Now that the free agency frenzy is finally over, the focus for Bills fans has turned to the upcoming draft and which college players will ultimately become future Buffalo Bills. A good number of you are putting on your scouting caps and making predictions about exactly who those players are and in what rounds they should be chosen.
Unlike many of you, I am not a huge college football fan and I don’t consider myself qualified to evaluate football players at any level. I think it takes years of experience, at several levels of the game to be able to do so adequately. I also think you have to have intimate knowledge of the schemes you run as a coach in order to capably find players that fit specifically what you’re looking to accomplish.
I think Buddy and his scouting department and Chan and his staff have proven that they are adept in this area, and I have faith that they will find talented players in all rounds of the upcoming draft that fit what they’re trying to do.
So instead of predicting which players will be chosen and in what round, I’m simply going to try to predict how many players from each position will be chosen and weather they will be taken in the early (1-3), middle (4-5) or late rounds (6-7). I’m going to base these hypotheses on the things that Nix has said over the course of the last 3 months. He’s a straight shooter (which I love) and I have no reason to believe that the things he’s said are anything other than the truth.
So, here is my best guess as to the 10 positions that will be added during the 2012 draft:
Nix quote pertaining to DE:
“Defensively I would say the priority would have to be pass rushers, defensive ends, pass rushers - one maybe two.”
Mission accomplished. With Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in tow, I think this is a low priority. However, Anderson is 29, Kelsay is 31 and Shawn Merriman is a question mark. Given that this is a quarterback driven league and the best way to counteract a good QB is with a good pass rush, I think we add 1 prospect in the middle rounds (4-5).
Defensive Ends = 1
Nix quote pertaining to CB:
“And you could never have enough corners. We would like to add two corners, whether it’s through free agency or whether it’s through the draft.”
Buddy brought in Stanford Routt as soon as the Raiders cut him, but Routt decided Buffalo wasn’t right for him and signed with the Chiefs instead. Then when free agency hit, the Bills put their full energy into securing Mario Williams (with the exception of Robert Meachem, which didn’t last long). By the time they’d finished wrapping Mario up, the free agent CB market was pretty barren. Again, I take Buddy at his word. If he says he wants to add two, he’s going to add two.
With Florence and McGee getting up there in age, McKelvin in the final year of his deal, and Justin Rogers being no better than a 3rd cornerback at best, I think CB becomes a high priority. Because of that, I think they will take one cornerback early (1-3); someone they think can potentially start opposite Aaron Williams for the next 5-6 years. I also think they’ll take another prospect that they think has talent but may need some polish in the later rounds (6-7).
Cornerbacks = 2
Nix quote pertaining to LB:
“We also at some point need another linebacker. We got we think Chris White. Kirk Morrison’s up and I don’t know what will happen with him but we need another linebacker. We’ve got some guys that are tweaners kind of. I’m talking about (Arthur) Moats and (Danny) Batten. Those guys will get a shot at linebacker.”
Wannstedt quotes pertaining to LB:
“The beautiful thing about Nick is really nothing has to really change for Nick. From a position standpoint, he’ll be outside in the 4-3, inside in our nickel package. He’s one of those few linebackers that is legitimately a three-down player."
“(We need) three linebackers who can run, not the big 3-4 linebacker. We’re looking for guys who can run and make plays.”
I don’t think inside linebacker is really in play here. They have Sheppard, who they drafted last year and the coaches really like. They also have McKillop, who played for Wannstedt at Pitt, so he knows the system and has the confidence of the DC.
Outside linebacker is a different story altogether. In switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 the type of linebacker needed changed from big guys built like 4-3 defensive ends to slighter, quicker guys who can cover and move from sideline to sideline. Nick Barnett should make a seamless transition and, according to Wanny should be a 3-down player. They re-signed Kirk Morrison and I think he’s a nice stopgap player for a year or two at the SAM position. They also re-signed Bryan Scott, who possesses good coverage abilities can tag team with Morrison.
However, Barnett is 30 and has a history of being injured. Morrison and Scott are also 30 and have only ever been average players at best. Worse yet, none of the back-up players currently listed at that position (other than Scott) have any NFL experience playing there. This is a definite area of need, not just in quality but also in quantity, and I think the middle (4-5) and late (6-7) rounds of the draft is where these prospects will be added (two in rounds 4-5 and one in round 6 or 7).
Outside Linebackers = 3
Nix quotes pertaining to Tackle:
“Again, I think with his length and all that, that Chris Hairston, he’s a smart guy, can play over there and be serviceable for us and Demetrius it remains to be seen. We’re going to try to resign him.”
“Chris Hairston I think can be a really good LT. He’s a rookie. It’s going to take him a little bit. He got some good experience this year.”
“We’re going to draft a tackle if we can. If there’s one there is what I mean. If there’s one we think can play we’re going to draft a tackle. You can never have too many tackles.”
“Depth at tackle is problem. We’ve got depth inside. We’ve got guards and centers that can play in there. Last year we lost two left tackles and Levitre moved out there and he did a commendable job, but we’ve got to have at least one top tackle in the draft and another guy that we can develop.”
“We’ve got some guys that would hopefully be second or third round guys that we think in one year can be a starter for you,” said Nix. ’It’s not bad for tackles.”
That’s a lot of quotes from Nix on the tackle position during the last 3 months. Early on, I think Nix thought they had a shot at resigning Bell, and was therefore more optimistic about the position early in the year. That was a good stance to take; you had a starter in Bell and a kid with potential in Hairston. But now that it seems unlikely that Bell will return, I think that the priority level at tackle has changed for Nix. I think he realizes that it would be a huge risk to go into the season with Hairston atop the depth chart. It would be a monumental failure if Fitz were lost to injury because they were unable to protect his blindside, especially after all the work they’ve put into improving this team this off-season.
Therefore I believe that Nix will take a tackle with one of his first two picks. Again, I’m by no means able to evaluate which tackle it should be, but I trust in Nix’s ability to do so and if he believes there will be a tremendous drop off in talent after the first three, he’ll pull the trigger at 10, even if it’s a bit of a reach. I know many of you will say that’s not Nix’s M.O., but I’d like to point out the selection of Torell Troup in 2010. That was the first year of the Nix/Gailey regime and they had the daunting task of switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Nix needed building blocks for the new defense and made Troup his first pick. Many experts thought it was a reach, and that Troup could have been had in the 3rd, but Nix needed a true 3-4 Nose Tackle so he made the pick where he felt safe doing so. I think this same philosophy could apply here with Left Tackle.
However, if Nix thinks the talent pool is deep enough, and he can still get a promising left tackle at pick 41, then I think he waits (and prays) until round 2. I also think, based on the quotes above, that he’ll take another prospect with potential in the middle rounds of the draft (4-5).
Tackles = 2
Nix quotes pertaining to WR:
“I think even signing Stevie (Johnson), I know all you guys watched the games this weekend and there’s only one Calvin Johnson but there’s some more similar to that, that you throw it up there. They’re not covered when they’re covered. We could use another big time receiver.”
“We’ve got talent. Everybody talks about speed on the other side away from him, deep speed. We’ve got guys out there that can run. It’s a matter of keeping him healthy and keeping him on the field. That doesn’t mean we won’t sign another receiver and it doesn’t mean we won’t draft one but I do think we’ve got a good group.”
That first quote came earlier in the year than the second one did and as you can see they are a little conflicting. I think Nix badly wants to add a difference maker to this team at wide receiver, but I also think he realizes that tackle and maybe even cornerback (maybe) might be higher priority needs right now. I think he also knows that he has an innovative offensive mind in Chan Gailey, who already has some pretty good offensive weapons at his disposal with Stevie, Fred and CJ. There’s only one football to go around, and you’ve already got 3 hungry mouths to feed.
I still think he takes a WR early (rounds 1-3), but it is just as likely that we take one in the 3rd as we do in the 1st. Again, Tackle is the more pressing need and it’s all going to depend on the talent that Nix sees at that position within the first two rounds. If he sees enough depth to wait until round 2, then WR may very well be the first pick. But if not, I think this becomes either our 2nd or 3rdround pick. I also think we add another diamond in the rough prospect late (round 6-7).
Wide Receivers = 2
In summation, here are the positions I see us filling in this year’s draft:
Outside Linebacker = 3
Cornerback = 2
Tackle = 2
Wide Receiver = 2
Defensive End = 1
On a side note, I believe, as many of you do, that the best possible thing to that could happen to the Bills this year is a trade down. I think Nix agrees with that, based on a quote that I can’t find but know I heard. He had mentioned how much he values draft picks and that he wants to use them all, and more if he can get them.
The only problem there is finding a trade partner. With not much separating the talent after about the 7th or 8th pick, teams might be satisfied staying put and seeing what falls to them at their original spot. Hopefully Nix can figure out a way to make this happen, because 4 picks in the first 3 rounds would go along way towards addressing our 4 biggest needs (LT, WR, LB and CB). Either way, I believe in Nix and know he’ll do the best with whatever scenario ultimately occurs.
Lastly I just want to say, that I know this is all a bunch of malarkey. The draft is a very fluid thing and there is no way to predict what will happen. If I’m even 50% right I’ll be impressed with myself. I could see the team adding depth at safety and a developmental QB, but I was trying to focus my deductions on indications that were given by Nix during the last few months. Plus, I just needed to get this all out of my head and onto the page.
So thanks for listening and have at it in the comments section.