When WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia reported last night that the Buffalo Bills are high on Alabama safety Mark Barron in the 2012 NFL Draft, an entirely predictable reaction popped up from Bills fans: if Barron were the pick, wouldn't the move reek of the oft-panned 2006 selection of Ohio State safety Donte Whitner with the No. 8 overall pick?
Well, no. Not exactly. Let's get into why not after the jump.
Most fans will correctly recall that leading up to the 2006 NFL Draft, most experts projected Whitner to be picked anywhere from the late teens to sometime in the twenties. Therefore, when the Bills snagged him in the Top 10, the pick was immediately labeled a reach - and Whitner had an uphill climb in the court of public opinion from that point forward.
Some might say that the Bills taking Barron at No. 10 would be a reach, but that opinion would likely be based much more around need than around player value. Barron is a hot commodity at the moment, and is widely regarded as one of the best football players available in this year's draft class. Immediately, the two situations are very different.
Then we get to production. Both Whitner and Barron were three-year starters at highly reputable collegiate institutions. Barron was a much more productive - if slightly less explosive - tackler, and when it comes down to coverage, the argument is a hands-down win in favor of the Nick Saban pupil.
Why, then, did Whitner get so much attention in 2006? The answer is simple: he blew up the pre-draft athletic process at the combine, where he cranked out an impressive 40-yard dash at a 200-plus pound weight, then put up big jumping numbers, showing off his explosiveness. There's never been a question that Whitner is an outstanding athlete, and he's certainly got Barron - who's no slouch himself - in that department.
Whitner was considered a reach within the context of the draft class he was a part of. His athleticism caused him to rise a bit pre-draft, and his versatility, ability against the run and program pedigree helped overshadow what was fairly middling tape defending the pass. With Barron, the story is a bit different: he's not quite the same athlete, but he comes into the NFL having mastered an incredibly complex, pro-style defense under Saban, has proven himself a productive player against the run and the pass, and is plenty good enough as an athlete to play a long time professionally. In terms of feel for the game and instincts, there's no comparison, either; Barron has the clear advantage.
Debate all you want about the merits of taking a safety with a high-Round 1 pick. That's sensible - just as it's sensible to openly wonder whether the timing of the report signifies that the Bills are merely trying to drum up trade interest in their Top 10 pick. Just don't compare Barron to Whitner. That's not sensible. They're two different players with two distinctly different pre-draft stories, and the incoming safety shouldn't be resigned to the same fate as the current 49er by any stretch of the imagination.