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Finding the right fit

The days are winding down to the NFL draft and final decisions have or will be made as to whether certain prospects are fits for the Bills. Some of those decisions involve where a player projects in Buffalo's scheme, whether a player can handle a jump from the lower college divisions to the NFL and whether a player is versatile enough to play more than one position.

Some of the most common challenges exist when it comes to defensive end prospects that might not have the prototype size to handle that role every down. College players may have to make a shift to outside linebacker, but do they have the athleticism to do so?

Three such examples in this year's draft class are Cincinnati's Connor Barwin, UCONN's Cody Brown and Northern Illinois' Larry English. Some NFL clubs see them as legitimate 4-3 defensive ends while other consider them more 3-4 outside linebacker types.

"In a 4-3 they'd all probably fit best at defensive end," said Bills coordinator of college scouting Doug Majeski. "All of those guys however, are appealing to 3-4 teams. Connor Barwin is appealing just because of his whole package. He has speed, size and effort."

Barwin, however, might also be the most challenging prospect of the three having played just one season at defensive end. Though he's physically gifted he leaves scouts with not much to go on when it comes to assessing whether or not he has a feel or instincts for the position.

"He hasn't had a lot of experience, but he progressed as the season went on and got better," said Majeski. "There are a lot of things he hasn't seen before that he's just starting to play with this year. He has athletic ability, but it's more a developmental part of his game."

Whether that affects his draft stock is a question that will be answered on Saturday.

Making the jump from Division 1-AA or lower to the NFL presents a greater challenge to the player as well as the scouts evaluating them. Richmond defensive end Lawrence Sidbury dominated his competition in leading the Spiders to a national title, a key factor if such a player is to have a chance at the pro level.

"It's still how a guy plays on the field more than his measurables," said Bills Vice President of College Scouting Tom Modrak. "If he doesn't have the measurables and he only plays okay, it's hard to get there. If he has those (measurables) then you determine if he can play and transfer his stuff from Saturday to Sunday."

For Sidbury, the jump isn't that big coming from 1-AA and the consensus around the league is he's a legit day one prospect.

"He had a very productive championship game and he certainly with the East-West game and Senior Bowl exposure has had most of his work at defensive end," Majeski said. "He's an interesting guy just because of his athletic skills. He's an athletic, productive end and played in 16 ball games and really helped himself in the bowl games. You see him physically and against a better level of comp and his arrow is pointing up."

If a prospect is capable of playing more than one position, particularly on the offensive line, it's a major plus in the eyes of scouts. With only seven linemen active on game day versatility is coveted.

This year's class has a strong top tier of center talent in Cal's Alex Mack, Oregon's Max Unger and Louisville's Eric Wood. But are any of them capable of playing more than just center in the NFL?

Unger has played center and tackle, but not guard. Bills' scout Brad Forsyth doesn't believe guard would be a big challenge for Unger.

"He really understands how to play the game," said Forsyth of Unger. "I don't think it'll be too much of an issue if you want to plug him in at guard. He knows all of their positions there at Oregon. He has that mentality."

"Those are three pretty elite players that will probably get a chance strictly as a center because they're that good," said Majeski. "However, Unger, Wood and Mack all played guard in the Senior Bowl, so we got some pretty good exposure to that. Have we seen it on college tape? No, but we have had exposure to it. Sometimes you just have to project where these guys fit."

And finding the right fit for your club is what scouting is all about.

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