Aaron Schobel is the second-ranked sack artist in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise, and as such, he's being afforded ample time and room to decide on his playing future by new GM Buddy Nix and new head coach Chan Gailey. Schobel, who will turn 33 this September, is mulling retirement, and while Buffalo is right to give him time to make that decision, they could really use a concrete answer by April 22, if not sooner.
Whether or not Schobel plays in 2010 should have a significant impact on the way the Bills' 2010 NFL Draft board takes shape.
This goes beyond just general need. The Bills will need help for their pass rush even if Schobel decides to suit up for one more season, as the team's switch to the 3-4 defense - coupled with the boom-or-bust status of 2009 first-round pick Aaron Maybin - has left the Bills lacking depth and athleticism at the OLB spot. If Schobel decides to retire, the urgency of that need obviously increases, as the team will need a new starter at that position. But again, the timing of Schobel's decision will affect more than just the urgency of the team's need.
George Edwards brings the bulk of his 3-4 scheme knowledge to his new defensive coordinator post from the Miami Dolphins, a team that, in the image of Bill Parcells, runs a traditional 3-4 scheme predicated on controlling two gaps and keeping players on one side of the field. Nix and Gailey have both said that they'll try to fit their scheme to the players they select, but it seems fairly clear at this point that in an ideal world, that traditional two-gap 3-4 scheme is precisely what the Bills would like to run.
In terms of stacking the draft board, Schobel's presence (or lack thereof) should have a significant impact on the type of player that the Bills prefer at the position. In a traditional 3-4 defense, teams typically employ one natural pass rusher at the right OLB position, and then try to find a player who's strong at the point of attack and capable of defending the run and shedding blockers for the left OLB position, as that player will be dealing with a tight end on the majority of plays. In that traditional 3-4 defense, perfected pass rush skills are not as significant a requirement as just being a tough blocking assignment and being active play in and play out.
If Schobel plays, he'll likely do a little bit of both of those positions, as his playing style is obviously more well-rounded than that of Maybin's. Schobel is a much better run defender, so he might see snaps at LOLB (even though he's played the right side throughout his entire NFL career) to allow Maybin more freedom to play the right side - his more natural side - and rush the passer. And, in that case, Buffalo might be able to not only target better athletes at the OLB position, but wait a round or two to address the position. If Schobel suits up, players like Sergio Kindle, Jerry Hughes and Jason Pierre-Paul (first-rounders), Ricky Sapp (second-rounder), and Thaddeus Gibson and Koa Misi (third-rounders) have significantly more value.
If, however, Schobel decides to hang it up, first and foremost, there is increased pressure on Maybin to become the team's go-to pass rushing specialist. More importantly, however, the Bills will need a well-rounded player to handle responsibilities on the left side against that tight end - unless they come to the bizarre conclusion that either Chris Kelsay or Chris Ellis is capable of that duty (we're not sold, obviously). Not only does OLB become a much more urgent priority if Schobel retires, but strong point-of-attack players like Derrick Morgan, Brandon Graham and Eric Norwood (second or third round) have much more value to Buffalo than a Kindle, Hughes or Sapp would.
We're two weeks away from draft day, and while Buffalo's likely got firm grades on all of this year's prospects, the next couple of weeks - particularly the last 4-5 days leading up to the draft - are when boards take their final shape and teams begin strategizing and running different pick scenarios. Getting an answer from Schobel in that time frame would be invaluable to a team that needs to get the right players for their scheme - and if they're forced to choose between, as an example, Morgan and Kindle, knowing whether or not Schobel will be in the fold will make that decision much, much easier.