Before I kick off the second round of Our Mock 2.0 series, I wanted to share some thoughts with what the Bills may be doing with the ninth overall pick of the draft. Additionally I will also provide some insight based on what I have been reading and from my own perspective as to what the Bills may do later on based on free agency and draft stocks.
THE TOP TEN TALENTS REDUX
This is all subjective, but this draft class is leaps and bounds better than last year’s (no offense class of 2013, you were a little skimpy on top). With over a hundred underclassmen bolstering the ranks, we have ample depth in several positions throughout the draft. But once again having the "privilege" of drafting in the top 10, we must be aware of players meeting our needs, which there are, but where they stack up amid the throngs of players in the draft.
We have quarterbacks, offensive tackles and pass rushers atop the draft boards currently. But we also have a wide receiver and a linebacker in midst with some defensive linemen and defensive backs trying to break in as well. Honorable mentions include CB Justin Gilbert, QB Johnny Manziel, and LB C.J. Mosley. Given other team’s needs, the Bills should be able to consider drafting a one of these high valued guys even if they do not represent our biggest need. Here are my top ten talents of the draft.
10. WR Mike Evans – Texas A&M: big receiver; knows how to use his size
9. DL Aaron Donald – Pittsburg: undersized, but dynamic pass rusher
8. OLB Anthony Barr – UCLA: good pass rusher and still has room to grow
7. OT Taylor Lewan – Michigan: great physical ability and solid play
6. QB Blake Bortles – Central Florida: big QB that is still developing
5. OT Jake Matthews – Texas A&M: solid techniques and good athlete
4. OT Greg Robinson – Auburn: incredible athleticism and room to grow
3. WR Sammy Watkins – Clemson: speed demon that can always catch
2. OLB Khalil Mack – Buffalo: best all-around hybrid defensive player
1. DE Jadeveon Clowney – South Carolina: brutal pass rusher most times
A few additional thoughts before I move on: Gilbert is the best corner prospect, but still has to refine his technique. Mosley's stock could fall over injury concerns despite his abilities. Manziel could probably crack the top-10, but I feel that he'll have trouble adapting to the NFL system like Cam Newton did. Robinson ranks atop Matthews due to his raw physical talent (Matthews is more technically sound, but you cannot teach body measurements). Clowney recovered with team interviews to regain the top slot. Lastly the QBs are definitely better than last year's prospects. But none
Right now the Bills have an interest in bringing in a big #1 wide receiver, an interior linebacker, a left guard, a right tackle, a coverage safety, and a 4-3 defensive end (provided Schwartz runs a more traditional 4-3 base defense than Pettine). That means of my top 10, 8 names could fit the Bills plans or 9 if you wish to include Mosley too. Will everyone be available, heck no! But enough players will be to satisfy at least one of our needs. The question is who will that be at #9?
THE NINTH PICK
To sum up the recent history of the ninth overall pick, it has had some success. In the last five years, 4 of the 5 players taken here have made it to a Pro-Bowl including one C.J. Spiller. The Bills brought in OLB Keith Rivers, the ninth pick from 2008. Now it can be said that some of these guys have had trouble reaching or sustaining that success, namely Rivers, but they do have the talent to put fear in the opposition. It’s just a matter of finding the patience and the right schemes to maximize their damage.
2013 – NYJ – CB Dee Milliner
2012 – CAR – LB Luke Keuchly*
2011 – DAL – OT Tyron Smith*
2010 – BUF – RB C.J. Spiller*
2009 – GNB – DT B.J. Raji*
2008 – CIN – LB Keith Rivers
For the Bills, if they opt to keep the ninth pick overall, they should be able to get a good player. They could still get a solid player later in the draft to fill a big need, but obviously the talent level can drop from there with no guarantee a team before them will draft their favorite guy. For instance, I loved the idea of nabbing Luke Keuchly two years ago only to have Carolina swipe him from us at the last second. Gilmore is a good, developing corner, but Keuchly would’ve have anchored our defense by giving us a solid middle linebacker for a few years now.
As for who could be available at 9 definitely hinges on what the teams before us do; you just do not know until they announce that your team is on the clock and see if they don’t trade back to boot. We need one or two players to solidify an improving defense and get some blockers/play-makers to ramp up the offense under E.J. Manuel. Best we know is that at least 3 QBs should be drafted ahead of the Bills with DE Jadeveon Clowney likely gone as well. That still leaves four question marks between us and our ninth overall pick. The question is what will the 8 teams do before us?
THE EIGHT TEAMS BEFORE US
There are eight teams that played worse than us (and mind you, injuries aside, we looked much improved and energetic than we have in the last decade…). Most of these teams need a bona-fide starting QB; deal with it Bills fans, E.J.’s our guy until Marrone says otherwise. Others may try to trade to get more picks/a player that fit their needs. Let’s take a look at who they are and what they may do.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): A big shocker to some, they need a QB and the only question is which of the top 3 will be that choice. However, there is a fair chance that they could target DE Clowney to pair next to Watt (glad we’re not in that division…) or get a right tackle.
2. St. Louis Rams (trade): It figures the Rams traded back a few years so the ‘Skins could get RG3 and now they are back at 2 and likely to trade again… (Piqued your interest Bills fans?) If they stay put as unlikely as it is, they could go for a tackle due to the fact that Rodger Saffold left and Jake Long is hurting. WR Watkins makes some sense as well, but in all likelihood you can expect another trade.
3. Jacksonville Jags (4-12): How they are not the worst team beats me, but they’ve needed a QB for several years now. I like Manziel given their lack of playmakers on offense, but really any QB would do. There’s also a need for a pass rusher and O-Line help too so keep your eyes on that if their top QB choice is gone.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Cleveland has a decent defense so as much as Mike Pettine would want to add a pass rusher, they need a QB ASAP. They could trade up with St. Louis too having the picks necessary to do so, but Cleveland’s front office is a mess. They could also pair Gordon with another blazing receiver, but who would throw to them…
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Oakland is a bit of a mess as well, but unfortunately for them, they could miss out in the QB sweepstakes. Trade option Rams… Should that happen they will look to their other major needs being a #1 WR, or a DE which will take one player the Bills may have in mind out of the running.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Playoff contenders to basement dwellers in an instant, this is the one team that isn’t remotely looking for a QB. Instead, their needs closely run parallel to ours in terms of getting a tackle or a major pass rusher. Atlanta struggled to generate pressure, but Matt Ryan was pounded last year.
7. Tampa Bay Bucs (4-12): Even if a QB is still around, Tampa might hold off given the mixed success of rookie QB Mike Glennon. They grabbed DE Michael Johnson, but could still add another pass rusher or linebacker. They could also consider a tackle or receiver too given inconsistencies in their offense.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): The Vikings need a QB stat and could be the biggest advocates of the fourth best QB, Derek Carr. If they choose to wait and try their luck in round 2, they in turn could nab a DE, LB or the best DB on the lot (yeah they are really struggling on defense). They are the biggest question mark when it comes to who they could pick.
Free agency has and will impact the needs of these teams especially in the upcoming weeks. Let us take a look at several of the players I feel could make a positive impact here in Buffalo.
THE SEVEN FREE AGENTS TO TARGET
So far in free agency, the Bills have made a few signings; some are decent, others are big head scratchers. I really liked bringing back K Dan Carpenter (you don’t let go a kicker who was 33/36 in FGs last year) and I also liked signing CB Corey Graham, a big nickel corner from the Ravens. The questionable signings are LG Chris Williams who has been a part of a poor Rams O-Line and LB Keith Rivers. Williams could do better with Glenn and Wood on his side, but Rivers, an OLB, puzzled me given that the Bills have Lawson at SLB and the Bills wanted to shift Kiko to the weakside. With the money they are giving Rivers, they are probably opting to keep Kiko in the middle.
Still, the Bills have cap space left having spent a bit over $12 million in free agency between these four players. The Bills could still sign a high profile player and maybe two if they cut or trade away a player like Erik Pears or Doug Legursky. They already saved $3.1 million by cutting Kolb. Plus, some team will drop a talented player which we could target (example: the Bucs cutting Revis and the Patriots picking him up). Obviously a few million has to be kept for rookie contracts, but we can afford to bring in a top-tier talent, and here are some names to watch.
1. TE Scott Chandler – with Pettigrew and Finley having a history of underperforming for their talent (the former coming off of a neck injury), Chandler is one of the better TEs on the market with decent upside. His blocking is so-so, but Chandler has emerged as a decent receiving threat. The Bills have been in contact with him, and the big perk, he knows the Bills offense having played here for a while now. WE RE-SIGNED HIM!
2. OT Zach Strief – Strief struggled against Chris Long, but he is a great pass rusher. Otherwise, he’s been solid for the Saints over the past few years at right tackle where the Bills could be looking to upgrade over Erik Pears. Michael Oher could also be in the mix, but he has lacked consistency since the Ravens took him in the first round.
3. S Chris Clemons – few players, save none, can match Byrd’s instincts (why the Bills wouldn’t pay him a big long-term deal is still beside me). We could do with a safety to cover deep and Clemons has been a strong guy in coverage. The Bills could target an older vet like Reed, Woodson or Bell to help mentor the likes of Duke Williams if they don’t want to spend a lot of money here.
4. DE Willie Young – Schwartz can still be reunited with a nice run stuffing DE while allowing Jerry Hughes to play the role of periodic pass rusher. If we trade Hughes, then we could use a DE with more sacks, but otherwise, a slew of veterans could also fit this role like Ayers, Wootton, Clemons or even Tuck.
5. RB James Starks – The Bills could benefit from a veteran halfback given that they could be without both Jackson and Spiller in 2015. Starks is a young back with mixed success in his career with the Packers and is a jack of all trades. The Bills could also target a bruiser like Leonard or (if he is not too expensive), Blount.
6. FB John Kuhn – while the Bills just brought back FB Frank Summers, he could be upgraded and by someone who could provide a boost in special teams to boot. The run game performed well with a fullback, so why not grab one of the best available. Also in the running could be McClain, Hynoski or Jones.
7. LB Brandon Spikes – I’ll still hold my breath for Daryl Smith, but signing Rivers indicates the Bills will not be looking for a full-time starter at MLB. Instead, we can bring in a two-down run specialist, kick Kiko outside. Spikes has been a solid run stopper for the Patriots (always good to peak at Belichick’s playbook!), but we could also target Bishop or Jordan to man inside as well. WE SIGNED HIM!
I will be posting individual grades for FA signings (unless Brian does first), but work is needed by Doug Whaley to help regain some ground from this off-season. But for now, I shall keep my fingers crossed, and my 4 leaf clover on hand as the 2014 NFL season is less than a half year away.