Even if you're one of our readers that can't stand this type of feature when the Buffalo Bills are still playing meaningful football - yes, I know you exist - I'm guessing that you're, at a minimum, aware of some of the big names floating around in early 2010 NFL Draft talks. We've discussed the quarterbacks frequently. Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, elite DT prospects from Nebraska and Oklahoma, respectively, make Bills fans drool. So do elite offensive tackle names like Russell Okung and Bryan Bulaga.
We even have a relatively good idea what positions the Bills will be looking to address next off-season. Quarterback will probably be the top priority, clearly. The offensive line needs work. The defensive line needs further youthful reinforcements, and the linebacker position has been exposed as a weakness thanks to injuries and below-average play. With those big names and these perceived needs in mind, there are some big-name prospects that deserve to be discussed in Bills-related draft talks - even if you think those are premature. We've got five such names for you this morning.
Greg Hardy, DE, Mississippi. Most of you have heard of this guy. He might have been a first-round pick had he entered the '09 Draft, as scouts love his size (6'4", 265 pounds) and production (26 career sacks, including 10 as a sophomore and 8 as a junior). He does, however, carry some injury risk, as he's had more than a few minor injuries slow him down during his career, including at the beginning of his senior season. Some scouts have questioned his work ethic and motivation, as well. Still, if you're looking for a 4-3 end that can defend the run and get after the passer, Hardy looks to be the best option this season, and you'll certainly do much, much worse in the talent department.
Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, Missouri. There are bigger names at linebacker - Alabama's Rolando McClain and Florida's Brandon Spikes, for example - but Weatherspoon should be mentioned in the same breath far more frequently than he is. At 6'2", 245 pounds, Weatherspoon possesses the athleticism and coverage skill to play the weak side in a Cover 2, where athleticism is at a premium. He can also play SAM, though he's much better in space than he is taking on blockers and shedding. Weatherspoon has had a highly productive career, accumulating 368 tackles, three forced fumbles, four interceptions, 11 sacks and two defensive scores in the Big 12. He's a lock as a first-round pick, and while Buffalo's likely Top-12 pick would probably be too high for a player like Weatherspoon, he'll end up being one of the safer investments come draft day 2010.
Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers. Given the way he's played in his junior season and his talent level, Davis seems like a virtual lock to leave Rutgers early - though it wouldn't surprise many if he stayed. As it stands right now, he's a high-end first round pick, and as he's answered questions about his ability to pass protect this season, he may end up challenging players like Okung, Bulaga and Bruce Campbell to be the first tackle taken. In terms of being NFL-ready, Davis' body is clearly the closest, as his 6'6", 325-pound frame should let him perform well in the run game, something most of this year's left tackle crop may struggle with. He's not the best athlete you'll find, but he's a sound technician, and he's long and athletic enough to control the edge on the left side. Strong bowl performances should skyrocket this guy's name to prominence, and he might end up being a Top 15 pick.
Charles Brown, OT, USC. This senior is one of the most athletically gifted offensive linemen in all of college football. He's not a very big guy yet (6'6", 285 pounds) and needs to bulk up, but he's got the frame to do it. He possesses elite footwork - almost in the same class as the aforementioned Okung - and he gets to the second level with ease while run blocking. He's by no means a mauler, and until he bulks up and improves his strength, NFL defensive linemen will be able to control him at the point of attack. But Brown will go higher than most expect him to, because he's got the look and feel of a potentially elite left tackle - and right now, those are at a premium in April.
Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State. Folks might look at Odrick's measurables (6'5", 306 pounds) and put him in the class of a Kyle Williams - one of those players that's good in a rotation, but can't really anchor a defense. He might not be an elite talent, but Odrick is establishing himself as a first-round caliber talent. He's not a massive run-stopper, but he's got a tremendously strong lower body and plays with outstanding leverage, allowing him to control his blocker on the majority of snaps. He also has that quick-twitch muscle that allows him to split blockers and control gaps, which is clearly a must-have skill in Buffalo's defensive system. Even more impressive, he's flashed the ability, game in and game out, to make big plays; he's currently enjoying an outstanding senior season in which he's picked up 36 tackles and six sacks. He's a versatile player, so plenty of teams - including teams in need of 3-4 ends - will be looking at this guy. He can play.