by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page

Around the National Football League, almost everyone feels the Buffalo Bills will try and move up from the 12 slot to select a quarterback in the first round. There is also word around the League that the Bills are eyeballing just one particular quarterback and if he is gone they will stay a 12. If that is the case, who could be the player the Bills would love to take with that pick?

If you listened to Head Coach Sean McDermott talk at the league meetings earlier this week, you heard him say that beside quarterback, the one position the Bills have to get right is the middle linebacker position. Using the Carolina Panthers linebacker corps as an example of what McDermott wants at the position, then only one player comes to mind that early in the Draft; Georgia’s Roquon Smith. Smith is very similar to the Panthers Luke Kuechly is terms of instincts and style of play.

Smith, at 6’1 – 236, is a little smaller than Kuechly but with his 4.51 40 speed he is faster. Smith is an instinctive playmaking machine. In 2017 he had 124 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He makes plays versus both the inside and outside run, gets rid of blockers quickly, and is a tenacious tackler. With his speed, his range to the sideline is second to none. In the two College Football Playoff games he made dominating plays. Without question he is the leader of the Bulldog defense, calls the defensive signals and is very vocal on the field.

Smith is very good in pass coverage. He has the speed, quickness and athleticism to matchup against backs and tight ends and is equally proficient in man and zone coverage. When used in blitz schemes, he comes hard and can either elude or go through blocks.

Other than having a bit less than ideal size, I don’t see any real weak points in Smiths game. In the Bills defensive scheme he is the ideal Mike linebacker and having him in the game will make the defense that much better.

Other scouts may have Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds as the top inside linebacker. It’s my opinion that Smith is a bit ahead of Edmunds and mainly because Smith has far superior instincts. I also feel that Edmunds is a better fit for a 3-4 scheme than a 4-3.

If the Bills do end up taking a quarterback with that first pick, there are two other linebackers in this draft that the Bills may be able to get with their second first round pick. Those two players are Boise’s Leighton Vander Esch and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans.

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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