The 2012 NFL Draft is one week away, and when I'm discussing the Buffalo Bills and the No. 10 overall pick - as I'm doing right now - there are still a whopping 15 prospects that enter the conversation. That list will likely dwindle significantly over the next week - it may be starting to do that already, in fact - but for now, I think it's prudent to keep a lot of options open.
The 15 prospects that I have in mind all fit snugly into four categories. Two of them are players that did not make a pre-draft visit to Orchard Park, which doesn't completely eliminate them, but certainly doesn't help their cause, in my opinion. Four more are players that don't seem even remotely likely to be available when the Bills pick. The remaining nine are all likely candidates, but I've separated them into need and value positions and non-need, non-value positions. Four are at the need/value spots, while the remaining five are elsewhere.
Everything's after the jump.
The two most popular mock draft picks for Buffalo are on the outside looking in at the moment, in my opinion, because while the Bills have inevitably done their homework on these players, they almost certainly did not get the one-on-one attention with them at various other locales than they would have at One Bills Drive. Don't rule them out. Just don't consider them among the favorites. These two seem like longshots at this point.
Four (4) that aren't likely to be available. All four of these players visited One Bills Drive recently, but at this point, it seems unlikely that any of USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Alabama running back Trent Richardson will be on the board when the Bills pick.
Either Kalil or Claiborne would be a slam dunk pick for the team, but it's quite possible that neither survives the Top 5. Blackmon would make a lot of sense, too, as a likely immediate starter at receiver - but he, too, does not seem likely to fall. While the team does not have a need for Richardson, they'll likely grade him highly - who wouldn't? - and if he were somehow miraculously available when the Bills pick, they'd likely try to stir up a trade.
Five (5) at lower-priority need positions. There are five players in play that may grade highly, but could lose some priority based on the Bills' positional needs. Those five guys: Alabama safety Mark Barron, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram and Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Barron would make sense if two things were true: if the Bills saw him as an instant starter at strong safety, and if the team felt it could get utility out of George Wilson as a nickel back of sorts. Kuechly - who the team believes can play all three linebacker spots in Dave Wannstedt's system - would make sense if the team saw him as a three-down player, and if he graded significantly higher than players at other, more valuable positions. Cox would satisfy the team's need to upgrade on its current depth in the three-technique spot (sorry Dwan Edwards, Spencer Johnson and Alex Carrington). Ingram is too talented a pass rusher to completely eliminate - and he did visit - but free agent signings seem to have rendered him moot. Finally, Tannehill - in the increasingly unlikely event that he's available - could be viewed as the team's proverbial quarterback of the future.
Four (4) strong bets at need positions. I'll stop short of calling these four players "front-runners" or "leaders in the clubhouse," but all of them play positions with good Round 1 value and where the Bills need reinforcements, and they all seem to be prospects that the Bills like. The four names: Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.
Gilmore and Kirkpatrick are similar players - they're big, strong, tough corners. Gilmore is the better pure athlete, while Kirkpatrick is the more physical and aggressive of the two. Both are quality prospects that, at minimum, could push for a starting job as rookies. The team has also visited with and spoken highly of Glenn and Martin; the team likes Glenn's size and athleticism, while they like Martin's intelligence and versatility.
Again: at least to my eye, it's not yet time to rule anything out. But the last 24 hours have provided a small amount of clarity to our discussions about where the Bills are leaning with the No. 10 pick. One week to go, friends!