If Brandon Beane allows cornerback Tre’Davious White into the Bills’ war room Friday night when the second round of the NFL Draft takes place, he’s going to get an earful — maybe two ears full — regarding the virtues of wide receiver D.J. Chark.
That is assuming White’s former LSU teammate is still on the draft board.
“I’m going to let you know right now, he’s the most underrated prospect in the draft right now,” White told buffalobills.com back around the time of the NFL Scouting Combine of Chark, bias be damned.
That may have been the case before Chark showed up in Indianapolis, but by the time he left he was no longer underrated, at least not by draft experts who were impressed by Chark running a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash and leaping 40 inches in the vertical jump, both the best figures among all wide receivers.
His performance in Indy got the train rolling, it picked up steam through his pro day, and now, Chark has entered the conversation as a possible late first-round pick.
The Bills are desperate to add a downfield threat at wide receiver, and if they don’t trade away their second-round picks in a deal to move up for a quarterback, and Chark slips to them at either No. 53 or 56, Beane should pick him without giving it a second of thought.
With that speed, and a 6-foot-3, 199-pound frame, Chark looks like an ideal outside fit for the Bills, whose top three receivers currently on the depth chart (Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley) are all better off working from the slot.
“Tall and fast, Chark is a linear route-runner who may need a limited route tree, but who has the potential to back safeties off the line of scrimmage,” NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein said. “Chark will be coveted by play-action passing attacks looking to win with chunk plays down the field, but he’ll need to improve his ball skills to take advantage of all that speed.”
In other words, Chark is exactly what the Bills need because chunk plays were woefully absent in 2017 with just 40 completions of 20 yards or more which ranked 24th in the NFL, and only four that went at least 40 yards, tied for 30th. Sure, Chark needs work running routes and diversifying his game; just about every receiver coming out of college does (Jones, anyone?). But you can’t coach speed and size, and Chark has both.
Like the Bills, LSU has been a run-first team in recent years, especially during the past two seasons when Chark worked his way into the starting lineup as it had running backs Leonard Fournette in 2016 and Derrius Guice in 2017 as the primary offensive weapons. Thus, Chark’s statistics look puny — 66 catches for 1,351 yards and 6 touchdowns in 24 games — compared to other receivers in this draft.
White said teams must take that into account when evaluating Chark.
“You know, playing in the system he played in, not having a consistent quarterback back there, and having Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice, guys like that in the backfield who’re going to get the ball more times than not,” said White. “He did a great job with the opportunities he got and burst onto the scene.”
White made it a point to seek out some of his former LSU teammates as they began their journeys into the pre-draft process, and Chark remembered White telling him to “keep my head on straight, get ready for the games and treat this like a business and put your best foot forward.” He then went on to credit White for helping to make him a better player.
“He made me study the game more, made me study techniques more,” said Chark. “He’s a very patient corner, you can’t deceive him on a route. A lot of times if he was able to make a big play on me, I asked him why did he take that leverage or that step, just to help me out so if I see it again in the future, I know how to counteract that. He was the best cornerback that I faced in college. If I’m going against him Monday through Friday, then I know the matchup can’t be as difficult on Saturday.”
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network loves Chark’s athleticism and the fact that he was also an ace punt returner, a line on his resume that will come in handy in the NFL. Chark led the SEC with an 11.7-yard punt return average and two TDs and it was as a return man that he earned second-team all-conference recognition in 2017.
You know the Bills like that, and here’s another thing that Sean McDermott places a high value on — character and leadership, and Chark was a team captain at LSU in 2017. “He’s intriguing to me,” said Jeremiah.
If Chark does not get to reunite with White, there will be other options in this draft for the Bills, especially if they don’t execute a quarterback trade and keep all their picks.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, Calvin Ridley of Alabama and D.J. Moore of Maryland are sure-fire first-rounders, though the Bills may not want to pick either at No. 12, and may not be able to if they wait until No. 22.
Chark, SMU’s Courtland Sutton, Memphis’ Anthony Miller, and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk are late first or early second projections. If the Bills still have Nos. 53 and 56 in the second round, they will probably have a shot to land someone in this group. For that matter, if they keep their first-round picks at 12 and 22, the second one might be used for one of these receivers, and no one should scream about it.
Last year, the Bills’ wide receivers were the least productive in the NFL. Benjamin is a free agent after this season, the jury is still out on Jones, and Kerley is certainly not a viable long-term fix. Buffalo needs help, and spending a first-round pick at the position would not be a bad idea.
Sutton is the biggest receiver in this cluster at 6-3 and 218 pounds, and he also has production with 195 catches for 3,220 yards and 31 TDs, almost all of that coming in the last two years.
“Courtland Sutton is a completely different animal,” said Mike Mayock of NFL Network. “Keep in mind, there are a lot of ways to separate in today’s NFL. We used to talk about quickness and speed and route running. There’s another way to separate now, and that’s with size — back-shoulder fades, the outside-the-number throws. He’s mostly kind of a fade, fade-stop, hitch and slant player right now. There’s not much of a route tree. Can he be a Mike Evans-type player?”
Miller is only 5-11 and 190, but he was a three-year performer who totaled 238 catches for 3,590 yards and 37 TDs, 18 of the TDs coming in 2017. “Fast and quick, really good hands,” was Mayock’s quick assessment of Miller.
Kirk wasn’t quite the downfield threat (12.2-yard average on his 235 catches with 26 TDs). Mayock thinks Kirk plays similarly to Ridley, but believes Kirk will be a slot receiver while Ridley, “might be a little bit faster so I think Ridley can play outside. They both run tremendous routes, they both have really good hands, and they’re very tough catching the football with good run after catch.”
It was reported that Chark, Moore, and Miller were among Buffalo’s allotted 30 pre-draft visits so it’s clear that Beane knows he needs to address the wide receiver weakness. After all, no matter who the quarterback is in Week 1, he needs someone to make plays for him.