Looking past the NFL Draft's top defensive ends

It's fairly common knowledge at this point that the Buffalo Bills have a need for a jolt to their anemic pass rush.  For this reason, most Bills fans - and these days, even draft "experts" - are projecting the Bills to take one of the three top speed rushers in April's NFL Draft, whether that player be Brian Orakpo (Texas), Everette Brown (Florida State) or Aaron Maybin (Penn State).

However, with a majority of NFL teams shifting to a 3-4 defense, smaller speed rushers are becoming hotter commodities on a daily basis.  No less than six of the ten teams holding top ten picks this year will, at a minimum, seriously consider taking one of the speed rushers as their top draft picks.  It's not a certainty, but there is most definitely a strong possibility that the Bills may be forced to choose between players at different positions with their eleventh overall pick.

Clearly, taking a defensive end is the most likely scenario.  Trading down is also a distinct possibility, and may even be worth the team's while if one of the speed rushers is available when they pick.  Should the worst-case scenario happen - no trade and all three rushers gone - the Bills still have options, particularly when you remember that "options" isn't inclusive of the word "appealing".  Here are seven players the Bills might consider if the worst-case scenario unfolds.

Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi :: Scouting Report
Once considered a Top 5 prospect in both this year's draft as well as the 2008 draft (before he decided to return for his senior year), Oher is inexplicably sliding down draft boards to the point where there's a solid chance he'll be available when the Bills pick.  He's got great size and bulk, and though he's not as athletic as most of the guys that have passed him, he's dependable, has elite potential as a right tackle and should acquit himself well on the left side.  If trade rumors surrounding Jason Peters are true, Oher would be an outstanding selection as Peters' replacement.

Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State :: Scouting Report
Yes, I still remain higher on Pettigrew than most Bills fans.  I'll make formal what I've been informally saying about Pettigrew for weeks now: forget about his anemic receiving numbers.  Oklahoma State ran the ball 64.1% of the time in 2008, and they also had one of college football's best receivers in Dez Bryant (87 receptions, 19 touchdowns).  Pettigrew was the only other Cowboy to catch at least 40 passes.  He's already a good blocker.  He's got elite potential as a receiver, too, even if he lacks elite speed.

Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC :: Scouting Report
Buffalo desperately needs a defensive playmaker.  Outside one of the speed rushers, Maualuga makes a lot of sense in that regard.  He's an athletic thumper, though questions remain about his straight-line speed and his eccentric personality.  I'm hearing that he's not held in unusually high regard by Buffalo's talent evaluators, but there's no question that his experience in zone and playmaking ability makes him an appealing option.

Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma :: Scouting Report
Last time I checked, the Bills still only have two by-trade interior offensive linemen under contract.  A gaping hole remains at the left guard position, vacated by the released Derrick Dockery.  Robinson is one of the better guard prospects to emerge in quite some time, and he appears to have been custom-built for a power rushing attack.  He'd slide in nicely at left guard between Peters and new center Geoff Hangartner.

Brian Cushing, OLB, USC :: Scouting Report
Just like Maualuga, Cushing comes in with experience in a zone-based defense.  One thing he's got going for him that Maualuga doesn't is that Cushing already plays the outside - he's a good fit at the SAM position at which the Bills don't have a starter, and his presence wouldn't require a position switch for Paul Posluszny.  He's got the chops to be an outstanding pro, but he'll always have questions surrounding his durability.

Larry English, DE, Northern Illinois :: Scouting Report
Just because three ends are (theoretically) off the board doesn't mean the Bills have to look at a different position.  English is perhaps a more technically polished pass rusher than any of the top-tier ends this year, but his straight-line speed and quickness isn't dominant, and he comes from a small school.  English might be the most pro-ready end available this year, but his ceiling is much lower.

Clay Matthews, OLB, USC :: Scouting Report
Matthews isn't as ideal a fit as his two USC teammates simply because he was more pass rush specialist than traditional linebacker in USC's defensive scheme.  He'd been slowly crawling up my board after displaying better-than-anticipated athleticism at the Combine.  You won't find a player better suited for Buffalo from an intangibles, work ethic and football IQ standpoint.  Now he's a legitimate first-round prospect, and he's on this list because I'm getting positive vibes around his name from folks close to the team.  Matthews interview at Mocking the Draft

I'm sure y'all have names you'd like to see added to the list.  Make sure to let us know which of these names you like the best, as this should be considered our first of many attempts at information-gathering for this year's SB Nation NFL Mock Draft.

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