I was recently asked via email which Buffalo Bills - only those under the age of 25, mind you - are the "best prospects for those of us looking past 2010," as the emailer termed it. I can only offer opinion on the matter, clearly, but given that we're in a very dry spell in the final two weeks leading up to training camp, I thought the idea was more post-worthy than email reply-worthy. Here are my thoughts on the matter for public consumption.
1. C.J. Spiller, running back. (Spiller will turn 23 on August 15.) There's only one player on this team with a skill set that makes him unique league-wide, and that's Spiller. Players with Spiller's play-making ability are hard to come by, and there are plenty of NFL teams who would give up a lot for a player of C.J.'s caliber. I feel like I've been talking Spiller up on a daily basis for weeks, but I can't understate this enough - if Spiller turns out to be anything less than a household name for general NFL fans as a Bill, it will be a disappointment.
2. Leodis McKelvin, cornerback. (McKelvin will turn 25 on September 1.) He's had a rough start to his career, but that wasn't entirely unexpected coming out of Troy and playing a difficult-to-learn position. Athletically, he has everything you look for - quick feet, fluid hips, excellent recovery speed - and he can make things happen with the ball in his hands, an under-appreciated quality in defenders. He's got elite-level ability, but needs more polish and experience to get there.
3. Aaron Maybin, outside linebacker. (Maybin turned 22 on April 6.) I realize that a lot of folks remain down on Maybin after his highly anonymous rookie season, but I remain confident in his athletic talents. I called him the "best defender not named (Aaron) Curry" prior to the 2009 NFL Draft, and I still believe that he's got the talent and potential to live up to my lofty expectations. This is another player that just needs more experience; once he stops thinking and starts reacting, his instincts, burst and length should make him a dynamic, game-changing speed rusher off the edge.
4. Marshawn Lynch, running back. (Lynch turned 24 on April 22.) Hey, whaddya know?! Yet another former first round pick! The most-tenured player on this list, Lynch obviously has his detractors, has had multiple legal issues, and made no secret his desire to be traded this off-season. But the question, after all, was which under-25 Bills were the most talented, and Lynch definitely qualifies. I don't know when or where it will happen, but if Lynch ever gets to a point where he focuses solely on football, he's got a unique running style, good vision, great competitiveness, and enough skill as a receiver to be an outstanding feature back in this league for a very long time.
5. Marcus Easley, wide receiver. (Easley will turn 23 on November 2.) No, I didn't put Easley on this list just to stop the streak of first-round picks; I just happen to think he's a better football prospect than Donte Whitner (who, believe it or not, is still under 25, even if only for another week) is. Easley is a unique case; he's got massive untapped talent, but didn't get the chance to utilize it at Connecticut until his final ten college games. In that ten-game stretch, Easley averaged 4.8 receptions, 89.3 yards and .8 touchdowns per game, utilizing his 6'2", long-armed frame and solid top-end speed to torch the Big East. Easley is a long way from being NFL-ready, but he's proven his competitive drive already, and has big-time potential as an NFL deep threat.
Note that none of these players are quarterbacks, that two are rookies (and another might as well be), and that all have been drafted by this team within the last four years. It's not too difficult to understand why the Bills won't be very good in 2010.