The next two days leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft will consume my time with following rumors and speculating on what the Buffalo Bills might actually do with the No. 8 overall pick in the first round. Before that happens, I wanted to put an opinion piece out there: these are the eight players that I, personally, would be most interested to see the Bills draft on Thursday night.
You'll note that there isn't a quarterback on the list; Ryan Nassib would be the only name I'd consider there, for reasons I detailed yesterday in this article. I would take every single player on this list before I took Nassib - and there are probably more names I'd take before Nassib, too. But if the Bills are dead set on taking a quarterback, as many believe, I'd rather see them take Nassib than anyone else.
Beyond that, my Top 8 big board is below. I'm sure many of you will seize the opportunity to rip my opinion to shreds, and I sincerely hope that you'll share your own big boards so that I can voraciously return the favor.
1. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
There is definitely reason to pause about Jordan as a prospect - he hasn't been playing defense for long, needs to bulk up a bit to better defend the run as a pro, and the jury is still out on him as a pass rusher based largely on what Oregon asked him to do schematically. That said, 6'6" athletes with his fluidity, range and explosion are extremely rare, and his upside as a pass rusher is enormous. Add in his versatile skill set, and he would be an ideal building block for Mike Pettine.
2. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Think about what Darren Sproles means to the New Orleans Saints offense for a minute. (You may not even need that long.) Consider that Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett use a lot of the Saints' concepts offensively. C.J. Spiller is obviously capable of filling that Sproles role, but that would be a waste of Spiller; Sproles averaged 12.6 touches per game (including returns) last year, and Spiller needs more than that. 12.6 touches per game is close to an ideal amount for Austin, however. Pencil him in as a slot receiver, get him those touches and watch opposing defensive coordinators experience night terrors at the thought of scheming to stop both Spiller and Austin.
3. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
I almost put Eifert ahead of Austin on this list. That's how much I like this tight end. 6'5" players with good speed, a huge catching radius and fantastic hands can take over football games in today's NFL, and Eifert has that potential. That Saints offense referenced earlier also utilizes a lot of seam routes and emphasizes possession receivers out of the slot; pairing Eifert with Stevie Johnson in the slot would be a great way to establish an efficient passing attack, regardless of who is at quarterback.
4. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Milliner has been on our radar for months, mostly because he has a lot of the same traits that made Stephon Gilmore so appealing to the Bills a year ago. He's big, fast, athletic and good in coverage, though there are some technical deficiencies that will need to be addressed. Milliner is a plug-and-play starter in the NFL, and would give the Bills a potentially elite pair of starting corners. The reason I slid him down the list a bit: his apparently slow recuperation from shoulder surgery, and a growing sense that he may not be the most durable athlete.
5. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
You're starting to see Jones' name heat up a bit as buzz builds pre-draft, and that speaks to two things: teams are comfortable with his apparent spine condition, and they also don't give a rip about his poor pro day workout. The big knock on Jones, for me, is his lack of positional and skill diversity (he's a stand-up pass rusher, and that's about it). But I also believe that versatility is only truly necessary if you're not an elite player; I believe Jones will be an elite pass rusher in the NFL, and that's more than enough to rate him highly on my board.
6. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Buffalo's safety position is in flux a bit. Vaccaro is a very good prospect; he's tough, instinctive, and can play both the run and the pass. He's also athletic enough to drop into the slot and cover receivers (and big enough to shadow tight ends), which is a huge asset in today's NFL. You wish he were a bit more of a playmaker, and there are some character concerns, but he'd be a great pick for the Bills nonetheless. Were this year's safety class not so deep, Vaccaro likely would have rated higher for me.
7. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Aside from Austin, there isn't a more explosive player with the ball in his hands in this year's draft class than Patterson. He's big and fast - which we know the Bills like in their receivers (and who wouldn't?) - and his potential is through the roof. I've called him my favorite player available this year before, and I stand by that. But I also slid him down this list quite a ways because he's still somewhat undisciplined as a route-runner, needs a lot of polish, and will have to learn what he can and can't get away with after the catch as a pro. There might be a Spiller-esque learning curve coming for this guy.
8. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
I wish people would stop invoking the name of Maybin when talking about this guy, because that's not accurate. I get that folks are scared off by his size and his lack of functional strength, and that's certainly a concern. He's also kind of an odd athlete; for such an explosive edge rusher, you'd think he'd be a bit more fluid overall. His upside as a pass rusher is too immense to ignore (or to leave him off my list), but he'll be a part-time NFL player until he can get cranking in a weight program and play the run better.