Before free agency begins, Bills scouts are keeping an eye here for potential talent

Houston Roughnecks wide receiver Cam Phillips (14), a former Bills player, leads the XFL in receiving touchdowns (9) and receiving yards (455). (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)
Houston Roughnecks wide receiver Cam Phillips (14), a former Bills player, leads the XFL in receiving touchdowns (9) and receiving yards (455). (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)

The Bills pro and college scouting departments are busy enough this time of year. The pro scouts are readying the team's free agency plan and preparing possible contingencies, and the college scouts are attending pro days and finalizing the team's draft board. This spring however, there's another layer of work for Buffalo's pro scouting department.

The XFL.

The second iteration of the spring league kicked off in February and the season ends with their championship game the Sunday after the NFL draft concludes. General manager Brandon Beane admits his staff is keeping a watchful eye on potential prospects in the spring pro league.

The good news for Buffalo's pro staff is there's a level of familiarity with a good number of players currently in the XFL.

"Fortunately we know a lot of these guys," Beane told Buffalobills.com. "So we know most of them in one form or another. We've seen many of them in training camps. I've seen a good number of them myself and I don't scout to the extent that our staff does."

Just taking a casual glance at some of the XFL rosters, one can quickly find players who have spent time on the Bills offseason roster over the last few seasons. Quarterbacks Cardale Jones and Tyree Jackson. Running back Keith Ford, tight end Khari Lee and wide receiver Cam Phillips are just a handful of examples.

At this point in time, the Bills are simply scouting players off game tape, although that has been a bit heavier lift than anticipated.

"The problem we're working through right now is there's not a true share plan in terms of getting game video," Beane said. "That's still in the works with the league. So that's the biggest obstacle we face. So it's more TV scouting rather than watching it like we would watch college tape or our game tape."

Though the pro scouting department is keeping tabs on the talent in the XFL, it's not top priority at this point on the NFL calendar.

"Our guys go through it and spend time, but this is not a rush item," said Beane. "A lot of these prospective players are the kind that maybe you would sign after the draft."

What the XFL provides Buffalo's pro scouts is the opportunity to make a more accurate evaluation of potential players because they get to see them playing in real games.

"There's no substitute for watching a guy play football in pads versus a workout or a video that someone sends us, or coming into the fieldhouse and running around," Beane said. "It's good when that's the best option you have, but you can't beat having them playing 11-on-11 football."

Beane is hopeful that the XFL can help to serve as a springboard league of sorts for players to get to the NFL. Sometimes college players just need a year or two of game experience to hone their game so it's more NFL ready. The XFL could serve that purpose going forward.

"As long as the league sustains itself it should help to develop young players and that will enable them to get better players," said Beane of the spring league. "There may be some players who were skeptical in year one about playing in the XFL because they didn't know if it would survive and go the way of some of the other leagues that were trying to make it. So the more the XFL is able to sustain itself the better the talent pool should be in the future."

Buffalo's GM has been in the NFL long enough to remember the value that NFL Europe had in helping to strengthen NFL rosters during its existence. He's hopeful the XFL can help the NFL in a similar fashion.

"There were some really good names that came out of NFL Europe," he said. "Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Fred Jackson. There were guys that we had in camps in Carolina who played in NFL Europe. And it was a great feeder system."

That pipeline however, has yet to be established with the fledgling XFL, but the league does have the attention of the Bills personnel boss.

"It'll be interesting to see how many of those players actually get a shot in NFL training camps this summer," Beane said. "That will be very telling. How many of these guys can be on a 90-man roster and then find a way to get through camp and the preseason and make a 53-man roster?"

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