Dan Kadar (Mocking the Draft) and I stayed up until the wee hours of Monday morning preparing the first 2011 NFL Mock Draft of the season over at SBNation.com. Should you decide to click that link and read our hard work, you will undoubtedly notice that we have the Buffalo Bills selecting junior wide receiver A.J. Green (Georgia) with the third overall selection.
I am one-hundred percent confident that a very large number of people who read this site every day won't like that mock draft selection. Luckily for you, it's January 3, and even luckier for you, I can only pretend to know exactly what GM Buddy Nix will be thinking almost four months from now.
Still, it's only fair to explain the rationale behind the selection. That's what the remainder of this post is dedicated to, but it'd be lovely if you checked out the entire mock draft and left a few thoughts on the whole thing over there, as well.
The Bills should have three main goals going into the off-season. This is just my current opinion, and it's likely to change in the coming months. Right now, I believe the Bills will have three general goals heading into the off-season. First: find a franchise signal-caller. Andrew Luck was off the board in the mock, but Auburn's was a consideration. Second: get more physical along both lines. We took a look at two defensive tackles, Auburn's Nick Fairley and Alabama's Marcell Dareus, with this pick. Third goal: get as many playmakers as possible. That brought Green and Clemson pass rusher Da'Quan Bowers to our attention, as well.
Buddy Nix will fill a need at No. 3 only if he's sold on a prospect. I don't think it's a stretch to make that claim. Nix may not have had a great 2010 draft class, but he's not an idiot: he and Chan Gailey know where the Bills need to get better. But he made one thing very plain when he selected C.J. Spiller No. 9 overall last year: he's not going to pass on a player he believes is a sure-fire prospect if he has creeping doubts about available prospects in need areas.
We used this rationale to take Newton out of the equation. It's hard to fathom Nix not liking Newton's raw abilities, but with limited playing experience, questionable off-field decision making and a huge learning curve in offensive philosophy forthcoming, Newton was a relatively easy scratch - it just doesn't seem realistic at this juncture.
At this point, Fairley, Dareus, Green and Bowers were still in play. Moving on to the next level reasoning!
A.J. Green is as blue-chip a prospect as you'll find on draft day. There is very little doubt that Fairley, Dareus and Bowers would all be solid picks for a Bills team that desperately needs better talent on its rather awful defense. It would be fantastic if the Bills were able to take a quality player for that side of the ball, especially if it helped fulfill one of their goals. But knowing what we know about Nix, there's excellent reason to think that he'll grade Green much higher than Fairley, Dareus and Bowers.
For one, Nix is averse to players that haven't proven it for more than one season - he's said that himself. Fairley has been a revelation for Auburn this season, turning in 55 tackles, 11 sacks and even an interception. But he was merely a role player in 2009, with just one sack. He holds up better than Bowers, who was the nation's best pass rusher by a considerable margin in 2010, but a rather monumental disappointment over his first two seasons, when he registered just four sacks.
Add in the fact that Fairley and Bowers aren't snug fits for the defensive system that George Edwards would one day like to run, and we bit the bullet and passed on those guys. That left Dareus and Green.
Dareus is an excellent prospect - he's scheme versatile, he's been on the scene for a little while now, and he's got elite NFL measurables. He should be a quality defensive lineman for a long time. But as a prospect, he pales rather magnificently in comparison to Green, who has been a star since he first stepped onto a college gridiron. No matter the quality of quarterback play he's gotten - it's ranged from Matthew Stafford to some obscure freshman - Green has produced. He's never had fewer than 53 receptions, 808 yards and six touchdowns in a season. He possesses elite hands and leaping ability, and is the type of smooth, fluid athlete that will eventually become a prototypical route-runner. He's got it all.
Nix and Chan Gailey see past need and understand the value of numbers. They did that with Spiller a year ago - and even though that decision hasn't worked out, Nix and Gailey don't strike me as individuals that will be put off by that slip-up; they still seem 100% sold that Spiller will realize his immense potential at some point in the near future.
So yes, the Bills have some quality depth at receiver. Stevie Johnson had a nice little break-out campaign, Lee Evans still commands a respectable level of attention, and Roscoe Parrish has promise in Gailey's scheme. They'll get Marcus Easley back this spring, a project receiver with high upside and who flashed serious potential last summer.
Here's my biggest point: if Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick can milk 57 receptions, 705 yards and 4 touchdowns out of fringe rookie talents like David Nelson, Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt, Green has the talent to take those numbers and - to put it lightly - flesh them out a bit. Whether you're more concerned with perceived need areas or not, I challenge you to look me in the eye and tell me that a receiving corps featuring Lee Evans, Stevie Johnson and A.J. Green wouldn't make a huge difference in the way Gailey attacks defenses next year.
That's why we took Green. He's the best player available in the mock, he helps the team achieve one of its goals, and it boosts the talent level of the team overall. If you don't agree with or like the selection - well, that's what mock drafts are for. Discussion. If you're in that camp, we'd love to hear your counter-points.