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NFL prospects have high regards for Buffalo Bills' 2022 rookie class

Georgia RB James Cook (4) runs against Alabama during the first half of the SEC Championship, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. Georgia OL Broderick Jones (59) and head coach Kirby Smart (right) look on from the sidelines (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson).
Georgia RB James Cook (4) runs against Alabama during the first half of the SEC Championship, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. Georgia OL Broderick Jones (59) and head coach Kirby Smart (right) look on from the sidelines (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson).

The 2023 NFL Scouting Combine is now complete after many of the top collegiate prospects worked out in front of all 32 teams and GMs at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

During the past week, we asked several of these prospects what it would mean to play for the Bills and what they thought of the Bills' rookies.

Top draft prospects such as Georgia's Darnell Washington (TE), Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence (OL) and Boise State's JL Skinner (safety) raved about the Bills' 2022 rookie class which included guys they previously played with in college such as RB James Cook (Georgia), CB Kaiir Elam (Florida) and WR Khalil Shakir (Boise State).

Here's what we learned about what they had to say about the rookies and what it would be like to reunite with them in Buffalo.

RB James Cook, University of Georgia product

Bills RB James Cook came on strong late in the 2022 season as he split time with Devin Singletary as Buffalo's 1-2 punch in the backfield. In his rookie year, he totaled 507 rushing yards, 180 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 89 attempts, a figure which would've ranked first among all NFL running backs had he logged 11 more carries (100 carries min. to qualify).

Cook played at Georgia from 2018-21 and won the national championship in his final year with the program before becoming Buffalo's second-round pick in last year's NFL Draft.

One of his former teammates and current prospect Georgia TE Darnell Washington raved about Cook's potential during his interview at the NFL Combine last week.

"(It's) through the roof. You see how high his ceiling is, so as high as that and more," Washington said.

Washington is one of the tight end prospects to monitor leading up to the NFL Draft. He checked in at an astonishing 6-foot-7 frame at 264 pounds, and he clocked a 4.64 40-yard dash which ranked fifth among all TEs at the Combine.

He called the Bills a "special" team should he end up in Buffalo.

"Play for that offense and with Cook again, it would be an honor. I know that team is special. They got great caliber athletes, great guys. But just to be reunited with a Georgia player if it's Cook or if it's no Georgia players or whatever it may be, that's whatever the future holds," he said.

Georgia offensive lineman Broderick Jones — a player that has been mocked to the Bills by some draft projections — said at the Combine that it'd "be great" to block for Cook again in Buffalo but also to play alongside QB Josh Allen.

"He likes to run a little bit," Jones said. "I like quarterbacks like that."

Georgia RB James Cook (4) hurdles an Auburn player and Georgia OL Broderick Jones as he carries the ball against Auburn during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct 9, 2021 in Auburn, Al. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Safety Christoper Smith is another Georgia teammate that was impressed by Cook's debut. While Smith played on the opposite side of the ball, he still got to see up close the speed and vision that Cook had in the backfield.

"My boy had a great season. He had a good rookie season. I feel like he contributed to the offense in a big way. I like to say the sky's the limit for Cook. He's got a lot of talent. I can't wait to see what he does in his sophomore year," Smith said.

Smith is a versatile corner and was a First-Team All-American in 2022 on Georgia's national championship team this past season. He says he has some familiarity with the Bills and believes he would fit their defensive system. 

"I know they got a great organization," Smith said of Buffalo. "They got a lot of great players, a lot of great DBs as well. I know James Cook, my former teammate, is on the team as well. So I know a good bit about the Buffalo Bills."

Kaiir Elam, University of Florida Product

CB Kaiir Elam was a big part of Buffalo's secondary in 2022. In the 13 games he played in, Elam recorded 41 total tackles, defended four passes, and tallied two total interceptions in back-to-back weeks against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Elam's rookie season caught the eyes of a few of his former teammates at Florida. But the cornerback's on-field success didn't come as a surprise to DL Gervon Dexter, who finished the 2022 Gators season with 55 tackles, four TFLs, two sacks, and one interception.

"I think Kaiir is a guy, even in college, he was already a pro," Dexter said. "He prepared himself like a pro. He was a great leader to younger guys like me with him and just set an example on how you carry yourself. And he has amazing character and I think that's helped him as well in the professional league. So, I think he's always been a guy who carries himself that way, so I don't think it was a hard transition on his part."

Having been through the combine and draft experience before, Elam reached out to a few of his fellow Gators and gave them advice on how to approach the pre-draft process. Florida safeties Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence II looked up to Elam during their time together and Florida, and they both received some helpful tips from him on how to keep the stress as low as possible throughout the coming weeks.

Florida safety Trey Dean III (0) watches as cornerback Kaiir Elam (5) breaks up a pass intended for Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III (8) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

"Actually, before I left I was with Kaiir Elam," Dean said. "He gave me a lot of tips, just be you. He knows the type of player I am, so he just said just be yourself and just trust in God and everything else. The chips will fall wherever they fall."

"I mean, Kaiir's just a great influence to me," Torrence II added. "Just coming in and seeing the progress and the production that he had as a freshman. Coming in, I kind of learned from him and went under his wing. He was able to take me and just teach me some of the things he learned early in his career and just implementing those things into my game was something that I did."

Torrence II finished last season with a team-leading 84 tackles and one fumble recovery, and Dean finished not too far behind him with 81 tackles and two fumble recoveries. And these defense backs would be filled with excitement if given the opportunity to be reunited with Elam in Buffalo.

"Well if I join Kaiir Elam, that would be a sight to see," Dean said. "I just know that would be great. But whatever team gets me, they're going to get a great player."

WR Khalil Shakir, Boise State University product

Shakir spent a bulk of the regular season learning from Bills veterans Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie. But in the playoffs, Shakir showed what he's capable of as he recorded three catches for 51 yards in the Wild Card game against the Dolphins and two catches for 40 yards against the Bengals in the Divisional round.

Shakir ranked third on the team in receiving yards during the postseason which is a positive building block going into his second year in the league. 

Boise State offensive lineman John Ojukwu knew from their time in college that Shakir's work ethic and talent would translate to the next level.

"(Shakir) is just a playmaker. I remember him telling me he gets the ball in his hand, and he doesn't even think like 'I have to do this or that.' He just knows what works. So, the potential is all the way up there. He can make the game whatever he wants it to be," Ojukwu said.

Between his connection to Shakir and hearing about Josh Allen's playing days at Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference, Ojukwu would be thrilled to join the Bills.

"That'd be great. It's always good to play with another teammate and then Josh Allen playing out West too, so I got that little connection," he said.

JL Skinner, a Boise State safety, believes the Bills got a steal in the draft last season with being able to select Skair in the fifth-round.

"I think he went too low in the draft honestly. I think he should have been a third-round guy, personally," Skinner said. "He's just going to be able to showcase his talent more as he gets more comfortable, and in a year or two I expect some big things from him."

Scroll through to view photos of the top prospects that draft analysts have projected the Bills to take with the 27th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

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