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Potential Mid to Late Round DE Prospects for the Bills

For the Buffalo Bills, the possibility of taking a wide receiver with their top draft pick is growing greater by the day, and I'm beginning to feel there's very little chance we'd go DE.  My stance on Derrick Harvey is not changing, but my brain is telling me I'll have to watch him tear it up elsewhere.  With that said, the need for a pass rusher hasn't lessened, nor will it until we address said need with an impact player.  I still think our best move is to take Harvey (or Vernon Gholston if he miraculously drops) in the first round and concentrate on WR in the second or third round, but since that's highly unlikely, we need to find our DE later on.  Here's a look at some mid to later round prospects the Bills should look at that can help our pass rush and DE depth this year:

(Note: This is not a list of guys I hope we draft. Rather, it's a list of players who the Bills may consider depending on the type of player they want. It is just a small sample of potential draftees at the DE position.)

Jason Jones, Eastern Michigan
Projection: Round 3
Height:  6-5
Weight: 273
40-time:  4.74

Jones has gotten some love on Rumblings and seems to be rising up the draft boards.  His combination of size, speed and determination makes him a very likeable prospect.  He is a good all-around DE, but may not be the pass rushing threat our defense needs.  As a rotational DE, he would be very effective, but should not be expected to come in and be a major help rushing the passer.  Depending on the type of player the front office would be looking for in a DE, Jones could be a prospect we look at in the third round.  

Jeremy Thompson, Wake Forest
Projection: Rounds 3/4
Height:  6-4
Weight: 264
40-time:  4.75

Thompson is another interesting prospect and much like Jones, is not the type of pass rusher we may need. He's a hard worker that is strong against the run, but doesn't have a great burst or pass rush skills.  Again, if we are looking at a more complete, all-around DE, Thompson could be a possibility.  At this point, I don't think we need to be adding a guy who's almost a carbon copy of Denney and Kelsay.

Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech
Projection: Rounds 3/4
Height:  6-4
Weight: 263
40-time:  4.71

Ellis has a nice burst off the line of scrimmage and is an extremely strong player.  Like Jones and Thompson, he's more of a run stuffer and high motor guy at this point, but does have the size and speed to develop into a solid pass rusher once he refines his moves. Some red flags on Ellis include a recurring shoulder injury (torn labrum twice) and a 2006 arrest that led to a suspension.

Brian Johnston, Gardner Webb
Projection: Rounds 4/5
Height:  6-5
Weight: 274
40-time:  4.68

With a very nice blend of size and speed Johnston has been shooting up the draft boards the past few months.  Besides his 40 time Johnston also registered a blazing 1.51 second time through the first 10 yards, a 35 inch vertical and 4.18 second 20 yard shuttle time.  It should be noted that his 10-yard split was the same as Darren McFadden's and the 20-yard shuttle matched Rashard Mendenhall.  His quickness and explosiveness isn't a question, but his transition from a small school to the NFL is.  He only recorded 6 sacks this past year, although he did rack up 24 tackles for loss, and relies more on a bull rush that his athleticism.  He could be a great pick if he is able to develop some pass rushing moves to match his speed and quickness while continuing to get stronger and refining his bull rush.  I like Johnston and feel he'd make a nice mid-round selection, though I'm not sure how much he'd contribute immediately.

Tommy Blake, TCU
Projection: Rounds 5/6
Height:  6-3
Weight: 272
40-time:  4.78

A former projected Top-10 prospect, Blake has struggled with depression and social anxiety disorder.  He was forced to take two medical leaves during the season and didn't live up to his lofty expectations heading into the season.  Blake is the type of player we need, if only his mental issues weren't so severe. He has excellent pass rushing skills, quickness off the edge and the ability to shed blockers.  If he can get his disorders properly treated and prove he wants to be a football player, he could be a great value selection later in the draft.  Right now, it is still a major risk to spend anything more than a later pick on him, and the Bills need a player to get on the field immediately.  I'm not sure Blake would be a good fit for the Bills with the risks involved.

Trevor Scott, Buffalo
Projection: Rounds 6/7
Height:  6-5
Weight: 256
40-time:  4.54

A local product from UB, Scott is relatively new to the DE position having been converted from TE.  However, he was rather productive having accrued 19 sacks the past two seasons.  He needs to add some strength and probably some weight if he wants to hold up in the NFL.  As he continues to learn the position, mature and improve, Scott could develop into a pretty solid NFL player.  At this point he's likely too raw and thin to be anything more than a very situational pass rusher, but his speed and quickness off the edge could get him on the field as a rookie.  Since that would fit our need at the position, the Bills may consider bringing in the local kid if they feel he can contribute at this level.

Jonal St. Dic, Michigan State
Projection: 7th Round
Height:  6-1
Weight: 255
40-time:  4.76 (unofficial)

St. Dic was an unknown coming into the 2007 season, but had 10 sacks and a Big 10 record of 8 forced fumbles.  He is undersized and definitely isn't going to be an every down DE in the pros, but he can be the situational type rusher we are looking for.  If his speed proves to be adequate, St. Dic could be a Darryl Tapp or Elvis Dumervil type player - an undersized and productive situational pass rusher.  He would be worth a late round pick if we don't go DE early.

Other potential situational pass rusher specialists:
Thomas Howard, Georgia, (6-0, 237 lbs, 4.45 40 yard dash); Projected 3rd Round
Curtis Johnson, Clark-Atlanta, (6-3, 242 lbs, 4.60 40 yard dash); Projected 6th-7th Round
Vincent Redd, Liberty, (6-5, 263 lbs, 4.56 40 yard dash); Projected 7th Round
Curtis Gatewood, Vanderbilt, (6-2, 248 lbs, 4.72 40 yard dash); Projected 7th Round
Bryan Smith, McNeese State, (6-2, 231 lbs, 4.65 40 yard dash); Projected 7th-Undrafted
Anthony Hoke, Cincinnati, (6-1, 235 lbs, 4.72 40 yard dash); Projected 7th-Undrafted

The 2008 draft class is rather weak after the top four guys.  If we pass on Harvey and Clemson's Phillip Merling in the first round, we are left with a decision to make on the type of player we will bring in to add depth at DE.  If the plan is to add another all-around type DE in the same mold as our current trio, we could look to the middle rounds at guys like Jones, Thompson, Ellis or Johnston.  If we look to add a situational pass rush threat that isn't going to be of help in the run game, we'd be wise to look at Scott, St. Dic, or the vastly undersized Hoke, Smith and Johnson.

Personally, assuming we pass on DE in the first, I see the best move as adding a situational rusher.  With Spencer Johnson having the ability to move outside on run downs, we can afford to go after the type of player who's only going to see the field in passing situations and on special teams.  I'd love to add a player with quality pass rush skills like Howard, Hoke, Johnson or Smith, but with those guys all in the 230-240 weight class, I'm not sure the size is there to be consistently effective against the mammoth tackles they'd be working against.  We may be best served bringing in a guy such as Blake, Scott or St. Dic in the late rounds and hoping to develop one of them into more of a well-rounded player.  I would love to add one of the undersized speed rushers as a free agent if they were to go undrafted.

Thoughts on where the Bills should look to address the DE, and more specifically pass rush problem?