Last year, after the 2011 NFL Draft, I published a post in which I opined about the ten players age 25 or below that I thought were the best prospects on the Buffalo Bills' roster at the time. A year later, it's time to re-visit that list and update it.
Naturally, with a year gone by, we'll have to say goodbye (thankfully just from this list, of course) to the likes of Stevie Johnson, Eric Wood, Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre, who will all turn 26 this calendar year. That opens up a significant amount of real estate for other sub-25 players to come in, and despite "losing" a lot of talent from this list, there's still quite the group of talent to pick from. Or, rather there are a lot of similarly skilled players to pick from, which in itself is an improvement from yesteryear.
The full list is after the jump, and the comments section is all yours to debate the slotting and who might be missing.
|1||Marcell Dareus||DT||Alabama||1||22 (23 in November)|
|There's one player on this list that's on the verge of being a star, and that's Dareus, the No. 3 overall pick a year ago. He tied a Bills rookie record with 5.5 sacks last season, doing so without the aid of a full off-season of preparation thanks to the lockout, without an elite edge pass rusher on the roster, and without running mate Kyle Williams healthy. Now that the Bills have spent the off-season adding competent players around him, Dareus has an opportunity to explode onto the national scene. If things go right, the Bills will have a household name on their defensive line, and he's still only 22 years old.|
|2||Stephon Gilmore||CB||South Carolina||R||21 (22 in September)|
|There were pre-draft concerns about Gilmore's instincts, which kept him under the radar for a while. Then as the draft got closer, Gilmore "rose" up boards and drew comparisons to Charles Woodson thanks to his elite-level athleticism. He is the only cornerback that the Bills have ever acquired with a Top 10 pick, and he'll start immediately. Big, physical and very fast, Gilmore has elite potential; we'll see how those aforementioned instincts factor into his development with time.|
|Williams is a big (6'0", 199), physical cornerback with good speed and better short-area quickness and leaping ability. He's a competitive player that excels against the run and can play the ball in the air. He's a bit rough around the edges and was inconsistent as a rookie, but got better as the year wore on despite some durability concerns and missed time. He profiles as a starter, but may not get there right away. Still, the potential is immense.|
|4||C.J. Spiller||RB||Clemson||2||24 (25 in August)|
|Half-way through his second pro season, Spiller finally showed (lots of) flashes of the elite play-maker that he was in college. He averaged 105 yards and a touchdown per game filling in for starter Fred Jackson in the final six weeks of the season, and increased his per-carry rushing average from 3.8 yards to 5.2 in 2011. Chan Gailey has to figure out how to use both Jackson and Spiller simultaneously; if he does, Spiller will be the explosive play-maker with home run speed that the team so desperately needs.|
|5||Cordy Glenn||OT||Georgia||R||22 (23 in September)|
|Players with Glenn's combination of size (6'5", 343) and athleticism are tough to find, and they're often not highly experienced and productive players from power conferences. Time will tell if Glenn is miscast as the team's starting left tackle, but if he flops there, he's still got All-Pro potential at guard, and could play right tackle, as well.|
|The team is higher on Sheppard than I am, with Dave Wannstedt going out of his way to proclaim Sheppard the ideal 4-3 middle linebacker. Sheppard's upside is limited, as I don't believe he's a three-down player in this league, but playing behind this (hopefully healthy) defensive line, he's got a chance to put up huge tackle numbers. He scores high in the intangible field, as well.|
|7||Ron Brooks||CB||LSU||R||23 (24 in October)|
|Brooks is a bit of a projection at this point, as he's not the most experienced player having been a non-starter most of his collegiate career. That said, his athleticism is undeniable, and he made big plays when he got opportunities to play at LSU. He's a bit boom-or-bust, but the boom could be quite loud with this guy.|
|Right now, Rogers' value to the team is as a kick returner, where he averaged an impressive 28.7 yards per return late in the 2011 season. He's also got good upside as a sub-package slot cornerback, where he has good length and quicks to match up against shiftier receivers. Rogers has considerable play-making potential.|
|9||Da'Norris Searcy||SS||North Carolina||1||23 (24 in November)|
|At some point, it seems likely that Searcy will take over as the starting strong safety for veteran George Wilson, who is still going strong. The team likes Searcy's combination of size (5'11", 216) and speed (he ran a 4.55 at the 2011 combine), and he showed well in run support in spot duty when Wilson was hurt last year.|
|10||Zebrie Sanders||OT||Florida State||R||22 (23 in December)|
|Sanders is big (6'6", 318) and fairly mobile, and has down-the-line starting potential in Buffalo's offense. He'll start his career at right tackle, but has the natural ability to eventually play the left side. Barring injury, you won't see him much for a year, but there is plenty of upside here.|