Although the unbelievably accurate Sam Bradford has played very well for the Rams, the league is littered with top pick QBs that either never made it, or took years to become franchise QBs. If Fitzpatrick continues to play near the level he is currently playing at, and continues to show poise and command of the offense and the huddle, the Bills will find it difficult to justify spending a top 5 draft pick on a QB that will likely not reach Fitzpatrick's current level of play for several years.
Prior to this season, and up until the past couple of weeks, most Bills fans assumed the Bills absolutely needed to draft a QB with their upcoming 2011 first round draft pick in order to lay the foundation for a complete roster rebuild. It seems to be accepted by Ralph Wilson and the fan base that the Bills are at least 3 years away from respectability. Perhaps Ryan Fitzatrick's recent outstanding play has opened the door to other options that might hasten the Bills rise to a playoff caliber team.
Instead OBD may determine the addition of 5 new starters may turn the Bills into a legitimate playoff contender by the start of next season. Between Free Agency and the draft the Bills could well find the 5 new starters that would propel the team to respectability.
Starting on defense the Bills have a decision to make. Whether or not the Bills choose to revert to a 4-3 base defense or continue their attempt to acquire 3-4 personnel will dictate the speed of the Bills rebuild. I proffer the Bills should revert to a 4-3 base defense, as they have better 4-3 personnel than 3-4 personnel. This decision will be critical for the Bills. Having been willing to determine that Trent Edwards was not the right QB for this team, OBD should also be able to determine the 3-4 is not the right defense for this team.
Given a switch back to a 4-3 (not the Tampa 2), the Bills Defense are 3 key players away from respectability. The key acquisition is a pass rushing DE. With the addition of a true pass rushing DE the Bills could field a solid front four consisting of New DE, Troupe, Williams, and Kelsay. I am not a fan of Kelsay at OLB or DE, but I would prefer him at DE. This move would allow Williams to go back to playing DT, where he proved himself a play maker. The challenge is finding the pass rushing DE. I will not pose as an expert talent evaluator. However, my untrained eye sees something in Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn appears to be a powerful player who plays with body control and leverage. While Clayborn does not appear to be fast, he does appear to be quick. Clayborn also seems to have a good feel for the game and is able to keep outside contain. If necessary, I would advocate trading the Bills first round pick to acquire a proven top notch pass rushing DE.
With the DL addressed, the Bills need to focus on rebuilding the LB corps. I believe the Bills need at least two new starting LBs in a reversion to a 4-3 defense. I would advocate for the addition of Steven Tulloch (to be a FA) from the Titans at MLB. Tulloch, is fast and aggressive. He is also quite good in coverage and has the speed to run with TEs down the seam. I would advocate for the resigning of Pozluzny as an OLB in a 4-3 defense. I have always felt Poz should have been used on the outside rather than at MLB. Poz is smart and reads plays well. I believe he could be a good fit at OLB. That leaves one starting LB spot for the Bills to fill through FA or the draft. The other linebacker that is acquired must be explosive. The Bills need to retool with explosive LBs who run and hit.
I would not have a problem with the Bills returning a Defensive backfield of McGee, McKelvin, Whitner, and Byrd if OBD determines Whitner is the best available option at strong safety. Simply add one key pass rushing DE and two new starting LBs and this defense would become respectable. I realize how difficult it is to acquire a pass rushing DE. However, I see this acquisition as the #1 need for the Bills.
Some will argue a reversion to the 4-3 will "waste" this years additions. I answer "what waste". Unless you see more in Moats and Danny Batten than I do/did, then the Bills have wasted very little. Carrington certainly has not established himself as a 3-4 end with great upside to this point in time. He could transition to a 4-3 DE and hopefully take Kelsay's spot. If we stay with a 3-4, the Bills will need at least 3 new LBs, one of whom must be a proven pass rusher. The Bills also need help on the DL if they stay with the 3-4, as they have yet to find the needed run stuffing NT to build the 3-4 around. Thus it will take more players to build the 3-4 than the 4-3, and the 3-4 will require the acquisition of 2 key parts. NT and pass rushing OLB.
The offense is only 1-2 players away from being a consistently better than average offense. Most would agree a solid starting TE is a real need. The Bills have not had a solid duel threat at TE since Pete Metzelaars in the 90s. The Bills need a big bodied TE that can cler holes in the run game and act as a sure handed safety valve in the pass game. A perfect example is Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph is out the rest of the year with a torn hamstring. He should be ready to go by next summer. Rudolph would give the Bills a chain mover at TE for the next decade. The Bills will likely require the addition of a tackle as well. Depending on the development of Cordaro Howard, the Bills might in fact have their starting OL of the future set. Bell has proven steady at LT, and the interior of Levitre, Hangartner, and Wood should continue to improve as the year goes on. Thus the offense needs 1-2 new players. I believe we are set at WR and RB for the next 2 seasons.
This is one road path to respectability that can be attained before the start of the 2011/2012 season. The Bills just need to figure out a way to parlay their 9 draft picks and Free Agency into a Pass Rushing DE, 2 new LBs, a quality TE, and an OT (for depth or to start at RT). The Bills have the picks and resources to execute this plan in one year. One or both LBs could be free agent acquisitions, as could the RT (or depth tackle). The Bills may have to pay a premium to prospective Free Agents, but that will not change until the Bills turn the ship around. So better to invest early and reap the return. That would leave 9 draft picks to acquire a pass rushing DE and a TE. How different would this team look with those additions?
(P.S. Please excuse the typos, work calls and time is short.)