2012 NFL Draft: Buffalo Bills Predictions for 2012, Reflections on 2011
If there is one definite with the NFL Draft, it is that there are none.
General managers, directors, scouts, coaches and interns test study and test prospects physically, emotionally and psychologically.
Yet, there is still no such thing as a sure-fire way of determining how a player will translate to the NFL.
In an attempt to work towards getting better each year, I personally also have to come clean with what I was right on and what I whiffed on. (For my initial reactions from last April, click here).
In that spirit, first we'll look back on what happened in the 2011 Draft and what to possibly expect in the 2012 NFL Draft.
3rd Overall: DE/DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama (My Pick: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU)
Dareus has the look of a stud building block in the Bills' front seven for the next decade.
One of his best assets, despite the obvious physical attributes, is his scheme versatility. As good as he's been at times this season, I feel he could be even better in a 4-3 scheme.
Now that he's 340 pounds as opposed to his (relatively) more svelte playing days in Tuscaloosa, he'd be a better fit at the 2-technique instead of the under tackle if the Bills were to shift philosophies.
It's incredible that he really bulked up without losing much explosiveness, if any. With his 5.5 sacks this season as well as his run defense, everyone at One Bills Drive must be beaming —as they should be.
Like most rookie cornerbacks in the NFL, Peterson struggled early when he was thrown into the starting lineup Week 1.
He finished the year on a strong note, playing very well down the stretch in coverage. His ability on punt returns has been unquestioned throughout the season, tying the NFL record for punt returns in a single season (4).
34th Overall: CB Aaron Williams, Texas (My Pick: DE/OLB Justin Houston, Georgia)
Williams has been an impressive player in his young career, as well.
He has had his struggles, trusting his athleticism too much and having receivers taking advantage of it.
He's also had his moments, most notably holding his own against Santonio Holmes for most of the afternoon at the New Meadowlands.
Even though he's not a great tackler, I love his willingness to throw his body around. He's a guy that can bring some energy and competitiveness to the defense. While he may be able to start down the road, at the very least he should become a very good nickel corner.
While Houston appeared to be a reach on draft day —he fell to 70th overall —I stand by the decision to pick up the former Bulldog at the top of Round 2.
Houston began the season as a starter at outside linebacker before being relegated to pass-rush specialist for a few games. As the coaching staff became more comfortable with him, he grabbed hold of the job, starting 10 games this season.
Houston was playing his best football when it counted, tallying 5.5 sacks in his final five games.
68th Overall: ILB Kelvin Sheppard, LSU (My Pick: DT/NT Jurrell Casey, USC)
Sheppard is an instinctive player that loves the game.
That being said, he's been exposed in coverage at times and he may never become a three-down linebacker.
He made good contributions on special teams and stepped into the starting lineup against Washington in Week 8. He's a good tackler and run defender, with the only question mark being his range coming out of LSU.
Hopefully, he may be the type of player that can overcome his lack of true speed by playing fast with an abundance of football intelligence.
While he's technically already a starter, he has the ability to develop into a more effective one in time if he can overcome his lack of sideline-to-sideline speed.
You just can't teach his intangibles and leadership qualities. He should be able to at least be a key contributor in certain situations.
Casey has been a nice surprise for the Titans.
He has started 15 games for Tennessee and has been adept at plugging up running lanes. He's built like a bowling ball and he's tough to move from the line of scrimmage. He has surprising athleticism, though, and is able to drop into coverage at times as well.
While he only tallied 2.5 sacks in '11, expect that part of his game to emerge as well next season, because he had flashed some pass-rushing ability at USC.
100th Overall: S Da'Norris Searcy, UNC (My Pick: TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee)
Due to injury, Searcy has had the opportunity to start a few games this season.
While he made some nice plays in run support, he had what appeared to be a handful of mental busts against the pass. The Bills appear to be high on him, most likely as an in-the-box strong safety, but time will tell.
I viewed him more as a project (high sixth-round) headed into the draft.
Stocker hasn't had many opportunities to show off his hands, but has been able to move the sticks at times.
He started nine games for the Bucs, but he needs the blocking aspect of his game to become more consistent as a sophomore.
He showed the ability to be a Heath Miller-type as a Vol, but struggled as he finished up the season in terms of moving guys off the ball.
Looks like a good young player for the Bucs.
122nd Overall: OT Chris Hairston, Clemson (My Pick: RB Allen Bradford, USC)
The Bills opted for the intelligent and physical Hairston with their second fourth-rounder.
He was surprisingly decent at left tackle, filling in for Demetrius Bell despite lacking the quick feet for the position. While he played left tackle at Clemson, his best fit would be on the right side or, more ideally, inside at guard.
Hairston has the physical traits to develop into a starter if he can find more consistency in his game, playing with the same level of intensity every snap. It was a very good value pick for the Bills (I graded him out to a third-round pick).
Bradford hasn't begun his NFL career as well as hoped.
He only rushed for 13 yards on five carries before being waived by the Bucs. The Seahawks claimed him, but he only lasted two days before being waived again and finally landing on Seattle's practice squad.
While I still believe he has a lot of upside and will be successful in time, taking him in the fourth isn't looking too good right now.
133rd Overall: RB Johnny White, UNC (My Pick: DE Pernell McPhee, Miss. State)
White has the look of a third-down back that should become a solid contributor as a low-end No. 2-No. 3 back, depending on how much more he can develop.
He failed to run with his opportunity once Fred Jackson went down with injury, though. He was passed on the depth chart by Tashard Choice and has not received many touches since Week 1.
McPhee has been very good for the Ravens. He tallied six sacks and seemingly closed out games for Baltimore by himself at times. While he hasn't started any games, he has been a very good pass-rush specialist for the club.
169th Overall: ILB Chris White, Miss. State (My Pick: S Deunta Williams, UNC)
White made his contributions to the Bills purely on special teams before his season ended prematurely (torn ACL).
He hasn't really flashed much, but he may have a future as a special teamer for the Bills.
Speaking of injury, Williams broke his fibula in his right ankle joint in the Music City Bowl. Due to the lateness of the injury, he was still rehabbing through all the pre-draft workouts.
Most had him projected to be a starting safety before the injury and he was still offered UFA contracts from teams. Williams turned them down, wishing to be completely healed before competing for a spot.
Personally, I thought he could be a starter once he recovered and would rather draft and stash him, allowing him to rehab with our medical staff, then be ready for next season. I wanted to take a shot on him in the draft to ensure he'd be a Bill in 2012.
205th Overall: CB Justin Rogers, Richmond (My Pick: WR Darvin Adams, Auburn)
Rogers hasn't been able to get on the field to make much of an impact in the secondary, but he has flashed some exciting ability returning kicks.
Defensive backs coach George Catavolos seems to be high on him, which is usually a good sign for the kid if his coach is going to give him every opportunity to succeed.
I feel he's a project in terms of his defensive back ability, but he has some upside.
Adams was the clutch, go-to receiver for Cam Newton at Auburn. He was too raw with his route running and needs to bulk up to withstand an NFL beating. For that reason, I didn't expect much of an early impact from him.
He's currently on the Panthers practice squad and I'm excited to see what he can do after a year in an NFL conditioning program.
245th Overall: OG/NT Michael Jasper, Bethel (Ten) (ILB Orie Lemon, Oklahoma St.)
There was no way Jasper was going to be able to match the untamed expectations of Bills fans.
While he is a very interesting prospect given his size and athleticism, the odds weren't in his favor to make an instant impact (changing position, small school...).
The Bills wanted to convert the massive Jasper to nose tackle, but have since shifted him back to the offensive line. He has spent all but the season finale on the practice squad.
Hopefully, he can continue to develop.
Lemon spent the year on the Cowboys practice squad and will most likely get another chance to compete for a roster spot next training camp.
My Apoligies To...Von Miller
Von Miller has been a beast for the Broncos as a rookie.
Coming out of Texas A&M, I felt that he definitely had pass rush ability, but I didn't believe he had the lower body strength or size to hold up at the point of attack. I couldn't justify giving a first-round grade to a player that hadn't shown much in terms of defending the run.
Instead, Miller bulked up a few pounds and hustled his way to double-digit sacks. Even if he gets held up at the point of attack, he'll chase down the play across the field.
While he has still been a liability defending the run and gets benched in some packages because of it, who cares if he can be so dominant at being a QB's nightmare?
If I could do it over again, I still don't think I would give a pure pass-rusher a Top Five grade, but he'd for sure get the highest grade outside the Top Five.
Without further explanation, my apologies for doubting you, Mr. Miller.
2012 NFL Draft Targets...
While you can't fill every need in one off-season, in either free agency or the draft, the Bills need the following:
[In no particular order]
Even if Williams does develop into a starter, the team still needs to try and add one.
Fitzpatrick is a solid bridge QB, but it may be time to pull the trigger on bringing in his understudy. I'm still backing Levi Brown, but I think it's fair to say the Bills aren't at this point.
No pass rush the entire season would make this a top priority. However, I'm yet to find one I'm truly excited about in the draft, especially in the first round.
Barnett has been a good addition and Shep looked solid in run situations, but an every-down player would make such a difference to the front seven.
Dwan Edwards has been disappointing this season. The Bills have a decent amount invested in him, so it's unlikely they will try to find a starter in free agency (maybe the draft). This position should be addressed at least to add some depth.
The Bills got by with the Bell/Hairston and Pears combination this year, but if someone becomes available, it wouldn't hurt to add a future franchise left tackle instead of what Buffalo has now.
Depth, depth, depth.
Depth, depth, depth.
The Bills lack a true No. 2 WR to start opposite Stevie. Whether that means adding a complimentary guy or a No. 1 type receiver remains to be seen.
ILB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
It may be time for the Bills to add that piece the Bills haven't had in years: a high-impact inside linebacker that can be the heart and soul of the defense for a decade.
He's a three-down linebacker that, physically, has just about everything you'd like in one.
He can drop into coverage, shoot the gap, tackles well, plays sideline-to-sideline and can simply de-cleat ballcarriers.
His range would allow for him to fit in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
Waiting for the catch? He's undersized, right?
Nope, listed at 6-3, 250 lbs.
Vontaze Burfict has been a polarizing figure in college football.
He has a justified reputation as being a dirty player (going after knees, head-butting...), which—to put a Lionel Hutz-esq spin on things—some may describe as being passionate and competitive.
If the guy can learn to channel his emotions, he just may become one of the top inside linebackers in the game.
That's a chance I'd be willing to take.
It's great having personable nice guy after personable nice guy inside, but I want my inside guy to be...
OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford
If the Bills are looking to beef up the line, Martin is the guy to do it.
He has the look of a legit blindside protector that can also contribute in the running game. He's a physical blocker that gets after it, looking for someone else to hit. He has the feet of a left tackle.
He does need to play with a little better balance, though. Players with less physical talent than him have taken advantage of him because of technique.
Normally, I'd be all for improving the offensive line as a priority. However, even though it's up for debate whether or not it's the unit or spread scheme, the point is that the Bills got by with the line they had before injuries did them in.
QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
RGIII has all the physical attributes to be a playmaker at the QB position.
His rare combination of speed, athleticism, arm strength, intelligence, and—most importantly—accuracy will make him a Pro Bowl-caliber player in the NFL.
Mentally, I feel he has the intangibles to be a good leader, work hard and get the most out of his immense talent-level.
If he's still on the board, it'll be interesting to see if the Bills are ready to pull the trigger on the QB of the future to sit behind Fitzpatrick.
WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Similar to the offensive line argument, the Bills were scoring points with the guys already in the locker room before injuries kicked in.
However, it would be pretty hard to pass on a talent like Blackmon's if he were available. At this point in the evaluation process, I have him as a better prospect than A.J. Green and Julio Jones.
I feel Blackmon should become one of the best in the game.
If Nix decides he'd rather go offense, Blackmon and Johnson would be arguably the best receiving duo in the league by 2013 (if not immediately).
CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
There is almost no chance Claiborne will be available when the Bills are on the clock, but crazier things have happened on draft day.
Claiborne can flip his hips with ease and can mirror receivers. He has good ball skills, going up and getting it at the highest point. He's active in run support, but he's not a great tackler.
At least he's willing, which is more than can be said than a lot of corners currently in the NFL.
Tough to pass on a No. 1 corner, a big need in Buffalo.