for the Bills, with suggestions as to how to go about filling them:

 

Quarterback

 

This should come with an asterisk as it really just means backup* QB. Josh Allen is firmly entrenched as the starter, but it would behoove the Bills to kick the tires on some veteran backups to battle Matt Barkley in training camp for the clipboard carrier’s job. Most of the available “backup” types, like Washington’s Case Keenum and Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel of Chicago or Kansas City’s Matt Moore, are well into their 30s so the Bills would be looking at a short term deal. Maybe the team would consider bringing back an old friend to be third string QB and a special teams contributor, Joe Webb III of Houston.

 

Running Back

 

While Devin Singletary is poised to carry the load as the lead back next season, the situation behind him will likely change. Frank Gore faded as the season went on and he may not even decide to play another year. T.J. Yeldon was rarely used and has to be looking for a different situation where he can get on the field more. Senorise Perry is also a free agent. That leaves Christian Wade as the sole returnee so Buffalo has to add some depth in the backfield. Kenyan Drake, who exploded onto the scene after being traded from Miami to Arizona, figures to cash in on his play from the second half of 2019 with the Cardinals. He would be an ideal complementary back to Singletary but may cost a bit too much for the Bills’ liking. Philadelphia’s Jordan Howard and Jonathan Williams of the Colts are a couple of younger and cheaper options. If they stay true to their formula, they’ll add a back in the draft, probably in the mid-to-late rounds. Players in that category are A.J. Dillon of Boston College, Lamical Perine of Florida and Benny Lemay of Charlotte.

 

Wide Receiver

 

This is the position that Buffalo is in the most need of an upgrade on offense. The additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley improved the receiving corps immensely in 2019 but there is still a need for a big, fast, strong pass catcher who makes the contested catches. Bills’ fans have clamored for Cincinnati’s A.J. Green but he is 32 years old and injury prone. The only WR on the market who comes close to filling the above-mentioned needs for Buffalo is Amari Cooper of Dallas. I see the team using the draft to get their man, with a deep class of receivers available. This position has a great chance of being the top priority of the team in the first round with the talent available. Players likely available at the Bills’ slot at # 22 are Tee Higgins of Clemson and Laviska Shenault of Colorado, both dynamic playmakers. If Brandon Beane waits until the second round to grab a receiver, Justin Jefferson of national champion LSU and Michael Pittman Jr. of USC are candidates. Possible late round gems are Bryan Edwards of South Carolina and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool.

 

Linebacker

 

With Lorenzo Alexander retiring and the linebacking depth thin as it is, this position will be high on Beane’s list for additions. I believe the best free agent available, and a good fit for Buffalo’s defense, is New England’s Kyle Van Noy. Signing him would be the double hit of improving an already strong defense and weakening a tough Patriot defense. Matthew Judon of Baltimore is another interesting prospect. He is only 28 and a top young star on the Ravens’ defense. In the draft, Buffalo could go after Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma or LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson in the first round, or wait until round 2 and target Zack Baun of Wisconsin, Troy Dye of Oregon or Malik Harrison of Ohio State. Late round prospects include Carter Coughlin of Minnesota and Patrick Queen of LSU.

 

Edge Rusher

 

The lines between outside linebackers and edge rushers have been blurred in the last couple of years. The Bills still employ a defense that uses linebackers and defensive ends, and any edge rusher added would have to line up at one of those spots. As for free agents, Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree would be a nice addition, and although he’s up in years at 32 Carolina’s Mario Addison could be considered. In the draft, Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa would have to be looked at if he falls to the Bills in the first round, as would Curtis Weaver of Boise State. Later round sleepers are Alton Robinson of Syracuse and Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith.

 

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

17 Jan

In part 3 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review we’ll do a position-by-position scan of the special teams and the unit that was most responsible for the team’s run to the playoffs in 2019, the defense. Here’s our critique, starting with the defense:

 

Defensive Line

 

Buffalo’s defensive line didn’t have a particular star player in 2019 but collectively did a good job in pressuring opposing passers and an adequate job stopping the run in most games. They overcame the retirement of Kyle Williams without missing a beat. In the interior, Jordan Phillips was a revelation, leading the team in sacks. Rookie Ed Oliver started out slowly but was a force in the middle as the season wore on and will be a cornerstone of the entire defensive unit moving forward. Star Lotulelei, who has been somewhat of a disappointment since signing a big free agent contract a couple of years ago, made his presence known more than ever this season and was one of a few Bills’ defenders that seemed to profit from coordinator Leslie Frazier’s more aggressive approach in 2019. Cory Luiget and Vincent Taylor are big bodied tackles who were brought in during the season and both showed some ability as space-eaters when they got a chance to play. Those 2 additions to the D-tackle rotation were made necessary when promising second year man Harrison Phillips was lost for the year early on. His return will be a big factor in 2020 and also may play into whether the Bills go all in to resign Jordan Phillips, who is now a restricted free agent and likely wants a big payday. The Bills’ rotational group at end is an interesting mix. Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy are veterans who consistently apply pressure on the pass rush but are inconsistent in racking up sacks. Hughes is a player who is always around the quarterback but doesn’t finish. If his tackling improved he could easily compile double digit sacks every year. Murphy’s performance ranges from dominant to invisible. Shaq Lawson, a former high draft pick, never really lived up to the hype until this season, when he was a good run defender and consistent pass rusher, despite a low sack count. Rookie late round pick Darryl Johnson showed a lot of potential to grow into a decent defensive end in his first year, and was a major special teams player also. Mike Love, a sleeper prospect who wound up on IR all year, will also be back in the mix in next year’s training camp. The team will employ a new defensive line coach, Eric Washington,  in 2020 and there is a lot of improvement to be had from the players he’ll coach.

 

Linebackers

 

The Bills had three solid starting linebackers in 2019 in Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, who is headed to his first Pro Bowl, and veteran Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander is retiring so there is a hole to fill in the lineup there for next year. They won’t enter the season expecting the holdover backups, Corey Thompson and Julian Stanford, to man that important position. Both are core special teamers and capable reserves but linebacker is a spot they’ll need to upgrade, and add depth to, in free agency and/or the draft. Two players who were on injured reserve, Vosean Joseph and Maurice Alexander, will be back to battle for the job. Joseph is more likely of the two to have a shot at winning the starting spot, as Alexander is the same type of player, a special teamer, as Thompson and Stanford. Tyrel Dodson, an undrafted rookie last season, could make some noise too. He showed enough in the way of intelligence and physical play in training camp last year to be kept around.

 

Defensive Backs

 

For the second straight season the secondary was the brightest unit on not only the defense but the entire Bills’ squad. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are as solid of a safety tandem as there is in the NFL, despite not getting much media attention. Tre’Davious White progressed into what many thought he would be when he was drafted, a first team All Pro cornerback. Across from him, Levi Wallace won the starting job and had his ups and downs but overall his play was acceptable. In the times he struggled this past season, Kevin Johnson took over and played well also. Johnson is a free agent now and the Bills should look to lock him up for another year. Taron Johnson, although prone to injury at times, has become a reliable slot corner. Usually practice squad members are afterthoughts when a team goes into the next season, but University at Buffalo product Cam Lewis has a legitimate chance of making the team next season. He showed enough in the preseason to be kept around despite the long odds of being an undrafted free agent from an unheralded program like UB’s. One of the most valuable members of the secondary, and even of the whole team, is the versatile Siran Neal. He has cemented his place on the club as it’s best special teams gunner, and also as a fill-in at both safety and the slot corner spot. Rookie safety Jaquan Johnson made some waves on special teams and has the look of a player who could have a future as a starter once Hyde or Poyer start to decline. A couple of veterans who have the Carolina pedigree that Beane and McDermott like, Dean Marlowe and Kurt Coleman, are strictly depth and special teams players.

 

Special Teams

 

The special teams for Buffalo were horrendous in 2018 and that led to the club bringing in a new coordinator, Heath Farwell, to lead the bomb squads. Unfortunately, the STs weren’t really special in 2019 either. Pro Bowl kick returner Andre Roberts was signed to add some spark to that part of the game, and although he was reliable and did a decent job, he wasn’t really that special and never provided the big play to help win a game or provide great field position for the offense. In other words, he could be counted on to not make costly mistakes but not to create the excitement of big returns. Perhaps they look to find a dynamic returner in the college draft, or maybe Christian Wade puts his rugby skills to work to provide some exciting returns. Kick coverage was mostly alright, although they did allow a 100+ yard return for a score to Miami. Long snapper Reid Ferguson was perfect all season. Punter Corey Bojorquez was inconsistent. He had a crucial punt blocked against New England that cost the Bills the game, and had more than a few shanks, but seemed to clean that up by season’s end. Still, some competition for his spot next season seems in order. The same could be said for placekicker Stephen Hauschka. He had a very inconsistent year but settled down to regain his “Hausch Money” nickname by season’s end. Of all the players whose main job was special teams, two were standouts in my book – Neal and Jaquan Johnson. Farwell’s job for next season should be to figure out how to get his units to help win games. Block a punt or a field goal maybe, or get some big plays in the return game that turn the tide of a game?

 

 

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

16 Jan

Part 2 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review will take a look at the offense. Here’s a position-by-position critique of the players on that side of the ball:

 

Quarterbacks

 

If there’s one word that describes the difference at the quarterback position for the Bills in 2019 compared to 2018 it’s this – stability. After a tumultuous 2018 season that saw the likes of Nate Peterman, Matt Barkley and Derek Anderson take turns guiding the offense, this past season saw second year prospect Josh Allen take the reins as the undisputed starter, and team leader, at the position. Allen showed tremendous progress as the season wore on in terms of cutting down turnovers and leading fourth quarter comebacks, and that progress was a major factor in the team racking up 10 wins on the year. He still made his share of mistakes and regressed into his “hero ball” personna at times, but if he continues to improve on the same arc he is on now the Bills truly have their franchise QB going into the future. Barkley did enough in 2018 to grab the backup spot, but it remains to be seen if the team looks to upgrade that important roster spot next season. There will be some interesting veterans looking for jobs this offseason. Does practice squad member Davis Webb have a chance to unseat Barkley? That should play out in next year’s training camp.

 

Running Backs

 

One of the big surprises of the 2019 campaign was the jettisoning of LeSean McCoy, the Bills’ workhorse back of previous seasons. That left the ball-carrying load in the hands of future Hall of Famer Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary. Gore carried the load early on and when Singletary was hurt, but as the season wore on the rookie took over as the lead back and Gore’s carries were diminished. There’s no doubt going into 2020 that Singletary is the main ball carrier and it’s not even likely the aging Gore will return for another season. T.J. Yeldon was a free agent signee who rarely was active on game days. I don’t see him returning to the Bills next year as he will want to find a team where he can have more opportunity to play. Senorise Perry is on the roster strictly for special teams and will have to fight hard to retain his spot next season. Christian Wade, the novelty rugby player who was on the practice squad in 2019, will get another crack at making the team. He showed flashes of promise in the preseason and it will be interesting to see how much further along he is in his development when he takes the field in camp. There is definitely room for another back, preferably one who would complement Singletary, to be brought into the fold for next season. Fullback Pat DiMarco is another player who is a regular on special teams and is used on offense almost strictly as a blocking back. Could the Bills save that roster spot by utilizing an extra lineman or a big defensive player in that blocking back role next year?

 

Receivers

 

The free agent additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley were an immense improvement over the Bills’ 2018 receiving corps. Brown provided a 1,000+ yard season while Beasley posted career high numbers as a slot security blanket for Allen. The rest of the receiver group provided mixed results. Isaiah McKenzie was usually the #3 wideout and he had his moments but wasn’t a consistent threat. He made most of his noise on jet sweep running plays. Duke Williams rarely saw the field and when he did he made some important plays as a big target for Allen, but again, wasn’t consistent enough as he also had some drops. Robert Foster regressed from 2018 and it appears he will be in for a fight to make the final roster next season, especially if the Bills add more receiving help as expected. Andre Roberts was almost exclusively used as a kick returner. He was extremely reliable but did nothing spectacular. The Bills will have 5 tight ends battling for jobs in 2020. Rookie Dawson Knox appears to have locked down the starting spot, and another first year player, Tommy Sweeney, was noticeable as a weapon in the rare chances he got to see action. Veteran Lee Smith is a locker room force and a good mentor for the young tight ends, but with his penchant for taking penalties he should struggle to stick with the club next year. Free agent addition Tyler Kroft lost much of the season to injury, but he’s signed on for additional years so he will probably be among the tight ends who are kept. Jason Croom became a forgotten man as he spent the season on injured reserve, but he’ll also be around to compete for a job.

 

Offensive Linemen

 

The Bills completely rebuilt their offensive line in 2019 with left tackle Dion Dawkins being the only returnee from the previous year to keep his job. GM Brandon Beane’s biggest free agent splash was signing center Mitch Morse to a long term contract and after dealing with concussion issues in the preseason Morse settled in to anchor the line all season. In the few instances when Morse was sidelined with injuries, another free agent, Jon Feliciano, showed his versatility by filling in at center. Otherwise Feliciano nailed down the starting right guard spot and performed admirably there all year. At left guard was Quinton Spain, signed away from Tennessee. He started at that position all season and didn’t allow a single sack in pass protection while also blocking well for the run. Veteran Ty Nsekhe came in as a free agent also and alternated at right tackle with rookie second round draft pick Cody Ford. When Nsekhe went down late in the year with an ankle injury Ford took over the spot full time and although he had his share of rookie hiccups he played well enough to give the team hope that they’ve found a long term answer for that position too. One of the tasks facing Beane this offseason will be resigning Spain, who came to Buffalo on a one year “prove it” deal. The big guard bet on himself and it paid off as he earned a big payday, hopefully from the Bills. There weren’t many times when the depth players on the line were called on to fill in as the Bills stayed miraculously healthy all year, but when the need arose Beane’s acquisitions filled the bill well. Spencer Long, signed for his versatility, played both center and guard at times and there wasn’t a noticeable decline in play. A preseason trade addition, Ryan Bates, also was a versatile addition. He wasn’t called on often but spent time at both guard and tackle and as an extra lineman when called for. He could be an excellent candidate to become the aforementioned “fullback” if the team decides to move on from Pat DiMarco. Ike Boettger was on the 53 man roster but with the good health of the regular linemen he rarely was active on game day. Another of Beane’s O-line free agents, swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, was hurt in training camp and spent the season on injured reserve. He was also on a one year contract and his status will be another decision the front office has to make for 2020. Overall, the team has to be ecstatic over how the massive overhaul of the line worked out. The team is set up for the coming years with stability up front.

 
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