Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ryan, and I'm an NFL Draft fanatic, a regular follower of SB Nation blogging site Cat Scratch Reader, and a devoted Carolina Panthers fan. This week, I am participating in CSR's Community Mock Draft, which will be reminiscent of the Mocking the Draft Live Draft that took place this past weekend. With a few slight modifications, the draft is supposed to replicate an actual NFL Draft, with each team having its own representative. Unfortunately, the person who is overseeing the draft also happens to be a Panthers fan (as is everyone else who is participating in this draft). So, out of all of the teams that I could still choose from, I chose to represent your beloved Bills! The main reason why I chose the Bills is because they had the most ammunition (draft picks) of any of the teams still available. With a solid draft class and a healthy roster, I believe that the Bills could make a serious post-season push. Below, I'll give you my lengthy Bills' evaluation, my draft strategy, and other vital information with regards to this weekend's mock draft. As you're reading this, keep in mind that I'm a Panthers fan. I realize that you may disagree with some (or many) of the things that I have to say. So, please try and bear with me.
Offense - To state the obvious, Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't a quarterback that is going to make everyone around him better (i.e. Cam Newton). However, Chan Gailey has shown one of his biggest strengths in adapting his offensive system to the personnel that he has to work with. With an optimal scheme and a strong supporting cast, Fitzpatrick is more than capable of producing solid numbers and leading the Bills to victory. However, the latter half of last season is evidence that Fitzpatrick is only as good as the players around him. As for the other players, the Bills have an electrifying 1-2 punch at running back in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. When focused, Steve Johnson is a legitimate Z receiver. The Bills also (to my surprise) gave up the fewest amount of sacks last season. Andy Levitre is as good as they come at left guard. Eric Wood is also dominant when he's healthy. Eric Pears is solid at right tackle, while Kraig Urbik can hold his own at the other guard spot. I'll even mention that Corey McIntyre is a solid fullback. The Bills are obviously committed to having Fitzpatrick be the long-term answer at quarterback, as he recently signed a huge contract extension. So, the Bills will need to find as much help as they can for Fitzpatrick to succeed.
Defense - I mentioned earlier that I didn't care for when the Bills switched base defensive schemes back in 2010. One of keys to winning in the NFL is adapting to the personnel on your roster. It looks as if the Bills have finally come to that realization with the hiring of a veteran defensive coordinator and the switch back to the 4-3. Several existing players on your roster should benefit from this switch. However, the biggest issue surrounding the Bills last season was the pass rush (or lack thereof). Again, the Bills took note and addressed that dire need in free agency. Mario Williams is one of the best in the league at what he does, while Mark Anderson put up some great numbers in Bill Belicheat's system (I'm still bitter about Super Bowl 38). However, I always hold my reservations when players go from good teams to not-as-good teams for a bigger pay day. So, I wouldn't be too surprised if Williams and Anderson don't quite live up to everyone's expectations. Regardless, the Bills' pass rush should be light years ahead of where it was a season ago. Marcell Dareus was one of my favorite draft prospects last year, and he didn't disappoint in his first season. Kyle Williams should be even better in a base 4-3 alignment. Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard both played extremely well at linebacker. Even with an anemic pass rush, the Bills' secondary was impressive as well. Jairus Byrd and George Wilson are great at safety. I also think that Aaron Williams is a long-term answer at corner.
Overview - To be honest, I was very skeptical of the Bills' front office at this time a year ago. Initially, I thought the Chan Gailey hire was a very curious move. The switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 alignment left me scratching my head. Finally, your 2010 draft class had me asking myself, "What the hell is Buddy Nix thinking?" In 2010, after an abysmal start, Buffalo started showing some signs of life. The Bills were lights-out for the first half of last season. However, injuries and a lack of depth really hurt the Bills down the stretch. As of now, the Bills enter the 2012 NFL Draft with ten picks, including the tenth overall pick. After signing Williams and Anderson via free agency, the Bills can focus on addressing other needs through the draft.
My Draft Strategy - For the record, I don't want to specifically telegraph what I plan to do. I have a pretty good idea about which positions the Bills should address. There are specific prospects that I'm targeting in different rounds. I'm still in the process of constructing a draft board. My strategy is to take the best player on the board that would make sense. I understand that there are a few players on your roster that could be considered cap casualties, and could subsequently get released before the regular season. My draft board and selections might reflect that. In addition, I am also studying the Bills' selections from the past two drafts, so I have an idea of what type of prospects your front office is seeking.
Trades - Trades are allowed in this mock draft. I can make an unlimited number of trades prior to the draft and in between draft segments (draft will be split into two days). However, I can only make up to three trades when the draft is actually in progress. I even have the luxury of trading away one of your very own players. So far, four trades have already been made, including the Eagles sending CB Asante Samuel to the Ravens for a third round selection. However, I've taken notice that Buddy Nix doesn't like to make any moves on draft day. I'm open to any avenue to try and improve your team. And if that means breaking away from Nix's MO, then so be it. In fact, I've already been in contact with several other team representatives with regards to trades. If the value is there, then I may have to pull the trigger.
This is my first time participating in a live mock draft. However, I want to be able to hit a grand slam in my first attempt. With continued preparation and a small hint of luck, I might be able to do just that. I also want to hear what the Buffalo faithful has to say (the reason why I made this post). I have a few specific questions. Although, I'll welcome any input and/or constructive criticism that you have to offer me.
Which positions/prospects do you think I should target?
Would you guys be OK with me making trades? Even at the expense of diminishing the realistic-ism of the draft?
Are there any players on your current roster that you want me to place on the trading block (I can only trade one)?
And finally, how is your special teams unit shaping up? The only reason why I am asking this is because the Panthers' ST unit was abysmal to the point that it cost the Panthers a few games last season. The Panthers' front office has even made upgrading the ST unit a top priority in free agency. If need be, then I will factor special teams into my draft strategy.
One more thing. The first segment of the CSR Community Mock Draft will be taking place live on Friday, April 20, at 8:00 PM ET on Cat Scratch Reader, the Panthers' SB Nation blogging site. The second segment of the mock draft will take place on Saturday, April 21, at 2:00 PM ET (subject to change) in another thread. The first segment will consist of rounds 1-3, with the second segment consisting of the remaining rounds. I'll post another announcement on here with a link prior to the draft. You guys are more than welcome to follow the draft as it's happening. Thanks for reading!