On Monday, we discussed 2013 NFL Mock Drafts and Buffalo Bills free agents. In the spirit of the theme of the week - the off-season has officially begun! - let's move onto the next logical discussion topic: team needs.
As we've discussed Buffalo's roster over the past several weeks, we've taken note of the team's personnel shortcomings on a by-position basis; now it's time to start thinking about all of those in list form, as fans are wont to do every off-season. We know the "big" needs, but it's often fun to debate which of the team's various secondary needs should receive a higher priority.
All I can do is offer my opinion on the matter, then ask you to provide your own - or, if you're not interested in doing that, you can shamelessly rip my opinions to shreds. I've split the eight needs I see into two groups: pressing needs and secondary needs. Let's go.
Pressing Need No. 1: Quarterback. This one's pretty obvious, so I won't get into it. Buffalo's needed a quarterback pretty much since I was in the seventh grade.
Pressing Need No. 2: Pass Rusher. I imagine I'll rate this position higher than others, and that's fine. I don't believe that Mario Williams and Mark Anderson provide enough versatility to allow Mike Pettine to run the varied looks and aggressive defense that he has in mind. A third pass rusher - one with much better natural athleticism, and that can comfortably drop into coverage on occasion - would be a huge get for a defense that badly needs play-makers.
Pressing Need No. 3: Linebacker. Don't confuse "linebacker" with "pass rusher" here - when I say "linebacker," I'm talking about the guys that cover, run and hit and don't rush the passer unless they're part of a blitz package. Nick Barnett is in the last year of his deal and might be on the verge of fading, and the only other worthwhile long-term prospect is Nigel Bradham. Buffalo needs better athletes here, and they especially need a middle linebacker that can stay on the field in passing situations.
Pressing Need No. 4: Wide Receiver. Stevie Johnson is very clearly a starting-caliber NFL receiver, but he's best in the slot, and the team needs outside guys that, as GM Buddy Nix has routinely said, can go up and get the ball to make up for less-than-stellar throws. Even one of those outside guys would help Johnson's cause immensely, not to mention the offense as a whole.
Secondary Need No. 1: Cornerback. There are still enough quality prospects at this position, to my eye, that the team doesn't need to prioritize finding a starting-caliber player. For a year, at least, I think they can let the young guys compete and see what happens. But every year, teams need corners. You can expect 1-2 acquisitions at the position, at least.
Secondary Need No. 2: Guard/Center. This goes beyond Andy Levitre being a free agent; if he leaves, it will be more important for the team to find a starting-caliber replacement. Given that Eric Wood is also entering a contract year, hedging their bets in the pivot with a quality second center wouldn't be a bad idea. Depth is a concern here (especially at center), even if Levitre returns.
Secondary Need No. 3: Safety. Jairus Byrd probably isn't going anywhere, but the team still looked hard at Mark Barron at the top of the first round a year ago, giving indication that they may not be completely comfortable with their strong safety situation. Good safeties are not especially easy to find; the Bills could use one more.
Secondary Need No. 4: Nose Guard. The Bills have two quality defensive linemen around which to build, but if the team plans on incorporating a larger variety of looks, they need a larger variety of players. Right now, the only true two-gap capable players on the team are Marcell Dareus - who will be the "move" lineman, similar to how Baltimore uses Haloti Ngata - and Torell Troup, who is highly unreliable given his injury history. A part time space-eater would be a good depth get for the Bills.