I just spent the last 12 hours volunteering at a fundraiser at school, and for the majority of the time I was on the computer surfing the web. Naturally I spent a lot of time on this site and ended up with two things I wanted to write a little about- how to attack the draft and our offensive identity moving forward.
I would be most satisfied with drafting 4 different players that could be sitting there at #10- Floyd, Keuchly, Kirkpatrick, or Tannenhill. There are a handful of other players I wouldn't mind picking but don't see right the value at #10- Gilmore, Jenkins, Upshaw, Wright, Glenn, Adams, or Rieff... Usually this screams trade down, and I think a lot of people would agree that in an ideal world that would be the right move. The obvious problem is a lack of a prospect that would entice a team to trade up. The 5 most desirable players (Luck, Griffin, Kalil, Blackmon, Claiborne) will all be gone. The only QBs arguably worth trying to trade up for will likely be gone. This leads me to believe our only shot at trading down is to throw a team a deal they can't refuse. Assuming Nix wants to trade down badly enough to take a deal that isn't as favorable to Buffalo, I still don't think he drops out of the top 20. This leaves a couple options that I see making some sense.
The most favorable thing the Bills will have working for them in this regard is Trent Richardson being available. RB's are losing their appeal in the 1st but there is no denying Richardson is a special talent who just might be worth a team jumping up for in the right circumstance. The following scenarios are in order of preference. The parenthesis indicate the trade value chart totals for the picks.
1a) Dallas sends picks 14 and 81 (1285) to Buffalo in exchange for 10 and 124 (1348), putting them ahead of KC and ARI to draft Kirkpatrick. Dallas would likely swap a 3rd for a late 4th to move up 4 spots and get a CB if they view him as considerably better than the others available. Buffalo could still grab a similar caliber player at 14 as they could at 10 and would now have two thirds that can be used to address needs or to trade back into the late 2nd.
1b) Cincinnati sends pick 17 and 53 (1320) to the Bills in exchange for 10 and 105 (1384), putting them ahead of Arizona, KC, and NYJ to draft Richardson. Buffalo gains an extra second rounder. Cincy may be inclined to do this as they could grab a stud RB to replace Benson, pick up an extra 4th, and still have another 1st round pick.
2) Chicago sends picks 19 and 50 (1275) to the Bills in exchange for 10 and 124 (1348). Chicago gets in position to draft a player that they view as the missing piece that makes them a contender this season. This seems like the least appealing option to the opposing team, unless they really value somebody sitting there at 10 that won't make it to 19, which would most likely be one of the CB's or OT's. Not sure that there is a player in those groups that qualifies, but it's possible. Buffalo would get swap a 4th for a 2nd in exchange for dropping nine slots in the first.
3) Cincinnati sends picks 21, 53, and 116 (1230) to the Bills in exchange for 10 (1300). If Cincinnati rejects the first offer and Buffalo really wants to trade down they could opt to take the Bengals 21 pick in addition to a 2nd and 4th (or 2013 3rd). This would likely drop Buffalo lower than where they want to be but give them an extra 2nd and 4th to use to add depth or combine with our 3rd or two 4ths to move back up into the end of the 2nd/3rd rounds.
In order for Nix to take any of these deals he would have to truly feel comfortable selecting a few different players or really want a guy that will likely not get drafted in the top 20 but will be gone when they pick in the 2nd. In the end, the only options I really see Nix going for are the 1a and 1b. Dropping 4/7 slots is one thing, but dropping 9/11 puts you in position to take a lower tier player- something I just don't see Nix doing.
In the end, when we complete our draft I want to be able to say that Buffalo walked away with four of the following regardless of position:
- starter on defense
- starter on offense
- weapon for the passing attack (can be the same player drafted as a starter)
- QB to develop
- Competition for Hairston at LT (can be the same player drafted as a starter)
So basically we should draft at least 4/5 of the following: a starting CB or LB, starting WR/OT/TE, a WR or TE who pose a threat to the defense if the starter is an OL, a QB to groom for the future, and an OT who can challenge for the starting role. It's completely feasible with or without trading down, but trading down would easily allow us to address all of them while adding some quality depth and competition at weaker positions.
Focusing specifically on the offensive side of the ball, I think the key for establishing a legitimate offense with Fitz at QB is for Gailey to determine exactly what he wants the offensive identity of this team to be moving forward. Right now it's a short passing, rhythmic spread offense that gets the ball out of the QB's hand fast. The strengths of the offense are their running backs, interior line, and depth at WR. The weakness is their QB's inability to consistently make downfield throws, their OL's inability to consistently hold a pocket to protect on deep drop backs, and the lack of a dynamic deep threat to stretch the defense. They also have to consider that they have a shorter QB with inconsistent footwork who operates best out of the shotgun.
The way I see it, the Bills can approach this draft offensively with one of two mindsets:
1) Draft to improve what they already do well and maintain a short timing attack moving forward
2) Draft to address their weaknesses and adapt a more balanced aerial attack moving forward
The Bills will likely (or at least in my opinion should) draft and OT and a WR/TE in the first 3 rounds (arguably the first 4 rounds). The order/round the positions of need are addressed and with what kind of players, at least to some extent, is dictated by which of the two mindsets above they are entering the draft with.
If they are drafting to improve on their current system and stick with a quick, timing spread offense picking an OT in the first round, or even the second, becomes much less of a need. The type of OT they select will almost certainly be a bigger, run block oriented tackle who can hold his own in the passing game. If they are choosing to try to balance the passing attack improving the pass blocking ability of the line becomes much more crucial and there is a greater chance they would take a slightly smaller OT who can move a bit better in pass protection.
Under either mindset drafting the kind of dynamic, big time WR in the mold of a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald would be an extremely beneficial move. In terms of that type of go up and get it WR, the only one in this draft (in my opinion) the Bills will have a shot at Michael Floyd. Whether or not you see Floyd as a prospect who will be in the same tier as Fitzgerald, Wayne, Bowe, or Meachem will determine whether or not you think he would be worth drafting at #10. If it's Fitz or Wayne then it's an easy decision, if it's Bowe you could go 50:50 depending who else is available, and if its Meachem you probably pass on a WR in the first. Drafting Randle in the second would also be a pick that would address both mindsets adequately, but he may not be there at 41 or he may not grade out to be the kind of dynamic threat that Nix is ideally seeking. Assuming we can't land that kind of WR, the type of mindset we are entering the draft with will dictate the type of weapon in the passing attack the Bills will take. If we are looking to improve what we currently do offensively the best value may come in the form of a playmaking slot WR like Marvin Jones or Joe Adams to play the role Parrish tried to in this offense. If we are trying to bring a more balanced passing attack it might be more ideal to take a slightly smaller #2 WR that poses a greater vertical threat, such as Chris Givens. It also may make us more inclined to select an athletic TE such as Fleener or Allen. A dual threat TE would benefit both mindsets, but it would be more beneficial in an attack that feature less of a spread look as their would be more ability to bring 2 TE's (Chandler and Fleener/Allen) onto the field as opposed to a quicker 3rd WR.
In the end, the Bills could really go either direction depending on two things- how Gailey ideally wants to build this offense and, more importantly, can Fitz consistently be a more efficient down field passer. The first factor comes down to the question did Gailey design this offense as a model of what he wants to run offensively, or did he design it to account for the current strengths and weakness of this team. I'm inclined to believe that it is something of an in between- that Gailey is an extremely innovative offensive coach who took the system he likes to run and tailored it the the current offense. If Fitz is capable, I believe Gailey would ideally like to switch to a more balanced passing attack and stretch the field vertically as well as horizontally. If Fitz is not capable of doing this then Gailey will simply continue to tailor the offense around what he can do well. It also will make the team much more likely to use an early pick on a developmental QB that can make all the throws on the field.
In either regard, I think the Bills would benefit most moving forward from attempting to correct some of the more coachable weaknesses in Fitz's game. One of those weaknesses is his footwork, which in a lot of ways goes hand and hand with the other main one, his relative inability to comfortably play from under center. The Bills used a lot of shotgun and pistol formations last season in part because of the Gailey's offensive tendencies, but I believe the extent to which we used these formation was a result of Fitz being significantly more comfortable off the line of scrimmage than under center. The problem with these formations is that they limit arguable our greatest strength, our running backs. Running out of the shotgun/pistol forces the RB to receive the ball before they are in full stride to hit a seam and limits the amount of holes that a run can be designed to hit. It also takes away the effectiveness of the play action because a) the running game isn't as effective and b) the defense can see the ball in the QB's hands more easily. If Fitz can get more comfortable playing under center it will benefit this offense a lot, regardless of how committed they are to sticking with a short timing passing attack.
The other adjustment I would like to see made on offense regardless of what identity they are aiming for is a more frequent use of a no huddle attack. Fitz is a very intelligent QB who seems to be very good at identifying defenses at the line. He's a streaky QB who can get hot and played a lot of his best football from behind when the offense was operating at a fast tempo (and also played some pretty bad football when they had the lead and tried to slow things down). The Bills have 2 RB's that can line up at WR and cause mismatches. Gailey can be a very good play caller but also has a tendency to get one dimensional at times. Using a no huddle attack would allow Fitz to play at a fast tempo, identify the defensive alignment, and use a versatile personal to exploit mismatches and take what the defense is giving them. Adding a dynamic TE would only further add to making this a very difficult formula to stop- creating another mismatch in the passing game and adding a bigger body to block on run downs. Imagine having SJ, Spiller, Jackson, Fleener/Allen, and Nelson on the field in a no huddle. If you were a defensive coordinator what personal would you put on the field to match up with that group? You could use a nickel and try to cover Jackson and Spiller with LB/S's, or you could go to a dime and try to stop the running game. Either way if Fitz in on his game your going to be in for a long day defensively.
In the end, the Bills would most benefit from trying to adapt a more down field oriented passing attack but there ability to do so lies heavily on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Drafting a dynamic WR with big play capability and competition at LT would be most ideal, but that type of WR may not be available in this draft. The type of weapon the Bills then will look to add will depend heavily on Gailey's vision for this offense moving forward, which will be based on his assessment of Fitzpatricks ability as a down field passer. If Fitz can improve this aspect of his game, the addition of a quality LT and a #2 WR or athletic TE could make this offense a very difficult one to stop for many years to come. If he can't, the best move seems to be adding a dynamic slot WR to contribute in the short passing game and finding a developmental QB prospect to start grooming sooner rather than later so that this offense can eventually take that next step.