With just over a week before the NFL draft, the Bills are still crossing their ‘T’s and dotting their ‘I’s on some of the more notable prospects in this year’s draft pool. Topping the list of visitors Tuesday was a projected top 10 quarterback and sure fire first-round pass rusher in Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram.
Most draft analysts are convinced that Tannehill’s skill set will trump the fact that he has just 20 starts at quarterback in his college career. Forced to wait his turn at A&M, Tannehill played receiver his first two seasons for the Aggies, and led the team in receptions both years.
“He has everything you look for,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. “It took taking a step back and looking at everything I have on paper for this guy to realize he belongs in the Top 10 and has a chance to be an elite quarterback in the NFL.
“To me, you've got Andrew Luck at No. 1, then a little bit of a drop off. There is a difference between him and Robert Griffin III. I don't think the difference between Robert Griffin III and Tannehill is that big, to be honest with you. I really don't.”
Over the last two seasons Tannehill emerged as a signal caller with NFL caliber talent. He set school records in 2011 for completions (327), attempts (531) and passing yards (3,744). Tannehill’s career completion percentage of 62.5 percent was also the highest in school annals. He’s also the only player in BCS history to record 4,000 passing yards and 1,500 receiving yards in a career.
Tannehill ran a West Coast offense at A&M under former head coach and current Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Forecast as a first-round pick, Tannehill knows that the value on quarterbacks can get inflated come draft day, due mainly to the importance of the position. So he is fully cognizant that just about any team could make a play for him in the draft.
“There’s several (quarterback needy teams),” he said. “There’s several every year, though. You never
know what team. There’s always a shocker that jumps in there or jumps out. You never know what’s going to happen. I’m excited about the teams that potentially could be in the quarterback hunt and the opportunities it presents.”
Most draft prognosticators believe Tannehill is a lock to be a top 15 pick later this month with Cleveland (4th), Miami (8th) and Seattle (12th) mentioned as the most frequent prospective destinations.
Meanwhile Ingram, following a scintillating performance at the NFL Combine where he ran a 4.79 at 264 pounds, had a 34 1/2" vertical and 28 reps on the bench, is also seen as a strong candidate to go in the top 10.
One of the more coveted pass rushers in the draft, some NFL clubs are still wondering if he could play outside linebacker at the pro level being leery about his lack of height at 6'1 1/2". Ingram has been taking notes from a top pick in last year's draft that was also seen as a bit of a DE/OLB tweener.
“I’ve been working on linebacker and defensive end stuff during my training. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with Von Miller in California," said Ingram. "Me and him have the same agent. We just try to compete against each other every day. He’s the Defensive Rookie of the Year, so I try to pattern myself after him because he had a lot of success in the NFL.”
Ingram led the Gamecocks last season in sacks with a single-season school record of 10, along with 15 tackles for loss, two interceptions and three touchdowns.
He's been forecast to come off the board as early as the seventh pick to Jacksonville.
Top cornerbacks also visiting
Joining Tannehill and Ingram at One Bills Drive were a pair of cornerback prospects. One was Ingram's college teammate in South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore. The other was Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming.
Gilmore has also seen his draft stock boosted by draft analysts, some of whom have the South Carolina product ranked as the second-best corner in the class. Described as an instinctive, intelligent, athletic cover man, Gilmore is also aggressive in run support. The corner led the team in tackles in 2010.
“I like to tackle a lot,” Gilmore said. “I think most corners don't like to tackle. I like to make plays on the ball, and sometimes I try to strip the ball. I just try to be a complete corner.”
The junior eligible had seven career interceptions, three of which were made this past season. A big corner (6’0” 190) with 4.4 speed, Gilmore has been forecast as a mid to late first-round pick.
Fleming (5'11", 206) is a former receiver, which has benefited him at cornerback in terms of ball skills. In a word Fleming is productive.
His first year as a starter for the Sooners, he put up 71 tackles, five interceptions and was second in the nation in passes defended with 19 total pass breakups. Fleming wasn't able to top those numbers in his senior season, which is why Fleming's stock isn't quite as high as that of Gilmore.
Fleming has been projected as a second or third-round pick.