For the fourth time in four seasons, the Buffalo Bills are changing defensive coordinators - and by extension, defensive schemes - with former Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz replacing current Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine in that post. The Bills will therefore be switching from a blitz-heavy, unique scheme with a fairly even mix of even and odd fronts with a more traditional, yet still aggressive, 4-3 front.
As the constant scheme shifts have unfolded, Bills fans have focused intently on the personnel problem areas created by the switch. The Bills are now desperately thin at defensive end, and spent the free agency period addressing their athleticism problem at linebacker. But there has been a silver lining to the scheme shifts, too: the Bills have assembled a deep, talented and diversely-skilled group of defensive linemen (tackles in the 4-3). They're so deep, in fact, that they were able to let a talented young defensive lineman, Alex Carrington, walk away in free agency for peanuts.
Talent on hand
The conversation at defensive tackle starts, of course, with veterans Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, who have now controlled the middle of the Bills' defensive line for three (going on four) seasons. Williams set a career high with 10.5 sacks in 2013, making his third Pro Bowl, while Dareus earned his first Pro Bowl nod as well (yes, as a replacement) with 7.5 sacks of his own and career-best play against the run.
Williams, who will turn 31 in mid-June, is signed through the 2016 season. The Bills picked up a fifth-year option on Dareus' rookie deal in late April, keeping him in the fold through 2015 despite some late-season suspensions due to tardiness. For the foreseeable future, these two players will remain at the center of Buffalo's defensive line.
Buffalo also signed top reserve Alan Branch to a fairly lucrative three-year extension late last season, ensuring he would remain with the team as a wave player and run-down specialist. Corbin Bryant, a little-known name a year ago, showed fairly well as a situational player in Pettine's system, and adds a known quantity to the depth chart. Jarius Wynn, a free agent signing from Dallas, is a similar athlete that, like Bryant and especially Branch, can play some end if the Bills decide to keep Pettine's 4-3 Under as a base defense. Heck, even 2013 undrafted free agent Stefan Charles showed some ability in a limited number of snaps last season.
Need assessment: None
The Bills are set here. They have two Pro Bowl starters, a well-paid reserve, and three worthwhile wave players buried on the depth chart. There is no more luxurious pick the Bills could make than to address defensive tackle in the 2014 NFL Draft, particularly in the early rounds. Sorry, Aaron Donald fans.
Keeping in line with the theme here, the Bills did not host any defensive tackle prospects at Orchard Park this spring. The only defensive lineman to make the trip was Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton.
The aforementioned Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh, one of the most polished prospects in this year's draft, could warrant Top 10 consideration when all is said and done, but his talents would be wasted on a roster like Buffalo's, where he'd have serious trouble cracking the lineup. There are several other early-round picks - Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III of Notre Dame, Dominique Easley of Florida, Timmy Jernigan of Florida State and Ra'Shede Hageman of Minnesota are the big names - and the Bills could benefit from teams targeting those players, causing prospects at more significant need positions to slide for the Bills.
Is there any logical argument - other than Williams' age, which is a flimsy argument anyway, considering he's coming off a career season - to make in favor of the Bills using a draft pick on a defensive tackle this week?