The 2010 SB Nation NFL Mock Draft isn't over yet (you can continue to chart its progress at Mocking the Draft), but last night's second-round selection wrapped up the festivities as far as the Buffalo Bills are concerned. Let me tell you what, folks - making decisions for this franchise in a stupid little mock draft isn't easy. I feel little envy for the task laid before GM Buddy Nix.
The mock draft lasts just two rounds, and both of Buffalo's picks - made by yours truly - are in. QB Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) was our first-round pick. OLB Eric Norwood (South Carolina) was our second-round pick. Even if you're on my wavelength and love these two picks, it should be crystal clear that Buffalo still has major needs to fill, and may not get starting-caliber talent for those needs in this mock scenario.
We'll talk a bit after the jump about precisely why we selected Clausen and Norwood - despite what some of you may think, a great deal of thought went into these selections. But it was one realization that made my job much easier, and that realization needs to be acknowledged by this fan base: Buffalo simply has too many needs to adequately fill them all during the 2010 NFL Draft. Accept that reality now, folks, because if you're married to the idea of addressing a specific position, you need to be prepared for heartache.
Let's analyze Clausen, Norwood, and the long, winding road that is the actual Bills re-build.
Why we chose Clausen
A lot of it had to do with who was available. We knew going in we'd be targeting a player at one of the following four positions: QB, LT, NT or OLB. Sam Bradford (St. Louis), Russell Okung (Washington) and Bryan Bulaga (Oakland) were already off the board, limiting the available talent pool at those positions. The thought process was simple: pick the best player at each of those positions, and then take the best of those four players for this team.
The pick came down to Jimmy Clausen, Trent Williams, Dan Williams and Derrick Morgan.
Morgan and Dan Williams were easy castoffs right away. I really like Morgan as a prospect, but despite his deep ties to Buffalo's coaching and training staffs, he's just not a great fit for Buffalo's new 3-4 defensive scheme. I'm also a big fan of Dan Williams, but I grade him out about equal as Trent Williams, and when two guys grade out equally, you eliminate the guy at the least critical need position. Left tackle is a far, far bigger priority than nose tackle, if you ask me - not just philosophically, but based on the talent pools at each position in this year's draft crop.
That left it between Clausen and Trent Williams, and really, it wasn't a difficult decision. Williams is a fine athlete, but his struggles at left tackle on last year's Oklahoma team are the type of regression that give scouts great pause. This is a guy that was universally regarded as Okung's equal entering his senior season, but his struggles have left many wondering whether he's even capable of playing the blind side.
Meanwhile, Clausen's personality quirks are a big sticking point for scouts. "Sense of entitlement," "arrogance" and "overconfidence" are buzzwords frequently used to describe Clausen the person. Our point of view on this is fairly simple: if we're gambling on two players (and yes, they're both draft-day gambles), we'd rather gamble on a) the quarterback, and b) the guy who's gotten it done on the field. Clausen best fits both of those criteria.
That said, we realize that making Clausen the face of the franchise is a risk. We also realize that passing on a talented lineman is risky, because whether anyone here wants to admit it or not, this is not a strong year for starting-caliber left tackle talent. Buffalo's unequivocal greatest need for the past decade has been quarterback, and I firmly believe Clausen is capable of becoming an upper-echelon NFL signal caller. He's smart, accurate, can quickly and accurately diagnose a defense, and I think in the right situation, he'll end up being a damn fine teammate, too. NFL players will rally behind any quarterback they can win with, and Clausen has the look of a winner. He's not my favorite prospect by any stretch of the imagination, but given who was available to us, Clausen made by far the most sense - from talent, positional and gambling standpoints.
Why we chose Norwood
We should first mention that we did ritual sacrifices and variations of several rain dances in the hopes that Rutgers OT Anthony Davis would fall to us in the second round. Philadelphia made sure that wouldn't happen, so we instead decided to focus back on our original strategy: find your critical need areas and pick the best player at those positions. There'd be a twist this time, though - if there was a player we really loved available, we'd consider that player regardless of position.
Going back to our original critical needs list, we considered players at LT, NT and OLB. From that list, we had three candidates: Vladimir Ducasse, Torrell Troup and Eric Norwood.
I know what you're thinking: Ducasse as the LT of choice? With Rodger Saffold still on the board? Many of you astutely recalled my public opinions on Saffold while trying to guess the second-round pick; Saffold is a finesse player - and a highly underrated one at that - that will make a fantastic second-round pick for a pass-happy offensive system. That system is decidedly not what Chan Gailey likes to run, so as much as I like Saffold as a prospect, I don't think he's a great fit for Buffalo. Ducasse is already an excellent run blocker with enormous potential, but even with that in mind, he's so incredibly raw in all facets of blocking technique that it'd be terrible value to invest a second-round pick in a guy that would, at best, merely push Demetrius Bell for a starting job. We need more impact than that here.
I briefly considered Troup, because I've heard word that Buffalo really likes him as a prospect. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Bills reach a bit for a nose tackle, but that doesn't strike me as Buddy Nix's ideal mode of franchise-building. So I passed on Troup; it'll be interesting to see if he's still available after the second round of this mock ends.
There were a few non-need-position players that I briefly considered for this pick, but only one that I seriously considered: UCLA DT Brian Price. Considered by many to be a mid-to-late first-round talent, Price would have represented outstanding value at 41, and let's be honest - Buffalo could still use more talent along the defensive line. Gailey has repeated often that his coordinators would adapt scheme to fit their players, and while I'm sure many of you are screaming at your monitors that that's precisely why Saffold should be the pick, my gut tells me Buffalo would bend the rules in this situation only for a player that they thought was great value. Maybe Saffold is that guy. I think Price has a better shot at being that guy in this situation. I'll admit, the idea of adding Price to the likes of Marcus Stroud, Kyle Williams, Dwan Edwards and Spencer Johnson infatuated me, even if it creates a redundancy in talents to a degree. That's a lot of active talent right there.
In the end, however, we must recall that we took a gamble in the first round on Clausen. Is it really wise to gamble twice? Norwood's ceiling isn't particularly high, but he's extremely polished, had an outstanding career in the SEC, and is a perfect fit for what George Edwards plans to do defensively. Let's not undersell just how desperate Buffalo's need for pass rushing help is, either - if Aaron Schobel retires, the Bills will employ exactly one rush prospect of value, and that's zero-career-sack sophomore Aaron Maybin. That is a very scary proposition, folks. Norwood is a safe pick, good value, solid upside and a good bet at an area of huge need. This, too, was a relatively easy decision for me.
The reality of Buffalo's 2010 NFL Draft plight
As I said at the top, I won't envy Nix when draft weekend arrives. I, personally, would be thrilled to add two prospects like Clausen and Norwood in the first two rounds. Both players proved plenty at the college level, both have considerable upside, and both play positions at which Buffalo has a dearth of talent. If you're accomplishing that on draft day, you're doing pretty well for yourself, if you ask me.
Still, we're without proper starters at left tackle and nose tackle, and you don't need to hammer me with stubborn opinions about how I'm a moron for not filling those spots. If you're in that boat, understand this: had I taken Trent Williams and Tim Tebow, there would be people screaming about our need at nose tackle, or incredulously asking me if I think Maybin can rush from both sides of the line at the same time. Had I taken Dan Williams and Rodger Saffold, people would be asking me if I really thought Trent Edwards was the long-term answer at QB, and repeating the Maybin questions. Had I taken Morgan and Troup... well, hopefully by this point you get the idea.
Buffalo simply has too many needs to fill them all this year, folks. I realize many of you hold strong opinions about which positions should be addressed early, and to those folks (particularly the O-Line folks; that particular segment of this community seems largest), I completely sympathize with your frustrations. Just understand that this team could be just as equally screwed at another critical position come April 23.
Here's the bottom line on the draft for me: I'm choosing to trust Buddy Nix for the time being. So long as he's adding talent at those critical need positions, I doubt I'll have much issue with what he does on draft day. I urge each and every one of you to do the same, because the simple, undeniable fact of the matter is that we can't fill all our needs this year. Crossing your fingers and toes that the team does it your way is not only an exercise in futility, but the easiest way to upset yourself on a weekend that shouldn't be judged immediately anyway. Opinions are good. Getting pissy when the team does something different isn't, and that's particularly true in this critical year, because we can't do it all in one weekend.
As the old adage goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. Good players, not good positions, will turn this team around. Nix understands that, and so should we.