New Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix, for better or worse, has begun re-building the Bills - alongside head coach Chan Gailey - his way. The team approached free agency cautiously, which to date has worked out well for them, as the team has added three starters (RT Cornell Green, DE Dwan Edwards, ILB Andra Davis). That approach will likely continue, but we've known all along that Nix planned on doing most of his damage during the NFL Draft.
Assuming Buffalo doesn't make any more major free agent signings prior to this April's draft (and given their flurry of activity this week, that might not be a safe assumption), Buffalo has four critical needs entering draft weekend. They need a franchise quarterback. They need a left tackle. They need a nose tackle. They need a pass rusher or two.
No one's sure exactly how Nix plans to approach drafting prospects, but particularly when discussing the first round of the draft, a "best available player at a critical need position" approach is a fairly safe bet. If Nix subscribes to this first-round draft theory - and we've no reason to believe he doesn't - it's fair to expect the Bills to take the best QB, LT, NT or OLB they can find with the ninth overall pick.
After the jump, I've put down the names of 14 2010 NFL Draft prospects that fit the criteria of playing those critical need positions and warranting a first-round grade. The list is completely subjective, as it's mine, but it should give a good idea of the type of player the Bills could be looking at should the team follow this philosophy.
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma. No quarterback rates higher this year when discussing a combination of accuracy, intangibles and potential, but his shoulder injury and overall durability, as well as working from a spread offense, are major question marks. Bradford will need work reading defenses and a good line in front of him. If he accomplishes both, he'll be a very good NFL starting quarterback.
2. Russell Okung, LT, Oklahoma State. Has clearly established himself as the best tackle this year, and should be a long-term starter on the left side. Long, athletic, and a bit more powerful at the point of attack than advertised. Safe pick in a slightly overrated tackle class. Day one starter.
3. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame. Without doubt the most pro-ready quarterback available this year, but may have a lower ceiling than some other prospects. Good arm, good touch, good accuracy and an elite decision-maker. Scouts question his attitude and leadership abilities, but I believe those to be overblown. If an NFL team is looking for a day one starter at QB this year, Clausen really should be at the top of their list.
4., LT, Rutgers. Possesses elite talent and had a fantastic junior year at Rutgers. Outstanding athlete that can dominate at the second level. Got some weight issues under control early in his collegiate career, and hasn't had a relapse. Scouts still question his work ethic, and poor Combine reviews - plus pushing his Pro Day workout - has dropped him in many mocks. If he gets his head on straight, will start on the left side for a long time.
5. Bryan Bulaga, LT, Iowa. NFL coaches will love this guy's attitude and football acumen, but he's not an elite prospect. Average athleticism. Pretty good from a technique standpoint, but not enough that he can't be beat regularly. Can have trouble getting into defenders, and lacks the foot speed to make up for it. Should be a pro for a long time, but he may have to settle in on the right side. Very safe prospect.
6. Trent Williams, LT, Oklahoma. Durability is a concern, and is coming off a senior year in which he struggled moving to the left side. Excellent athlete and plays very physically. Definitely has the athletic chops to hold down the blind side, but needs some overall polishing. Another relatively safe pick, as he doesn't have any character concerns, and if he fails on the left side, he'll make an outstanding right tackle.
7. Derrick Morgan, OLB, Georgia Tech. Many view him strictly as a 4-3 end prospect, but he's a pretty good athlete, and 3-4 teams are definitely looking at him as a viable OLB candidate. If he does end up in the 3-4, he'll be asked to drop some weight, but he's the most polished pass rusher available this year, and one of the safest investments as well. Don't forget his recruiting ties to Chan Gailey, either.
8. Dan Williams, NT, Tennessee. Something of a late bloomer, as only his senior season was first-round worthy. Big, physical player that anchors extremely well and can eat up blockers. Athletic enough to avoid being a complete non-factor as a pass rusher, which sets him apart from other nose tackles. Not an elite talent, but plays a premium position very well. Safe pick.
9. Jerry Hughes, OLB, TCU. Very good athlete that has tested well pre-draft. Had an extremely productive career at TCU, which boasted one of college football's most dominant defenses a year ago. Perfect fit as a 3-4 pass rusher, and has the type of character and leadership abilities to really become the centerpiece for an NFL defense. Not necessarily an elite talent, but should have a productive NFL career.
10. Brandon Graham, OLB, Michigan. Not sure if he's athletic enough to be a truly dominant pass rusher at the NFL level, but there isn't a single pass rusher that I respect more coming in than Graham. Measures in well, and has displayed enough athleticism to warrant consideration on the outside. Production cannot be overstated, and it'll get him drafted higher than many expect him to go. Will be asked to shed a few pounds if drafted by a 3-4 team.
11. Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas. Follows in the footsteps of 2009 top rookie. Possesses similar athleticism, but is not the specimen nor the pass rushing prospect that Orakpo was. Ideal fit is as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he may need some time to develop into a consistent performer at the pro level.
12. Jason Pierre-Paul, OLB, South Florida. Makes this list on upside alone, though his junior season at USF - his first at the D-1 level - was anything but unproductive. May be the single best athlete available this year at any position, and flashed dominance as a pass rusher. Boom-or-bust pick, at least in relation to his rookie season, but he's also a safe character pick that should develop into an excellent pro.
13. Everson Griffen, OLB, USC. Best fit as a pro might be as a 4-3 end, but is a very good athlete that has tested extremely well for a man at his weight. Lacks pass-rushing polish, but had a good career at USC and has a considerable amount of upside. Will go higher if a 4-3 team likes him enough.
14. Charles Brown, LT, USC. Lacks physicality to his game, but a superb athlete with quick feet and enough size to start from day one in a pinch. Very solid upside, and a really good personal back story. Good work ethic and a low character risk. Might be more of a long-term investment, but absolutely should be a first-round pick.