This year's senior class may not have a top-5 pick like Khalil Mack roaming the field at UB Stadium, bu that doesn't mean there isn't still NFL-caliber talent suiting up for the Bulls each Saturday. And being Bull Run's resident Mel Kiper, Jr. (minus the sweet hairdo) I put on the tape and found three seniors who I believe have a very legitimate shot at being on an NFL roster come next summer.
Adam Redden, DB
In a season where the UB defense has resembled something of a piece of swiss cheese, senior defensive back/drop linebacker Adam Redden has been a force to be reckoned with in opposing backfields, and on the back end of the defense as well. He's currently seconds on the team with 61 tackles behind only Lee Skinner (more on him later...), he also is pacing the team in sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles with 5, 13, and 3 respectively.
Professional Comparison - Deone Bucannon, SS, Arizona Cardinals
The thing that really jumps out at you when watching Redden on tape is his versatility in that he has the speed to blitz off the edge and track down an opposing quarterback, while having the strength to completely stonewall ball-carriers in the ground game, and the hard hitting attitude to make receivers think twice about going over the middle. He and Cardinals rookie safety Bucannon both have nearly identical builds, standing at 6-1 and checking in between 206 and 216 pounds. They also have eerliy similar playing styles with Redden having a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the MAC, and Bucannon was touted for his ability to level ball carriers coming out of Washington State.
Draft Expectations - 6th Round - Free Agency
Redden definitely has NFL talent, and could thrive in a system where he play a dollar linebacker, similar to what he does in Lou Tepper's defense. The only issue is that the Bulls haven't been playing all that well so logic says he may not really have the scouts' attention. But, given his successful junior campaign opposite Khalil Mack, he is sure to have left an impression on a few scouts.
If Redden wants to hear his name get called in May he will need to secure an invite to an All-Star game such as the Senior Bowl, and most importantly he'll need an invite to the NFL Combine.
Redden's best opportunity to land on a roster will be if he's taken by a team that is thin at the safety position. Former teammate Derek Brim secured a camp invite from the Buffalo Bills this past summer, and Redden is a far superior player so he may be able to latch on right here in Western New York. The Redskins and Eagles both have very thin secondaries and don't have a real hard-hitting presence at safety, so they could also be an option.
Lee Skinner, LB
Another stalwart on the UB defense, Lee Skinner has been an effective playmaker for the Bulls since he earned a starting job in his redshirt-freshman season. Skinner is a tackling machine and currently leads the team in tackles with 81, and only trails teammate Adam Redden in tackles for loss with 4.5.
Professional Comparison - Paul Worrilow, LB, Atlanta Falcons
Skinner, much like Worrilow, is a blue collar, physical, run-stuffing linebacker. Neither player will wow you with gaudy sack numbers, but if you need a 2 down linebacker that can stuff the run and make the occasional play in pass coverage they're exactly what you're looking for. Worrilow, an undrafted free agent last season, paced the Atlanta Falcons with 127 tackles; Skinner can be the same kind of linebacker for an NFL team needing a thumper in the middle of their defense.
Draft Expectations - 7th Round - Free Agency
Skinner hasn't gotten nearly the same amount of press that Khalil Mack did, but Skinner is a solid linebacker who may have an NFL future. Given the NFL's shift to pass-first offenses, it's becoming key for linebackers to be able to drop back into pass coverage and adequately defend against tight ends and running backs. Skinner will really need to show improvement in pass coverage and show that he can be a complete 3 down linebacker if he wants to earn NFL playing time.
There are a few teams with needs at inside linebacker where Skinner would be most effective, the most intriguing is the Oakland Raiders where he could be reunited with former partner in crime Khalil Mack. The Giants could use an upgrade in the middle of their defense, as can Arizona with ageless wonder Larry Foote manning the middle of Todd Bowles' defense.
Andre Davis, OG
Finally, we come to Andre Davis who has been a fixture along the Bulls' offensive line, playing both left guard and left tackle. He entered this season as the player I believed would be drafted the highest due to his combination of size (6-4 320) and he has the raw power to be a road grader at guard, as he was a key piece in Branden Oliver's record breaking career, opening up massive holes for the former Bull.
Professional Comparison - Brian Winters, OG, New York Jets
Davis compares very favorably to former Kent State guard Brian Winters, in both size and ability. Winters, a former 3rd round pick, was entrenched as a starter for the Jets before going down with a season ending injury. Both men have a mean streak that offensive line coaches love, and are able to push back defensive tackles at the point of attack.
Draft Expectations - 5th round - 7th Round
Coming into the season I had thought that Davis had the chance to go as early as the 5th round, and I still think that he can, but I'm a bit shaky on him going that early now. Coming into the season the UB offensive line was seen as a strength with all 5 starters returning from the year before, and as of the late the line has struggled to open holes in the run game and keep Joe Licata's jersey clean. What worries me is that scouts will write off Davis after the line as a whole unit has had a somewhat subpar season. But, Davis is a good candidate to go to an All-Star game and show what he can do against high level competition.
If you can find a team that needs offensive line help then Davis could head there. The Panthers and Buccaneers have two of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and could use a solid presence like Davis on the interior. While the Buffalo Bills have two solid tackles in Cordy Glenn and rookie sensation Seantrel Henderson, their guard play has been subpar to say the least and Davis could compete for playing time.