With the NFL combine in the rearview mirror the task of uncovering the questions that still remain on top prospects is the only ground left to be covered. Pro day workouts and pre-draft visits become the focus now as the Bills make sure to cross their 'T's and dot their 'I's on every prospect out there with a draftable grade.
Players worthy of consideration at third overall naturally will be even more heavily scrutinized knowing the great value placed on a pick that high. Two such players hail from the same university with Nick Fairley and Cam Newton both being Auburn Tigers.
Both will merit consideration at the top of the draft by most NFL clubs. Fortunately for the Bills there's good familiarity with Auburn as an institution.
First and foremost Bills GM Buddy Nix was an assistant coach on the Auburn coaching staff for five seasons (1976-80) and still has connections at the SEC school. Of course Nix made light of it knowing how often the draft analysts have tied Newton to the Bills.
"Everybody thinks I've got ties at Auburn because I coached there and my family went there, but I just found out that Chan's son went to Auburn and that's why if we take (Newton) that'll be the reason," said Nix jokingly. "Not because he's a big, good quarterback."
As much as Nix kidded about his Auburn ties, don't think for a second that he won't use those contacts and connections if it helps him to gather more information about two of the best prospects in the draft class.
"Nick Fairley and Cam (Newton), we'll know as much about them as you could possibly know," said Nix. "His landlady ran the dorm when I was there. I've got kin folks there."
And though Nix's coaching days on The Plains ended more than 30 years ago, his time as a Southeast region scout with the Bills (1993-2000) and later as an Assistant GM and Personnel Director with San Diego (2001-07) likely kept his ties there strong.
Nix, Gailey and their staffs interviewed 60 players at the combine behind closed doors. There they got a better handle on their football acumen.
"What you do find out is how much knowledge they have about the game," said Gailey. "Do they have confidence in what they know and what they're reading and understanding or are they guessing? You can figure that out in an interview."
"We spend 15 minutes with tape of him playing and tape of different defenses and offensive schemes and we have them talk us through it," Nix said. "So we better understand if we got him where we would start with him."
Armed with that knowledge and all they need to know about playing ability on tape, they now look to uncover more about a player's personality, work ethic and character. That often means digging pretty deep into a player's past, something the Bills have apparently done with several players including Newton. And despite all the pluses there are minuses too.
"One is the offense he played in," said Nix of Newton's drawbacks. "He's been one year at a BCS school. Going all the way back to junior high you can't argue with the guy having success wherever he was. It's still a downside that he's going to have to adjust some to a new offense and experience is a big thing, but the guy has overcome most everything so far. Now of course I'm talking like we're going to draft a quarterback and that's not necessarily true. We're trying research everybody and we'll have a lot of options at number three."
One of those other options is Fairley, who looks to be scheme diverse. He can play three-technique (penetrating defensive tackle) in a 4-3 system or defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
"A guy that's 6'5" and can run a little bit, he can play out there for us (in a 3-4)," Nix said. "You need range. There are always exceptions."
This year defensive end is the exception with a bounty of highly-graded talent, and that obviously includes Fairley the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
"You look at any football team out there and every one of them put a premium on pass rushers," said Gailey. "Everybody does. Any time there's a good group of those guys out there, and it looks like there is a pretty good group of pass rushers out there this time, then you're going to see everybody take a real close look."
That's why every NFL club is using every resource they have on every college campus including Auburn. Any information from a reliable source on a prospect reduces the margin for error. And when dealing with an inexact science like the NFL draft that's invaluable.
"It's almost 24 hours a day that we're trying to make sure we know everything there is to know," said Nix. "And if there's a guy there that we think we're dead set on we're going to take him."