I am an admitted draft addict. I read mock drafts from September through April. I love the NFL draft. I cant really quantify why I love the draft. I just love it. I think the biggest reason I love the draft is because it represents a time of pure optimism for the team. Like it or not, the NFL has changed. Green Bay is the best example of the new NFL pattern for success - draft and follow. Ted Thompson built almost that entire team through a draft and follow approach. For the Bills to stem the tide of losing seasons, they need to have success with a similar approach. All that being said, I think I love the draft because it is a day when I know my team has a chance to take a step closer to winning.
As a draft junkie, I have been all over the mock drafts, combine, and draft coverage for some time now. I have absorbed a lot of opinions from pundits and fans alike regarding the direction the Bills should take in April. In my opinion, a lot of sources are missing a relatively large elephant in the room when projecting the BIlls draft choice. I am of the opinion that OBD will not touch one position that the media deems to be "of need" until Round 4 at the earliest. Read more after the jump
Before I get into the specifics, I want to add a disclaimer here. This is not my opinion regarding the Bills needs. This piece is instead my opinion of what OBD's opinion is entering the draft. I may (and do) personally see the Bills needs differently than I believe OBD sees their needs. But, that is for another piece.
I strongly believe that the last 6 months at OBD suggest very strongly that the Bills WILL NOT be drafting an outside linebacker early in the draft. The Bills have made strong financial commitments to their projected starters. The Bills have seen potential from some depth, and I believe are interested to see if there is potential with others. With so many other needs, I believe OBD is thinking OLB is pretty sound.
I believe OBD sees the depth chart at OLB for 2011 as follows:
Valuable Reserves: Arthur Moats
Interesting Depth: Danny Batten
One Foot Out the Door: Aaron Maybin
The starters are being paid like starters by the Bills. Chris Kelsay received an (obscene) extension worth about $24 million over 4 years. The Bills aren't paying Chris Kelsay above average starting OLB money to be a reserve. Chris Kelsay is an opening day starter in OBD"s opinion. If they didnt see him as the starting OLB, they wouldnt have wrote him such a big check.
Shawne Merriman too is firmly entrenched as a starter, though admittedly his hold on the position is more feeble. Per ESPN, Merriman's recent extension will make him $2.5 million guaranteed next year, but the contract would be worth about $8.75 million a year over the next 2 years if he remains healthy. While many of you may see the $2.5 million base salary as an out if the Bills want to go a different direction, one question still remains. If OBD was planning to pursue an OLB early in the draft, why would they sign Merriman as a $2.5 million insurance policy, especially with Arthur Moats under contract as a contingency with upside. If OBD did not want to see Merriman as a starter next year, why extend him? Likewise, there is no way Merriman would have signed an early extension here unless he was told he'd have every opportunity to start. In short, the extension tells me that the job is Merriman's to lose in OBD's eyes.
Now with OBD having picked its 2011 starters, some of you might still be thinking that an early pick is warranted for depth and development. Every good team needs to have developmental players to push the starters and be there in case the starters falter. I believe OBD has their developmental guys in house, from last years draft. Arthur Moats showed promise when forced into action in his rookie year. As a 2010 draft pick, I'd bet the BIlls will continue to invest in his development. While Danny Batten's rookie season was derailed by injury, I'd bet the BIlls would also like to continue to invest in his development and give him a chance to stick.
With OBD having picked its starters and having some developmental guys chosen by this regime, I dont see OBD investing early picks in OLB. I keep reading articles from pundits that say OLB has to be the pick. I believe those articles overlook the existing commitments currently on the roster at the OLB position. I think every fan of this team would be happy to substitute Von Miller for Chris Kelsay, but the chances of that remain faint.
I think it is more likely that the BIlls look to invest in a developmental prospect at OLB in the middle rounds of the draft. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say the Bills may look OLB with their first pick in round 4. At that stage, the pick might be a guy like Chris Carter from Fresno State.
Long story short, I think that those of you dreaming of Von Miller or Robert Quinn may not see your dreams come true.