For one reason or another, the vast majority of the Buffalo Bills related email that I field have to do with GM Buddy Nix and the draft choices that he's made over the past three years. This time around, a reader by the name of Sam is wondering which of those draft picks are the best we've seen to date.
"Hey Brian," Sam writes, "now that we have 'the book' on a lot of Buddy Nix's 27 draft picks with the Bills, I'd be interested to read an article about the 10 players that you think are the team's best prospects heading into 2012. Thanks!"
I'll defer to the coaches a bit on this one, and I've eliminated a lot of prospects that are not in line for significant roles this season, whatever the reason may be. These are all players, by the way, that should be watched very closely on Thursday night.
10. Arthur Moats, linebacker (6-178-2010, James Madison). The third-year player finally has a permanent positional home (strong-side linebacker), and while he likely won't start this season, the team seems to believe that he can add a pass-rushing element to the linebacking corps that is currently lacks. Moats has the look of a player that will have a very specialized role in Dave Wannstedt's defense while he nails down the nuances of his new position.
9. T.J. Graham, wide receiver (3-69-2012, North Carolina State). He won't start right away - and may not even get a ton of playing time immediately, either - but Graham has shown enough in the first week of camp to alleviate some concerns that the Bills "reached" in taking him, and that he might never become the No. 2 receiver Stevie Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick need. A strong pre-season would aid that effort.
8. Da'Norris Searcy, strong safety (4-100-2011, North Carolina). Searcy only saw spot duty as a rookie, but heading into his second season, the Bills have been giving him first-team reps to accelerate his progress. He won't just be the top reserve safety and one of the team's core specialists this season; he may end up with a small role to play in specific defensive packages, as well.
7. Chris Hairston, offensive tackle (4-122-2011, Clemson). It seems clear at this point that Hairston is the underdog in the battle for the starting left tackle job, at least when it comes to Buffalo's personnel department. But the second-year pro has gotten a ton of first-team reps this off-season, will play a lot of right tackle this summer until Erik Pears is fully healthy, and will go into this season as, at minimum, one of the league's most competent young swing tackles. He also appears to be the long-term answer at right tackle, as well.
6. Kelvin Sheppard, linebacker (3-68-2011, LSU). In limited playing time as a rookie, Sheppard showed a strong ability to take on and defeat blocks and make in-the-box tackles, but struggled a bit in coverage, frequently looking lost. Now, he is the middle linebacker of choice as Wannstedt converts the team to a 4-3. He's already a competent two-down run stuffer (though he can be more consistent here); if he gets better defending the pass, the Bills could have a real gem of a third-rounder on their hands.
5. Cordy Glenn, offensive tackle (2-41-2012, Georgia). The massive rookie is clearly the player that the Bills would like to win the left tackle job; if (when?) he does, he'll likely stay in that position for quite a while. The jury is still out on whether or not the former college guard can handle blind side duties as a pro, but for now, the Bills are convinced that he can - and he's expected to anchor the offensive line for the foreseeable future.
4. Aaron Williams, cornerback (2-34-2011, Texas). In the midst of a training camp in which he's taken his lumps, Williams has stayed competitive and been more consistent of late. A starter by default in the latter half of his rookie season, Williams hasn't exactly earned the starting job he appears to have a bead on, but that doesn't mean he can't take the opportunity and run with it. Williams is one-half of a corner duo that's expected to be here for a while.
3. C.J. Spiller, running back (1-9-2010, Clemson). After a year and a half of very little impact, Spiller finally gave fans a six-game stretch in 2011 where he proved himself capable of producing like a feature back. He won't be a feature back in 2012 if all goes according to plan, but Spiller appears to be on the verge of emerging as an elite offensive weapon in Chan Gailey's offense, and will almost certainly be on the field a lot more than he was before his late-season emergence in 2011.
2. Stephon Gilmore, cornerback (1-10-2012, South Carolina). It's a bit disconcerting when a player that didn't make huge waves in the pre-draft process suddenly becomes a Top 10 pick and a certain starter for your favorite football team; it's even odder when that player draws rave reviews from coaches, players and media alike. Gilmore is the hottest name on the team right now aside from Mario Williams. Here's to hoping that the hype translates into Buffalo having found its first true lock-down corner in years.
1. Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle (1-3-2011, Alabama). More than anything aside from consistency from Fitzpatrick, the Bills need to build an identity on defense this season, and that starts with the defensive line. The sheer amount of resources that the team has put into its front four necessitates that unit driving the successes of the new defense, and Dareus is arguably the biggest part of that aside from Super Mario. Last year's No. 3 overall pick flashed dominance amidst an up-and-down rookie season; a consistent Dareus has the potential to become one of the league's most dominant defensive tackles, particularly playing between Mario Williams and Kyle Williams.