The 2013 SB Nation NFL Writers' Mock Draft begins on Monday, and behind the scenes, the first three picks are already in (no, I can't tell you who they are; you'll find out Thursday at Mocking the Draft). Buffalo Rumblings' pick for the Buffalo Bills is due on Wednesday, March 20, and since I am terrible at making these picks, I'm asking (again) for help doing so from the whole community.
There was not enough interest in previous plans to form a small committee to make the pick, so instead we're going to do it like this: in this post, I'll discuss the approach and philosophies I take to making the pick and present a preliminary Top 8 Big Board within the context of that approach; y'all will vote on the big board in the poll below, and, if you vote against the Top 8, you'll be telling me why whichever name you want included in the process fits within the framework of the pick, and/or why the framework is faulty.
Approaching the pick
Despite all of the self-deprecating humor, I don't make this pick every year based on my own opinions and observations about the year's draft prospects; instead, I try to take a more realistic approach, get inside Buddy Nix's head and make a predictive pick, rather than a "this is what I'd do if I were GM" pick. If you are not on board with this Big Board, I encourage you to make sure that if you're disagreeing, you're not doing so because of something you believe. Ideally, if you disagree, you're disagreeing because you think you can argue that I've got Nix's draft preferences wrong.
In picking out eight names for this list, I focused primarily on two qualifying factors:
Physical talent: Well, duh. But we all know that Nix and the Bills have favored "prototype" measurements and elite physical traits since the moment they got here. Their three first-round picks - C.J. Spiller, Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore - were all elite-level athletes with unique traits (Spiller's acceleration, Dareus' agility/range and Gilmore's size/speed/length ratios). All of them were also experienced stars from within some of college football's best programs, sure, but I believe that Nix would overlook the school requirement if it meant targeting a rare athletic specimen - but only if that player had good tape, too.
Need areas: Only once has Nix overlooked perceived need areas for talent, and that was in taking Spiller - but even then, Spiller was a much different kind of player than anyone the team had on the roster. Nix has bypassed better prospects for high-quality athletes at need areas before (see: taking Dareus over Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green), and that speaks to his philosophy of taking the best player available at a position of need. As such, I haven't included any offensive tackles on this list, as the Bills have enough talent at that position, including a player Nix believes is a franchise left tackle in Cordy Glenn.
There are, of course, other factors to consider, but those - experience, prioritizing needs, depth at certain positions in the draft class - all apply to prioritizing the board, not necessarily formulating a group. This exercise, remember, is to establish the eight names; the prioritizing comes later. As such, let's focus on those two objectives above - unless, of course, you want to argue that they're faulty assumptions.
The Big Board (alphabetical order)
Note that I haven't ordered these players, because if I did that it would make the upcoming pick a bit too obvious - I need to preserve the element of surprise, which makes our task here all the more difficult, I realize. Trust that I'll have these guys (or whichever guys we end up with) ranked largely in accordance with the above Nix-related decrees. But these are the eight names that I consider the best "Nixian" candidates to be our first-round pick for the Bills:
- Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: The huge-upside pass rusher is very inexperienced and needs a lot of polish, but he's so athletic that he'd be able to handle a situational pass-rushing role until ready for a three-down role. His versatility - he's athletically capable of playing everything from three-technique to dropping into coverage as an outside linebacker - would be a major asset in Mike Pettine's defense down the line.
- Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: His pro day is the day after our pick is due (of course it is!), so I include him here assuming that he tests well athletically. On tape, he's a heavy-handed run defender with elite edge-rushing skills, and though his size (6'2", 245) limits his versatility a bit, he's such a good defender that it won't matter. Pettine would find a way to use this guy and get a high level of production out of him - and I don't believe his spine will be a huge issue, either, given that Nix has drafted a player (Marcus McNeill) with a worse case of the same issue in the past.
- Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon: Athletically, Jordan is very similar to recent free agent signing Manny Lawson, except he's even longer - that's hard to do - and slightly more explosive on tape. From a swiss army knife standpoint, Jordan offers a lot of the same skills, but his upside as a pass rusher is significantly higher. Remember our theme on defense: great and versatile; great, then versatile. Jordan is already versatile; he could be great, too.
- Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: For the safer-minded folks out there, Milliner - easily the top cornerback available this year - makes the list. A big, fast, proven cornerback from a power conference, Milliner is not dissimilar to Gilmore; though he's slightly less fluid athletically, he's got better ball skills to compensate. He and Gilmore would be quite the cornerback pairing over the long haul in Buffalo.
- Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: I hear people reference the "Nix doesn't like one-year wonders" theory in reference to Patterson, but unlike the typical one-year wonder - a guy that was marginal for a number of years before taking off - Patterson only played one year of Division I ball. I therefore don't think that label applies. Patterson is a playmaker and outstanding in the open field, and is the type of big, highly athletic receiver that the Bills have been looking to add. He's unpolished, but his upside is significant.
- Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: If you don't like Rhodes' inclusion on this list, then you had better be completely and utterly on board with the Leodis McKelvin re-signing and impending starting job - because if you're not, then you're admitting that the Bills need help at cornerback. Rhodes is the athletic prototype for a cornerback - big, strong and fast - and he was a three-year starter on a very good college defense, to boot. Big, athletic corners don't last long on draft day, and like Milliner, Rhodes would pair very well with Gilmore over the long haul.
- Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: This one should be obvious. Smith has everything you look for from a physical standpoint in a quarterback, and if you hadn't heard, the Bills need a quarterback like a dying man in the desert needs an oasis. Sure, Smith never beat Doug Marrone in college - but if that indicates that Marrone knows Smith's weaknesses, then he should know how to mask them (initially) and improve them, correct? I imagine y'all will try to talk me into a second quarterback on this big board, but I firmly believe that Smith is the only worthwhile Top 10 talent available. Still, have a run if you like.
- Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: Last year, the Bills (and seemingly everyone else) were very high on Mark Barron. Vaccaro is a player that has already drawn comparisons to Barron, and though he did not run well at the Combine, the rest of his athletic numbers were good - and he's got a March 26 pro day to improve his 40 time. On tape, he's a versatile safety that can defend the run and cover slot receivers - precisely what the Bills need next to Jairus Byrd (or, if necessary, to replace him after the 2013 season).
Again, let me re-iterate something: if you vote "no" in the poll below and write in a name, please do your best to tell me why you think Buddy Nix would have said player in his Top 8, not why you would. I care why you would; just not for this particular exercise.