Breaking the Streak: The Buffalo Bills 2011 NFL Draft
By Steven Zapel
With the 2010 NFL season complete, Buffalo Bills fans now turn their attention to April and the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft. With last season’s #1draft pick, CJ Spiller, not living up to the expectations and having a sub-par season, Bills fans are desperately hoping that this year’s draft will break the cycle of disappointing first-round draft picks. The Bills have the third overall draft pick in this year’s draft, their highest draft position since 1985 when they had the first overall draft pick and selected Hall of Famer, Bruce Smith.
With the third overall pick in this year’s draft the Bills have a great chance at breaking the streak of disappointing first round draft picks. But as Bills fans well know, there are no guarantees even with high draft picks, as 2002 taught us when the Bills selected notorious draft bust Mike Williams a left tackle out of the University of Texas with the fourth overall pick.
The Bills have holes throughout their roster and needs at almost every position. For many fans the Bills most pressing need is at quarterback. This year’s draft class does not have a top 5 rated quarterback prospect, since Stanford’s Andrew Luck decided to return to school for his senior season.
Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton from Auburn University has the skill set to be a top 5 pick but carries a lot of off the field baggage that concerns many GMs around the league. University of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert has shot up many teams' draft boards due to his strong arm, quick release and physical build, but does not have experience in a pro- style offense and lacks the on-field success desired to garner serious consideration as a top 5 pick.
Though the Bills have a desperate need to find their quarterback of the future, I don’t believe they will draft a quarterback with the third overall pick in this year’s draft. I feel that Chan Gailey likes what he has in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and will decide alongside GM Buddy Nix to address one of the team’s other pressing needs with the third overall pick.
This of course could change with the NFL scouting combine or by an impressive pro-day by one of the QB prospects, but I think the only quarterback in this year’s draft class with enough talent to warrant a top 5 draft pick is Cam Newton. Gailey has a track record of success with mobile quarterbacks like Cam Newton, and I could easily see the Bills drafting him in the second round (if he slides that far) or trading back into the first round to draft him. But I think his off the field trouble will cause the Bills to pass on him with the third overall pick.
The Bills will most likely look to find their quarterback in the second or third round. This year’s draft class is loaded with quarterback prospects that have second- or third-round grades. Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’s Ryan Mallet, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, and Florida State’s Christian Ponder are just a few of the quarterbacks who will be selected in the second or third round in April’s draft. I believe the Bills will draft one of these prospects with their second- or third- round draft pick to groom as their future quarterback, allowing them to develop for their first year behind Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bills defense was clearly the team’s weakest unit last year and I believe the Bills will address one of their defensive needs with the third overall pick in April’s draft. The Bills lack a defensive playmaker and sorely need an impact player, like Green Bay’s Clay Matthews (who the Bills passed on, drafting Aaron Maybin instead in the 2009 NFL Draft), who can cause havoc and force opposing Offensive Coordinators to game plan against.
This year’s draft class has two esteemed playmaking defensive linemen sitting atop most experts draft boards: Auburn’s defensive tackle Nick Fairly and Clemson’s defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. If either of these players were to fall to the Bills at #3, the Bills would not hesitate in drafting them. The odds of that happening are fairly slim and the consensus among draft experts is that Carolina and Denver will draft them first and second overall.
The one possibility for either of those players to fall to the third pick is if Denver decides to draft LSU’s cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Broncos are going to lose their star cornerback Champ Bailey to free agency this year, with Bailey already stating that he will not return to the Broncos next season. Denver could look to replace Bailey by drafting another “shut-down” corner, with Peterson. Peterson is widely considered a top 5 draft pick, and is regarded by most experts as the most complete and versatile cornerback to enter the NFL in recent history.
If most experts are correct and Fairley and Bowers go 1 and 2 in this year’s draft, the Bills will seriously consider drafting Peterson. The Bills need help in the defensive secondary, with Drayton Florence, Ashton Youboty, Donte Witner, and George Wilson all being free agents this year and veteran cornerback Terrence McGee struggling to remain healthy. What was considered the strength of the Bills defense and one of the league’s deepest defensive backfields is now full of holes.
If Peterson has a good pro-day and is able to run a sub 4.3 forty yard dash during the combine, like he claims being capable of, the Bills will have to take a long look at the possibility of drafting him even if it doesn’t go over well with the fans. A “shut-down” corner opens things up for a defense and the ability to leave a cornerback one on one with the opposing team’s #1 receiver, allows a defense to become far more creative with their blitzing schemes. Just look at all of the top-rated defenses in past years and you will see one thing in common: the impact of a “shut-down” corner.
If the Bills decide to pass on Peterson, the next most likely scenario has them selecting Texas A&M’s outside linebacker Von Miller. Miller played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme at A&M, and was named the 2010 Butkus award winner for most outstanding college linebacker. Miller tallied 28 combined sacks during his junior and senior seasons, with 111 total tackles.
The Bills desperately need to improve their defensive pass rush, and are undergoing to transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Miller would greatly assist the much-needed pass rush and provide experience at the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense. The Bills cannot rely on veteran linebacker Shawne Merriman returning to pro-bowl form and Miller would supply the defense with a serious pass rushing threat and playmaking capability.
Miller may have an inside track at becoming the third overall draft pick because he had an outstanding senior bowl performance playing on the team that was coached by the Bills coaching staff. This allowed the Bills staff to get a firsthand look at Miller’s ability to be coached and the skill set he provides as a pass rusher and defensive playmaker.
There are a few other players that have the potential to be the third overall pick by the Bills. Georgia’s wide receiver AJ Green is largely considered to be the best receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson, and could replace an aging Lee Evans. Alabama’s defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who had an outstanding showing in the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Michigan State and is the consensus #2 defensive tackle in the draft. As well, North Carolina’s defensive end Robert Quinn who projects on the pro level at either outside linebacker or defensive end, and some believe would be the #1 overall pick this year if he didn’t have to sit out his senior season for NCAA violations.
Buffalo Bills fans have high hopes for this year’s draft and with the Bills’ draft position there is a great chance that the streak of disappointing first round draft picks could finally be broken, providing Western New York with a much deserved reason to be hopeful about the 2011-2012 NFL season.
My 2011 NFL Buffalo Bills Mock Draft
#3: Von Miller OLB Texas A&M—After a great showing in the senior bowl, the Bills will draft Miller adding a defensive playmaker to the roster and sure up their pass rush for the next 5-7 years.
#34: Colin Kaepernick QB Nevada—The Bills will get there quarterback of the future with this pick. Kaepernick is a raw talent but has all the tools to excel in Chan Gailey’s offense and will be able to develop by sitting behind and learning from Fitzpatrick next season.
#68: Ras-I Dowling CB Virginia—Dowling is a big tall cornerback with the speed to stay with receiver and has an adequate closing burst on the ball. The Bills will get there much needed secondary help with this pick. Another possibility is Michigan State’s ILB Greg Jones.
#99: Casey Matthews ILB Oregon—Buddy Nix said the Bills will be targeting an inside linebacker to help sure up the run defense, and after passing up his brother Clay the Bills will not pass on another of the Matthews boys.
#121: Jason Pinkston OT Pittsburg—The Bills will add depth to their offensive line and newly acquired assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt will recommend his former player.
(This pick was acquired from Seattle in the Marshawn Lynch trade)
#130: Jeron Johnson SS Boise State—The Bills will draft some addition safety help with this pick because of the possibility of losing both Witner and Wilson. Another possibility is DJ Williams TE Arkansas.
#164: Christian Ballard DT Iowa—The Bills add depth to their defensive line with this pick.
#195: Chris Rucker FS/CB Michigan State—The Bills continue to add more secondary help. Offensive line depth is another possibility with this pick.