In his first two drafts as general manager of the Buffalo Bills, Buddy Nix spent five of his six premium-round (read: third round or earlier) picks on defenders. That trend was chalked up largely to circumstance, however; in 2010, the team was trying to re-adjust its personnel to fit a recently-adopted 3-4 scheme, and last season, they were trying to fortify a historically terrible run defense that surrendered nearly 170 yards per game the year prior.
In conducting two interviews this week, however, comments made by Nix may indicate that the early emphasis on defense is driven at least as much by philosophy as it is by need.
"I just think it's hard to play defense, really," Nix said Wednesday at the team's pre-draft luncheon. "I think you've got to react on defense instead of having plays called where you know what you're going to do when you go to the line of scrimmage. You've got to be able to sit and then react to it. So I think it takes better athletes - and I'm probably glad (Chan Gailey)'s not in here to hear that - but they've got to be instinctive and be able to move on the snap. I think that's probably the main thing."
Nix expanded on that commentary the following morning in a radio interview with WGR 550, when he discussed the difficulty of playing cornerback in the NFL.
"First of all, when we talk about quarterback on offense, we feel like that's the hardest position to play on offense, without a doubt," Nix said. "Corner, to me, is the hardest position to play on defense. A guy's going against great athletes with great speed, and he's got to react to what that guy does. He's on an island out there, and if he messes up, everybody knows it. It's mental, plus it's physical."
Nix has developed a reputation as a defensive-minded talent evaluator despite the fact that his first-ever pick as Bills GM was to take Clemson running back C.J. Spiller with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Of his five picks made in Round 3 or higher since then, however, all have been defenders: defensive tackles Torell Troup and Alex Carrington followed Spiller two years ago, and the trio of Marcell Dareus, Aaron Williams and Kelvin Sheppard were brought on board last April.
In all, Nix has drafted ten defenders to eight offensive players in two years. Half of the defenders were picked in Round 3 or above, however, while just one of the offensive players - Spiller - fits that description. Further commentary from Nix suggests that, if only for the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft, the offense/defense trend may continue for a year, despite the team's top two perceived needs being on the offensive side of the ball: wide receiver and left tackle.
Of receiver, Nix offered the following to WGR 550 on Thursday: "You look at the history of that position. Kids like to run, catch the ball, be out there where everybody can see them. The good athletes like to play wide receiver. If they’ve got the ability that’s where they are going to play. You look at the number of wide receivers who play great in this league and when they were drafted - Stevie Johnson drafted in the seventh round, Victor Cruz, he was a free agent - those guys come up every year... We think that you can get a good-sized speed receiver in the third or fourth round."
Of left tackle, Nix offered the following in the same Thursday interview: "I think (left tackle depth is) better than a lot of people say it is. I think it’s better than it normally is. Normally you’ve got three or four guys that you think can come in and play, and we think there are probably twice as many this year. We’ve got a chance to get one. If we don’t get one at (No. 10), we’ve got a chance to get one after that."
As we've been saying all along, it's still not yet time to rule out many possibilities when it comes to the Bills and the No. 10 overall pick next week. There is ample evidence to suggest, however, that with evaluations and perceived needs being equal, the Bills will be philosophically driven to lean defense with their early picks.