INDIANAPOLIS -- We're in the thick of the NFL Combine as draft prospects are now able to meet with teams and going through their combine workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This week often also provides insight from other NFL general managers, coaches and national media members on potential storylines involving the Buffalo Bills. Whether it be draft prospects, free agency decisions. Super Bowl windows and everything in-between, there's a lot of chatter to sift through.
Here are five key things we're hearing about the Bills during Combine week.
1 – Bills still seen as Super Bowl contender
The Bills 2022 campaign did not end the way they wanted with their exit from the playoffs in the Divisional round. But it hasn't changed the league's outlook for the franchise going forward.
"Number one, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott, they're special. They're special people, but they're also special in what they do," said Los Angeles Chargers GM Tom Telesco, in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "So once you have that and you have Josh Allen, then you've got the perfect three right there.
"I probably follow the Bills a little more than other GMs because I'm from there and because my family are all still big Bills fans. Quite frankly I'm a Bills fan as long as it doesn't affect us. But they're looked upon very favorably. They have a stacked roster. It's run really well. They can play in all different elements. They're a fun team to watch and a very difficult team to play. I'm glad we have the Bills at our place this year and don't have to go to Buffalo in December or something. We get those guys on our turf. But it's a really well-run organization with a lot of good players with a big-time head coach and general manager."
NFL Network draft analyst, Charles Davis, agrees with the assessment of the Chargers general manager.
"Still the team setting the pace. Still the team that you have to chase down in the East. Still a team that is a Super Bowl contender," said Davis, who also appeared on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "Yes, they have to plug some holes, but the Bills DNA is steeped in their roster where they believe they're winning."
2 – Value at need positions could line up well in Round 1
The general consensus at the NFL Combine is the Bills could use an influx of talent on their offensive line and at wide receiver. Fortunately for Buffalo, the value at those two positions could line up well with their pick in round one at 27th overall.
"I think that it's a really good group of edge rushers. So I think you're going to see a big run on those early in the draft. Obviously, the quarterback run is going to take place early, up in the top 10. And I think you'll see a pretty good run on corners as well," said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah. "So if you're looking at the value of where they're picking right now. I think interior offensive lineman is actually the place where you're going to find good players around 27. And there's a good group there."
Jeremiah is a fan of TCU's Steve Avila as well as Wisconsin's Joe Tippman among others. He also believes there will be good value at the receiver position at the bottom of round one.
"I think you could get one of the top guys there," Jeremiah said of the receiver class while a guest on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "I don't think we're going to see these receivers go early. And so that's the first wave and if you think there are four or five in that first group, I think they'll have a shot at one of those guys where they are."
If Buffalo goes offensive line in round one, they may have to wait on a receiver until late on day two as Jeremiah sees a sizable gap in talent after the top group of wideouts.
"I think you have those five solid players," said Jeremiah of the receiver class. "I think there's a gap and then there's a truckload of guys in the third round or later. So it's one of those deals where I wouldn't be all that fired up about taking one in the third round when I probably can take one in the fifth or sixth and it's not going to be that much different."
3 – Defensive tweaks coming?
Buffalo will not have Leslie Frazier as their defensive coordinator in 2023 as he chose to take a year off. Although a decision has not been made on how they'll proceed with the defensive responsibilities left behind by Frazier, it does sound like there could be some tweaks to the defensive approach for the upcoming season.
"When you evaluate, usually there are two branches where you say, 'How much of it is scheme? How much of it is player?'" said head coach Sean McDermott on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "And you try and look at it objectively and ask what can we do better schematically and then do we have the right players? And I would say that it's never just one or the other. It's usually a combination and so we feel good about our players. Do we need to improve in some areas? Yes, no doubt about it."
One example would be defending 3rd-and-medium against the pass. On 3rd-and-4 and 3rd-and-5 when defending the pass, even though Buffalo's defense ranked seventh in third down defense overall, they gave up a 59 percent conversion rate to their opponents on those two down and distances.
"Schematically in 2021 we were the top defense on third down," said McDermott. "But you dive back in every offseason and you start from the ground and work your way up and anytime you can get a team into third down it's a good thing. Now you'd love it to be 3rd-and-7 plus, but even there we weren't great this year and on 3rd-and-11 plus so you just have to start over and find out the what, the why, and the how and come back this year with a with a better approach."
4 – Young players on field sooner?
The Bills are known as an organization where as a player you have to earn your playing time on the field on game days. How you perform in practice is a critical part of earning that time in games, and when you do get that opportunity you have to make the most of it. That helps convince the coaching staff that they can trust the player.
Buffalo's 2022 draft class was a good example of that philosophy. Even though every member of the rookie class that made the roster had seen playing time by October, only a couple saw regular action until the latter stages of the season when some roles increased.
But with a roster that has a handful of big contracts, it may require the Bills to lean on some younger players to contribute more, perhaps even from this year's draft class.
"Sometimes as rookies, they're adjusting to life and even though they have the skill set ready, there are so many elements to that transition," said GM Brandon Beane. "So you're not quite ready to put them out there as a starter. We're going to need young guys to step up and play because we are a little top heavy and it's hard to always have the depth when you have those salaries."
As much as the coaching staff will need to develop young players to put them on the fast track to contribute on game day, Beane looks squarely at himself and his personnel department to provide the kind of talent that can contribute right away.
"That's where I look right in the mirror because it comes right back to me," Beane said. "We've got to make sure that myself and our personnel staff, get guys that can help us immediately whether it's a starter or key role player, key contributor and we got some of those guys in last year's class. We are probably one of the slower teams to put them out there, but when you've got a team that you feel is very good you want to make sure you just know. Sometimes until you get them out there in moments you don't know. But we are going to count on these last couple of draft classes that are going into years two and years three and then the other guys on the team. But this upcoming draft class we're going to count on these guys to help us too in some form or fashion."
5 – Emotional toll of Hamlin situation was evident
As disappointing as the end to Buffalo's season was for players, coaches and fans, the club never made an excuse for why their performance was so lackluster in the Divisional Playoff loss to Cincinnati. But if you were around the team you knew that the Damar Hamlin cardiac event in Week 17 took a toll on the team that could not be effectively measured.
NFL on CBS analyst, Charles Davis, who called a handful of Bills games during the season, watched that Divisional Playoff and was convinced that the team was emotionally spent from all that the Hamlin situation pulled from them.
"As an outsider watching what the team had to go through last year from the moment Damar (Hamlin) went down, for the rest of the season, the organization, players, and fans handled it with dignity, class, empathy and care. But you can't tell me that the toll on the team wasn't big.
"I watched that team against the Dolphins in the playoffs and they were operating from an emotional deficit, and they found a way to win. The Cincinnati game, I take nothing away from the Bengals, they won the ball game, but I said in the first quarter that this (Bills) team was emotionally spent. There was no way for them to get away from it.
"There's no way you can tell people to move on and play a game. Now you're insensitive. No one is going to do that. You're going to take care of Damar, the situation, and your people. It took its toll on them."
What's encouraging for Davis with respect to the Bills is heading into the 2023 campaign, the players can finally move forward.
"Now they can go back and play football again because Damar is okay," said Davis. "But that's the thing that I saw at the end of last year. You'll never hear the team or coaching staff say that, but I'm saying it as an outside observer. You could see it because I've been through it before, and I've seen it with other teams. When you have those kinds of things happen it eventually wears you down and there's no way to get around it."
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.