NFL Draft 2014: Top 12 big board for Buffalo Bills

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Who are the 12 players you consider most likely to be drafted by the Buffalo Bills tonight? Here's one fan's opinion on the matter.

The 2014 NFL Draft begins in eight hours, and in the build-up to the big event, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the Buffalo Bills. They have been rumored to be interested in trading up for several weeks; will they pull the trigger? Or will they replicate last year's model and slide down before getting their guy? Who's on their radar if they end up staying put at No. 9 overall?

It wouldn't be draft day at Buffalo Rumblings without a speculative opinion piece attempting to answer all three of those questions. Here, then, is a Round 1 "big board" broken into three sections: trade-up targets, stand pat targets, and the best of the rest. The board will be a combination of long-held speculation, my own opinions, and gut feeling. You're free to disagree with it, and the only acceptable way to interpret it is to assume that if the Bills pick a guy further on the list (or not on it at all), the more surprised I will be.

Will the Bills trade up?

It's been rumored for months by various sources, which undoubtedly means that the Bills have been making calls about moving up. Perhaps those calls were more exploratory than anything, but the idea of giving up future draft picks to take one non-quarterback has been met with fairly equal pro and anti responses this spring by fans.

If the Bills are serious about it, then there is one argument for doing so that is far more logical than the rest: the current Bills regime is being bold in looking to maximize its chances of making the playoffs in 2014, and thus keeping their jobs when new ownership takes over the franchise, perhaps as soon as this fall. My opinion is that if Doug Whaley and Doug Marrone are as smart as we hope they are, they'll realize that they are far closer to playoff-caliber on defense than they are on offense.

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Auburn tackle Greg Robinson are excellent prospects. Both would be high-quality additions to a Bills offense that needs more explosive receiving talent and more athleticism, grit and overall talent up front. Watkins is the better prospect, but Robinson might make more sense in the short term; if the Bills are going to the playoffs this year, they're doing it riding their defense and a ball control offense.

Which brings me back to the defense. They already have playoff-caliber talent in many key areas of the team, and it can be argued that they were playoff-caliber (or close to it) last season. Adding an elite talent like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack could be viewed as a move to put that defense over the top, to turn a Top 10 unit into one of the league's best. That is, in my mind, the only justifiable reason for wanting to trade up in this draft class.

Watkins is the only member of this quartet that made an official pre-draft visit with the Bills, but it's worth point out that Mack, the UB product, would not need to be named on that list by the Bills, and they're likely more familiar with him than anybody else in the class, considering their proximity to his campus. For the reasons mentioned above, we're listing the two defenders ahead of the two offensive players, then prioritizing them by whether or not they visited.

  1. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
  2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
  3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
  4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Staying put at No. 9

For this section of the board, we'll lean heavily on the premise that the Bills would rather pick someone that they hosted on a pre-draft visit than a guy they didn't bring in. Buffalo had a slew of prospects visit Orchard Park that are considered Top 25 selections (or better), and this list is full of some of the hottest names in the draft at the moment.

Two names stand out, and they're both Texas A&M products: wide receiver Mike Evans and tackle Jake Matthews. Both are very strong bets to be taken in the Top 10, and they are, by far, the names with the smallest chances of falling all the way to the Bills at No. 9 overall. I'll prioritize the uniquely skilled receiver over the rock-solid tackle every time, but the Bills would be lucky to have either of these players.

From there, the names get a bit more divisive. The two that Bills fans have been discussing most are North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron and Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin, mostly because they fill obvious needs for the team. I prefer Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and LSU wideout Odell Beckham, Jr. to both prospects, and I've even slotted Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller ahead of Martin, as well. Including Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, who might just be my single favorite player in this year's draft class, the Bills will have a variety of very good prospects to choose from at No. 9, even if none of them will spark universal adoration the way some of the names in the top six might.

  1. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
  2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
  3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
  4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
  5. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
  6. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
  7. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
  8. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
  9. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
  10. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
  11. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
  12. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Could the Bills trade down?

A few of the names discussed above - Fuller, Martin and Shazier in particular, and perhaps Martin especially - would be very good trade-down targets for the Bills. There are several other names, listed here because they weren't pre-draft visitors to One Bills Drive, that would be worth considering as well. Those players, in no particular order: Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, UCLA pass rusher Anthony Barr, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, and two safeties, Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville.

That's my opinion on the matter. How would you adjust that Top 12?

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