With the NFL's free agent signing period less than two days away, draft talk will slip to the wayside for the time being. A lot is going to change over the next couple of weeks as the Buffalo Bills begin adding and subtracting veterans from their roster, not the least of which is the team's perceived draft value board (which they obviously have yet to put together).
Since change is coming, let's take one last pre-free agency look at draft prospects (with Combine performances in hand). Most of you realize that the term "big board" means the top prospects available, ranked by value. If the 2009 NFL Draft were tomorrow, here's what I believe Buffalo's big board would look like - and I encourage you to re-arrange it in such a manner that wouldn't drive you crazy if this were even remotely real. On to the prospects!
#1 - Rey Maualuga, MLB, USC
6'2", 249 pounds, 4.82-second 40-yard dash
Analysis: His Combine performance was hardly impressive; he ran a slow 40, pulled his hamstring and had some minor but possibly enduring questions arise about his character. That shouldn't matter. Maualuga has tons of experience in zone-based defenses, has top-notch instincts and intangibles, and moves very fluidly. He's a smart player and a leader, and most importantly, he makes plays. Maualuga is the best combination of immediate impact, playmaking and high upside likely available to Buffalo, and even with questions surrounding him, he's still considered a slightly smaller risk than players at other positions.
#2 - Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
6'1", 256 pounds, 4.73-second 40-yard dash
Analysis: Sure, he's small and probably a better fit for a 3-4 scheme. I don't care, and neither should you. Brown is the best pure pass-rusher available in the draft right now. He's got a quick first step, a burst to close, and some pretty well-developed counter moves. He's light on his feet and more athletic than his workout numbers would indicate. In terms of what the Bills need out of an end this year - the ability to rush the passer - Brown is the best fit to help the team in 2009, and quite possibly the best long-term option as well.
#3 - Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas
6'3", 263 pounds, 4.70-second 40-yard dash
Analysis: Orakpo had a very solid Combine, clocking in as one of the fastest straight-line ends and showing off his athletic prowess with a massive 39.5-inch vertical leap. But we all knew he'd be a workout warrior. Buffalo is known to covet speed at this position, and Orakpo has that, as well as a more well-rounded game than the rest of the draft's top speed-rushing options. He's got a lot of potential, but he's still widely considered a risky proposition in the first. Like Brown and the next prospect on our list, he may be more ideal for a 3-4 defense.
#4 - Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State
6'4", 249 pounds, 4.88-second 40-yard dash
Analysis: Many are down on Maybin after his bulking up to 249 pounds sapped speed out of a rather pedestrian 40 time at the Combine. How quickly numbers make folks forget what's really important - Maybin can flat-out play. He's an excellent athlete with long arms, a great frame and the quickest first step of any end in the draft pool. Even playing at 236 pounds at Penn State, he was surprisingly stout against the run. If this were my board, Maybin would sit atop it. Alas, he's likely to slip down Buffalo's a bit, at least for now, due to his inexperience and need for coaching.
#5 - Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State
6'5", 263 pounds, 4.85-second 40-yard dash
Analysis: This is everybody's favorite prospect to hate on, but taking Pettigrew - even at pick eleven - makes a lot of sense for the Bills. He's not going to wow anyone with his athletic prowess, but Pettigrew is the only tight end with the ability to start from day one in the NFL, and he's got the movement skills and big hands to eventually develop into an outstanding receiving threat. He is the ideal tight end prospect for Buffalo's offense, and he's a low-risk prospect. That's going to be incredibly appealing to the "win now" Bills. Still, staying at eleven and selecting Pettigrew is far from ideal.
#6 - Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
After an injury was revealed at the Combine, Crabtree is no longer a mortal lock for the top ten. But let's face it - that's probably where he'll end up. Pettigrew tops him on the list by probability and by being a smaller risk in terms of immediate expectations.
#7 - Malcolm Jenkins, DB, Ohio State
There are serious questions about whether or not Jenkins has the speed to play corner in the NFL, but in a Cover 2 scheme, corners are better served being physical playmakers than having straight-line speed.
#8 - Brian Cushing, OLB, USC
Has the versatility that Buffalo's coaches like in their athletes, and he's got a high football IQ. Durability concerns and marginal instincts are the only drawbacks.
#9 - Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
Put his weird behavior at the Combine aside for a second. Men of Smith's size (340 pounds) rarely are as athletic as he is. He has the potential to be a dominant right tackle, and could excel on the left side as well.
#10 - Alex Mack, C, California
Clearly not worthy of a borderline top ten pick, but he's the type of physical center that the Bills would like to bring in. Mack will likely top their list of second-pick targets if center can't be addressed via free agency.
Note: This board was assembled under the assumption that OT Eugene Monroe, OT Jason Smith, OT Michael Oher, DT B.J. Raji and LB Aaron Curry are mortal locks for the top ten. At least three offensive tackles are expected to go, and Oher leap-frogs Andre Smith because he acted like a normal human being at the Combine. Raji is a virtual lock for the top ten thanks to his schematic versatility and his being the best DT available by a long shot. Curry's outstanding Combine performance has some folks considering him with the top pick for Detroit.