With the Buffalo Bills in the midst of an off-season spending spree and the 2012 NFL Draft just around the corner, Bills fans are setting their sights on the No. 10 overall pick already, and the left tackle position is dominating the discussion.
And it should be. Any average NFL fan could swing by a web page with Buffalo's projected depth chart on it and point to that position as the team's biggest weakness. There's only one player listed there at the moment, after all.
Still, we feel compelled to bring up our annual reminder that, if history serves as any indication, the Bills will be looking for their offensive line fortifications well beyond their Top 10 pick next month. The reasons for that reminder are many, and while the Mario Williams signing proves that historically-based expectations can be shattered in short order, there's no Williams-level talent at tackle that will be available when the Bills pick this year.
Still not convinced? Hop in after the jump.
Point 1: GM Buddy Nix hasn't made major investments in the line yet. Of the 11 offensive linemen on the roster, nine were acquired by Nix. In order of investment made, here's how each of these players was acquired.
- OT Chris Hairston: 2012 fourth-round pick
- OG Michael Jasper: 2012 seventh-round pick
- OG Kraig Urbik: 2010 waiver wire addition (former third-round pick)
- OT Sam Young: 2011 waiver wire addition (former sixth-round pick)
- OG Chad Rinehart: practice squad signing (former fifth-round pick)
- OG Colin Brown: practice squad signing (former fifth-round pick)
- OG Keith Williams: practice squad signing (former sixth-round pick)
- OG Jake Vermiglio: practice squad signing (former undrafted free agent)
- OT Erik Pears: street free agent (former undrafted free agent; got a $9M contract extension)
Do you know who would rank No. 2 on that list if he were still with the team, Bills fans? Ed Wang. As we pointed out last year, Hairston was the earliest-picked tackle by the Bills since the team made Mike Williams the No. 4 overall pick a decade ago.
Point 2: The O-Line was not really an early-round priority while Nix was in San Diego, either. Blog reader kaisertown pointed out when Nix was hired in 2010 that the Chargers had cobbled together offensive lines in much the same way that the Bills have in the past two-plus off-seasons under Nix. Give his post a read.
Point 3: Nix doesn't like Round 1 prospects with warts. If the Bills see a tackle available to them with their first-round pick that they think is capable of stepping into the lineup and starting immediately, they'll take him. That principle holds true all the way back to 2010, when Russell Okung and Trent Williams would've been selected over C.J. Spiller had either been available.
Anyone else? Well, it seems Nix would rather wait until the middle rounds to find a lineman with a few warts that the team can try to polish up. In 2010, he passed on the likes of Bryan Bulaga and Anthony Davis in favor of Spiller. In 2011, there weren't really tackle prospects worthy of the No. 3 overall pick, but no one would've said a negative word had he used pick No. 34 on a guy like Ben Ijalana, Marcus Gilbert or Orlando Franklin.
This year's crop, including Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin and Mike Adams, all have their issues. Reiff's tape isn't clean, and he doesn't fit the physical prototype (i.e. absolutely massive) that Nix has seemed to prefer at tackle. Ditto for Martin, who isn't even as physical a blocker as Reiff. Adams fits the size requirements Nix has sought, but has been maddeningly inconsistent despite getting tons of blind-side experience in a power conference.
Point 4: Buffalo still likes Hairston. The Bills - chiefly Chan Gailey - have gone out of their way to point out that the team is still very high on Hairston, despite his apparent lack of readiness to step into the starting lineup. There's nothing wrong with that line of thought, but it doesn't mean that the team is looking for a guy to step in right away, either. The Bills under Gailey have long been reticent to start rookies early; Spiller and Marcell Dareus did, but Spiller was quickly replaced, and Dareus was a blue-chip prospect and a Top 5 pick.
All the Bills seem to be looking for is another prospect with tools that can push Hairston for the left tackle job. They found Hairston in the fourth round. Don't be surprised if Nix and company begin their search for Hairston's competition in roughly the same territory this year.