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Draft video: Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon

Mark Gaughan takes a look at Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin BIackmon:

Join The Buffalo News for extensive live coverage during the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.

Watch a live broadcast beginning at 7:30 p.m., follow a ticker with draft selections and join a live chat.

The News' deep roster of sports reporters and columnists will be situated in the newsroom and at One Bills Drive to bring you the latest developments.

Jay Skurski and Tim Graham are anchoring the draft webcast from One News Plaza, with additional insight from Mike Harrington and Bucky Gleason.

Mark Gaughan, Jerry Sullivan, Bob DiCesare and Lauren Mariacher will be at the Bills' home in Orchard Park and will be getting reaction from the Bills' front office.

Road to the Draft: Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
6-foot-4, 235 pounds
Draft projection: No. 1 overall

Lowdown: Not since the San Francisco 49ers went back to back with Joe Montana and Steve Young over a 20-year span has a team been in a position like the Indianapolis Colts this year. The Colts basked in the glory of 13 seasons with Peyton Manning at quarterback. Thanks to Manning’s season-long absence and the collapse of the rest of the squad, the Colts get the chance to take Luck, who looks like a sure bet as a quality NFL starter. Luck went 31-7 as a starter over three seasons for the Cardinal. He attempted 1,064 passes, completed 67 percent of his throws and had 82 touchdowns and just 22 interceptions. He benefitted from the great coaching of Jim Harbaugh his first three years in Palo Alto, Calif. Luck’s father, Oliver, was a second-round pick of the Houston Oilers in 1982 and spent four years in the NFL.

Former NFL coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick assessed Luck this way in a briefing with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine:

“I think Andrew Luck is the most dynamic quarterbacking talent to come out since John Elway, as a prospect. OK? I go back to the old (line), ‘Son, your potential’s going to get me fired.’ So it is still potential, because it isn’t on the NFL field. People say, what about Peyton Manning? Let’s go back and remember. We had questions about Peyton Manning. You can’t find anybody now who will admit to it, but Petyon Manning and Ryan Leaf were touching.”

“I think Andrew Luck has more credentials, fewer questions about him, than anybody since John Elway. Now it has got to come together. But I think this guy’s the real deal. The arm strength. His arm strength is plenty good. And he’s going to mature. He’s going to grow still in that arm strength. Yeah, I think he’s the most complete quarterback since John Elway.”

---Mark Gaughan

(The News profiled 50 prospects in 50 days leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft. This was the last installment in the daily series.)

Road to the Draft: Morris Claiborne

Morris Claiborne, CB, Louisiana State
5-foot-11, 189 pounds
Draft projection: Top 10

Lowdown: Claiborne started 26 games over the past two years against the top competition in the country and helped LSU to the national title in January. Claiborne had six interceptions, was SEC defensive player of the year and a consensus first-team All-America. He had five INTs as a sophomore. He has great ball skills, and he’s a good return man. He averaged 26.1 yards on 17 kickoff returns in 2011. He had a 99-yard KO return for a TD at West Virginia. He ran a quality time of 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

In comparing Claiborne to Alabama first-round prospect Dre Kirkpatcik, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said: “Claiborne is more a more natural man-to-man defender. Kirkpatrick has tremendous zone awareness. Some people think he can be a free safety. I think Claiborne, you can plug in and play in just about any defense. He has a better overall package then Kirkpatrick.”

---Mark Gaughan

(The News is profiling 50 prospects in 50 days leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft.)

Road to the Draft: Justin Blackmon

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
6-foot-1, 207 pounds
Draft projection: Top 10

Lowdown: Blackmon dominated his college competition the past two years and projects as an elite No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Speculation most of the past four months has had him rated as a top-five pick. We’ll see if he slides below that on April 26. Blackmon caught 111 passes with 20 touchdowns as a red-shirt sophomore in 2010 and 122 with 18 touchdowns as a red-shirt junior in 2011. His 1,782 receiving yards in 2010 broke Larry Fitzgerald’s sophomore national record. He ran the 40-yard dash in a good time of 4.46 seconds during his pro-day workout.

Said Mike Mayock of the NFL Network: “He’s big, he’s physical, he has tremendous ball skills and athleticism. I don’t think you’re gonna see a guy that wows you with vertical speed. But his body control, hands and ability to catch the football are exceptional.”

---Mark Gaughan

(The News is profiling 50 prospects in 50 days leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft.)

Road to the Draft: A.J. Jenkins

A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
6-foot, 190 pounds
Draft projection: Second or third round

Lowdown: After a decent, 56-catch junior season, Jenkins was not viewed as a high-round draft prospect entering the 2011 college season. However, he blossomed into a star for the Illini, catching 90 passes for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 14.6 yards a catch. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds and had a good vertical jump of 38 1-2 inches. Those numbers peg him as a legitimate stretch-the-field prospect. There are no worries about his hands, either; they’re excellent. He needs polish as a route-runner. While his 40 time is elite, he’s not quite the burner, say, a Lee Evans was in college. Jenkins is a native of Jacksonville, Fla. Jenkins would be a steal of a third round for a team like the Buffalo Bills. However, he might even go in the top 40 picks, based on the view of him as a "riser" by draftniks.

---Mark Gaughan

(The News is profiling 50 prospects in 50 days leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft.)

 

Mayock likes Kuechly for Bills

Judging by the comments of NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, the Buffalo Bills would be well advised to steer away from the offensive tackle position at the No. 10 spot in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Mayock loves Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, and thinks he would be a great fit for the Bills.

"Kuechly to me is one of the 10 best players in this draft," Mayock said today on a conference call with reporters. "The intriguing thing about Luke Kuechly is historically inside linebackers are not valued, mostly because they get replaced in sub packages and nickel packages. Kuechly is the opposite. Kuechly's strength lies in the pass game. He's the best pass-dropping linebacker from the inside I've ever seen coming out of college football. He's got instincts, he's got speed. So on third down, when the sub package comes in the game, he's going to stay in the game, a lot like Sean Lee in Dallas. I think there's real value there because he's a three-down inside linebacker. He'll occasionally get enveloped by a big body but the NFL is a pass-first league, and there's value in Luke Kuechly."

Furthermore, Mayock thinks Kuechly makes sense for the AFC East.

"For Buffalo at 10, to me Luke Kuechly and (Alabama safety) Mark Barron make sense. They have to play New England twice with those tight ends."

Meanwhile, Mayock values South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore higher than a lot of draft experts have been ranking him this offseason.

"I'm a big fan of Gilmore," he said. "I think he's a top 10 or 12 player in this draft."

Regarding the offensive tackles, Mayock rates Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Ohio State's Mike Adams as potential boom-or-bust picks. "There's significant upside, but don't see much consistency," Mayock said of Martin and Adams. Mayock sees Iowa's Riley Reiff as a right tackle and a value at 15 to 22. He thinks Georgia's Cordy Glenn is a right tackle.

What are the odds the top offensive tackle, Matt Kalil, drops to No. 10? "That's not happening," Mayock said. "I don't think there's any way he gets past seven. I don't think there's any way he gets to 10."

---Mark Gaughan

 

Road to the Draft: Riley Reiff

Riley Reiff, T, Iowa
6-foot-6, 313 pounds
Draft projection: Top 12

Lowdown: Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz produces technically sound offensive linemen. NFL Pro Bowler Eric Steinbach and Green Bay starter Bryan Bulaga are two of his best products. Reiff appears destined for a strong NFL career. He has ideal size. He started 37 of 39 games over the past three years. He has a big frame and good enough arm length, at 33 1-4 inches. (You like offensive tackles to be at 33 inches or more.) He got better as his career progressed. The knock on him, if you want to call it a knock, is he is not as elite an athlete as some of the better top-10 offensive linemen taken in past drafts. Nevertheless, he’s good enough to play left tackle in the NFL, and he looks like a relatively safe pick. He could be the Buffalo Bills’ pick if he’s on the board at No. 10.

Reiff is a South Dakota native. He won three state high school wrestling championships and compiled a 121-1 record as a prep heavyweight wrestler. His lone loss came as a freshman. Asked how wrestling helps his football game, he said: “Your hands, your use of your hands, your hips, footwork. Wrestling is a big endurance sport. Not only endurance, it’s mental toughness, too, that brings to the football field.”

---Mark Gaughan

(The News is profiling 50 prospects in 50 days leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft.)

Road to the Draft: Cordy Glenn

Cordy Glenn, G-T, Georgia
6-foot-5, 345 pounds
Draft projection: First round

Lowdown: Glenn is a huge man with 36-inch arms who moved to left tackle for his senior season and did well enough to be eyed as an NFL prospect at that spot. Most draft experts say his best position as a pro is at guard, where he made 32 of his 50 starts for the Bulldogs. His 50 starts tied for the most in school history by an offensive lineman (with Clint Boling, now with the Bengals).

Most draft projections have Glenn going in the middle of the first round as a guard. His weight and physical style point toward guard in the NFL. But his improvement as his senior season went on makes him a worthy consideration for the Buffalo Bills at No. 10 in the first round. Glenn did well at left tackle at the Senior Bowl. Glenn was a team captain as a senior. He made first team all SEC and third-team All-America in 2011. His starts by year: senior – 14 at LT; junior – 13 at LG; sophomore – 1 at RG, 4 at LT and 8 at LG; freshman – 7 at LG, 3 at RG.

Said ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “Cordy Glenn presents great versatility, could be a right tackle or a guard. He played left tackle this year but is probably not cut out for that position in the NFL.”

Said ESPN’s Todd McShay: “He's not as nasty as you'd like to see, and every once in a while he leans on guys, and that turned off a lot of scouts. But he can move a lot better than people give him credit for. And he was horrific early in the year when they moved him from guard to left tackle. People think it's easy to move out to left tackle from guard. It's not. When he played that Boise State game, I think he was embarrassed. Towards the end of the year (he improved). It shows you how much he worked at it and how good he can get.”

Glenn got a lot better near the end of the season. In the SEC Championship game against Louisiana State, he played very well, even though Georgia lost, 42-10. Glenn shut down the Tigers’ quality defensive end, Sam Montgomery. Glenn gave up one sack in the game.

---Mark Gaughan

 

Bills game in TO, prime time?

The NFL regular-season schedule gets released at 7 p.m. today. The Bills have not been on Monday Night Football in the past two years. The NFL Network is expanding its schedule of prime-time games this season. It will air a Thursday night game every week from Week 2 to Week 12 in the schedule. Last year it aired a Thursday night game seven straight weeks from the 10th to 16th weeks on the schedule. Every NFL team will be guaranteed at least one prime-time game, but that includes Thursday nighters on the NFL Network (which much of Western New York still does not get, although any Bills game on NFLN would also be on an over-the-air station.)

The Bills' four regular-season opponents in Toronto so far have been: Miami, the Jets, Chicago and Washington. No doubt the Bills and their fans do NOT want to see an AFC East game in the Rogers Centre. Presuming the NFL goes along with that idea, the following teams would be TO candidates:

Jacksonville, Tennessee, Kansas City, St. Louis and Seattle.

From the Bills' competitive perspective, the best choices would be St. Louis or Seattle, non-conference foes. The results would have the least impact on any playoff race. From the perspective of creating the best buzz for Toronto fans, the top choices would be New England or the Jets (with Tim Tebow). But there's no way the Bills would allow the NE game to leave Orchard Park.

The obvious top prime-time candidates would be New England, at Houston (Mario Williams' return to face the Texans) or the rivalry game against the Jets. Or perhaps the road game at San Francisco, the most elite team on the Bills' schedule besides New England.

While New England is an obivous prime-time choice for Buffalo, there are a lot of marquee games on the Pats' schedule. The networks are sure to have fought over the visit by Denver and Peyton Manning to New England. Pats-Jets always is a big game. The Pats also host the 49ers and visit the Ravens.

The Bills get what looks like a scheduling edge over the Pats and Jets in terms of the two standing-based opponents in 2012. Buffalo gets the Chiefs and Browns. The Pats get Manning's Broncos and the Ravens. The Jets get Pittsburgh and Oakland.

---Mark Gaughan

Road to the Draft: Jonathan Martin

Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
6-foot-5, 312 pounds
Draft projection: Top 20

Lowdown: Martin produced on the field, protecting the blind side of Andrew Luck for three years. He has a prototypical frame and started 37 of 39 games over the past three college seasons. He’s leaving school with a year of eligibility to go. He will be a strong consideration for the Buffalo Bills, who own the No. 10 pick. The question: Is he an elite enough athlete to warrant a top-10 pick? He’s clearly a finesse tackle, not a punishing, physical player. But in today’s spread-happy passing game, that’s what teams need most out of their left tackle.

Says ESPN analyst Mel Kiper: “Excellent collegiate left tacklebut how well he’ll deal with the best pass-rushing DEs he’s ever faced on a play-by-play basis in the NFL is the big question that could push him into the latter stages of Round One.”

Nevertheless, Martin’s production speaks: Three years of high quality play in a great offense against top competition.

Intelligence is another asset. Coming out of high school in North Hollywood, Calif., Martin resisted a strong recruiting pitch from Harvard. Both of Martin’s parents are Harvard graduates, and it’s believed he would have been the university’s first fourth-generation African-American student. Martin’s great grandfather on his mother’s side graduated from Harvard in 1924 and knew W.E.B. DuBois, the famed sociologist, historian and civil rights activist (and a Harvard man, as well.) Martin majored in classics - ancient Greek and Roman history. He said he’s about half a year away from graduating.

Martin has no regrets about diverting from the family footsteps.

“No, not for a minute,” he said in an interview at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “I wanted to play football at the highest level. I wanted to go to BSC Bowl games. I wanted to compete for national championship, try to get up there, so I’m happy with my decision.”

---Mark Gaughan

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