Will Schobel, others get help in draft? (Getty)
Up until recent weeks, most fans of the Buffalo Bills had penciled in the name of a speed-rushing defensive end as the Bills' No. 11 pick in mock drafts everywhere. Coming off of two straight seasons in which the team could not generate a consistent pass rush, the team's fan base was keenly aware of the team's need for new blood at the defensive end position. Now, with OT Jason Peters possibly being traded, the left side of the offensive line in shambles and holes at tight end and linebacker to consider, defensive end has fallen by the wayside a bit in daily conversations.
The big questions: do the Bills perceive their DE situation the same way the fan base does? More importantly, with so many other needs to consider, how likely is it that the Bills draft a DE somewhere within the first three rounds? Judging by the team's preference in player attributes, talent acquisition and how each player is utilized, we may be looking at another April in which the defensive end position isn't addressed early.
"Complete" versus "In Progress"
Entering their fourth draft, the current regime at One Bills Drive over the years has steadfastly shown a preference for drafting well-rounded athletes as opposed to players that have "situational" written all over them, at least in terms of how they relate to the Bills' respective offensive and defensive schemes. The team wants its players to produce on an every-down basis when they get their chance to play. That's why the team values players like Derek Fine over Martin Rucker, as an example.
This isn't intended to be a question over whether that approach is "right" or "wrong" - I'm sure fans will fall down on both sides of that argument. (Side note: I happen to fall on the "wrong" side of that argument.) This is intended to lay a foundation for how the Bills view talent, and in particular soon-to-be rookies - they're looking for "complete package" more than raw talent that can help on a situational basis.
With that in mind, say goodbye to the Aaron Maybins and Shawn Nelsons of the world, and instead get ready to embrace the Robert Ayers and Brandon Pettigrews. Again, agree or disagree with it all you want, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Bills prefer those types of players. They're not drafting a guy to work him into a sub-package - how many times did we clamor for James Hardy near the goal line last year to no avail? They're either drafting a guy to start, or drafting a guy to start eventually. And that player's going to be on the field far more often than he isn't.
Looking at "complete" defensive ends
Buffalo views its top three veteran ends - Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney - as every-down defenders. (Another side note: if you're anxiously awaiting Kelsay's release, prepare for disappointment.) They are also likely aware that as each player either is or soon will be 30 years old, youth is a problem at the position. Chris Ellis, last year's third-round pick, will be counted on to play a bigger role next season after seeing limited field time and spending a lot of hours in the weight room during 2008.
Let's kill two birds with one stone here - with four ends expected to contribute, the Bills aren't likely to draft more than one end this year; also, considering the depth at the position, the Bills may feel inclined to wait to draft an end, instead concentrating on other needs early in the draft. That philosophy actually makes a degree of sense considering the small number of defensive ends that the Bills would typically prefer.
Tennessee's Robert Ayers and Utah's Paul Kruger will very likely be the two ends that the Bills will have their eye on in this draft class. Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson might get a look as well if the team isn't put off by his uninspiring college production. Heck, LSU's Tyson Jackson might even get a look. The top of the draft class, however, is loaded with 'tweener speed guys - and the pre-draft position rankings only become littered with every-down ends from the third round on (with the exception of those mentioned above). That, coupled with the team's philosophies, screams "the team is passing on DE early," folks. Unless the Bills have a player like Ayers graded higher than an OT, a LB or Brandon Pettigrew, the Bills will pass on DE help in the first round of this year's draft.
Right or Wrong?
I'm not going to sit here and tell everyone that I completely agree with the hypothetical strategy posited above. Most of you that have been around for more than a few days realize that I'm a huge fan of Aaron Maybin and the rest of the speed rushers available this year. I believe firmly that the Bills need a speed-rushing end, or at a bare minimum, a different type of athlete at the position.
But I'm also not going to go off the deep end if, as is fully expected by me (and many of you have expressed similar beliefs, and more will join the bandwagon), the Bills pass on a defensive end early. There are other ways to improve the pass rush, and as long as the DE position isn't completely ignored, I'll probably be satisfied. The team has too many holes for me to complain about the team valuing players differently than I do. There are a lot of ways that the team can get better on the whole, and that includes the team making a trade here or there to get itself into a better position to add talent (hint, hint). In terms of the end position, however, expect the team to go with the status quo until at least a few hours into the second day of this year's draft. And that, folks, is not necessarily a bad thing.