Sunday, March 18, 2012

We take a break from the annual Sabres' playoff push...

...and take a look at the Buffalo Bills.

The upcoming draft for the Bills is really all about the signing of free agent defensive end Mario Williams. Landing a premier player at his position this month should effectively eliminate any reaching for that "stud player" in the first round of the draft by Buffalo. They can now focus their attention on need and/or depth.

After their 5-2 start to the season last year, a glaring weakness reared it's ugly head--lack of depth. As injuries mounted, the team plummeted. Going 0-7 following that impressive start undid everything Coach Chan Gailey and Co. accomplished.

Starting in Week 8, the week after the bye, the injured list included left tackles Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston, wide receiver Donald Jones, along with defensive end Shawn Merriman and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

And the list kept getting longer and worse:  Kicker Ryan Lindell and defensive end Chris Kelsay. Then center Eric Wood and right tackle Eric Pears.

Then "the big one" hit as running back Fred Jackson, who was having an MVP-like season, was lost.

Injuries are obviously a part of the game, but the Bills had more than their fair share especially at some positions--OT and WR. Hell, at times it seemed as if they'd be looking to their local grocers for roster help.

The Williams signing really changes everything. The Bills can get that need or roster player without reaching for that impact player in the first round. And they can now legitimately take the "best player available" approach as well.

Sure, other options may present themselves, like trading down if there's a great offer, but for all intents and purposes, Bills nation should be looking at the #10 overall pick and take it from there.

The Consensus, Safe Pick If Available At #10

Recently, WGR's football guy eschewed his previous, somewhat esoteric pick--OT Cordy Glenn--to offer a more reasonable approach at #10 with the Bills picking Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd. Floyd, even with his off-field issues, would be a real solid pick, except for the fact that the Bills, because of the sheer numbers at receiver, may not be interested in picking the second or third best receiver on the board that high.

We'll let GM Nix do the talking when it comes to wide-outs. "Once we signed Steve Johsnon, we felt pretty good about our receivers," he told host Mike Florio (via the Buffalo News.) "Everybody thinks we need (one). And I've said it. That's why they think it I guess, that we need a speed guy on the outside. But we've got some guys. We've got nine receivers right now that are under contract that we think can fill that role. So we're probably not in the wide receiver business."

The injuries to left tackles Bell and Hairston along with Pears on the right side last season probably gave the Bills pause to seriously consider using their first pick on an offensive tackle. And there might be a pretty good one available after Matt Kalil is taken early by the Minnesota Vikings.

So with the first pick, #10 overall, the Bills will probably select Iowa OT, Riley Reiff if available.

Iowa OT Riley Reiff is rated
the second-best tackle
in the 2012 draft.
Reiff chimes in at 6-5, 315 lbs. and's Charlie Campbell calls him the "consensus second-rated offensive tackle, a high level technician at left tackle." He continues, "In the pass-driven NFL, teams need reliable blind-side protection and Reiff fits the bill. He has quick feet and mirrors speed rushers well. [He] is also a strong run blocker who has the strength to move linemen off the line of scrimmage."

This pick will be even more of a no-brainer if Bell decides to sign elsewhere this off season.

Should Reiff be plucked earlier, a quality player will fall to the Bills in the 10-slot and they may end up going with the "best players available" in Floyd or maybe Boston College ILB Luke Kuechly. And even if they still believe that OT is the position they need to go with, Stanford OT, Jonathan Martin may fit the bill, although right tackle may suit him moreso than left.

Dismissing esoteric picks, and with the knowledge that Nix sometimes telegraphs his choice, Reiff as the second best tackle on the board if available at #10, would constitute a pretty safe pick at this point.

On To the Second Round

With the defensive line set and ready to wreak havoc in the pass-rush, the Bills should look towards a ball-hawk to join Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard. Although, if a quality defensive end comes into play things could get pretty interesting as well.

In the second round with the 41st pick in the draft, the Bills could focus their attention at linebacker, this of course is presuming that they don't go for Kuechly in the first round. Or they could look towards a "pass-rushing" defensive end to add depth there should Shawn Merriman continue his injury woes.

Or they could get a fast-rising hybrid in Boise State OLB/DE Shea McClellin.

Boise State OLB/DE,
Shea McClellin, learned
the value of hard work
on his family farm.
There are other possible picks here including the "best player available," but McClellin has a constant motor and a farm-tested work ethic that is very hard to pass up. His versatility would allow him to play outside linebacker, or be used as a weak-side edge-rusher or just be moved to wherever he's needed situationally.

CBSSportsline called McClellin "the type of player and person who is always hungry and never satisfied -- a prospect coaches wouldn't bet against...who isn't flashy and won't have great work-out numbers, but simply makes plays on the football field."

There is plenty of flash, as always, in this year's draft and those with the chiseled bodies and extreme athleticism sparkle to the point of being mesmerizing. The word "prototypical" gets the hype-machine churning, the heart pumping and lets the dreams flow effortlessly.

Until reality hits.

Looking back at the 2009 NFL Draft, Nix whiffed on "the sculpted" Aaron Maybin in the first round while fourteen picks later, Green Bay picked a football player in Clay Matthews.

The parameters were different and much has changed since then. Now with the Bills looking for depth, they won't need dream-boat, "chiseled specimens." They can focus their attention upon "football players." And McClellin looks to be exactly that.

The Third Round Presents An Interesting Choice

The third round represents a bit of a quandary as to where they could use the 72nd-overall pick.

One would think that CB depth would be a position of need considering how many times the DB's got torched last season. But was it because of a lack of talent? or the lack of QB pressure from the front-seven?

The Bills could reach for that developmental QB here, but would there be much of a difference between this spot and, say, the 5th round?

The third-rounder is an integral pick. If teams can make the first two picks work, this third one can take the overall draft from strong to real strong. As for the Bills, this just may be the spot where they take that wide receiver.

Not sure what was in the water last year, but Buffalo's wide receivers were dropping like flies.

Before the Williams signing, the Bills were in the hunt for free agent wide receiver and former New Orleans Saint, Robert Meachem. Meacham passed on Buffalo leading the Bills to focus exclusively on Williams which, in hindsight, was a blessing.

It also lead to the earlier quote by GM Nix about his receiving corps.

Still, if they can fill two depth roles in the first two rounds and are satisfied with their cornerbacks, they can get themselves a quality wide receiver in this round.

Which leads us to 6-3, 224 lb WR Juron Criner from Arizona.'s Gil Brandt has ranked as the #71 overall prospect, 9th-best wide receiver in a very deep wideout pool.

WR Juron Criner has
big hands and the ability
to go up and get wayward passes.
Criner had a stellar junior season in 2010, which described as "a massive year. He caught 82 passes for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns and he repeatedly bailed out quarterback Nick Foles on deep passes that were tossed up for grabs. Criner uses his size, body control, and leaping ability to come down with some big catches."

"There are faster receivers than Criner," they continue, "but he provides good hands with a big target and still runs well."

Buffalo fans should take Nick Foles' name out of the bolded part and insert Bills' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"Fitz," as we all know, has those moments where the ball gets away and if Criner can use his 38" vertical leap to snare some of them, or at least get his 10 1/2" hands on some of them, Fitz could see his INT's drop from a poor 23 last season to a more manageable level in the mid-upper teens.

The Skinny

Adding Mario Williams to last year's group is huge for the Bills. Drafting for need and or depth in the first three rounds should only enhance what the team accomplished last season before injuries decimated them. With Chan Gailey's ability to integrate players into his scheme, adding quality depth with the first three picks in the draft should make them stronger and deeper and it just might be enough to end their decade-plus playoff drought.

The choices:

1st round, #10--OT Reilly Reiff
2nd round, #41--OLB Shea McClellin
3rd round, #72--WR Juron Criner

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