2012 NFL Draft: Buffalo Bills' 5 Biggest Needs
After a promising 5-2 start to the 2011 season, they went on a skid and finished with a 6-10 record, leaving the franchise out of the playoffs yet again. The Bills had a successful 2011 draft, with nearly all of their draft picks seeing playing time and five of them starting at some point.
With a transition to the 4-3 defense, Buddy Nix needs to address these key needs in order to turn around the franchise.
The Buffalo Bills recorded just 29 sacks last year (nine of which came in one game against the Washington Redskins), and no defensive end had more than 2.5. This has been a dire need for the franchise since Aaron Schobel retired, and the 2012 NFL Draft is stockpiled with pass rushers.
Shawne Merriman is expected to move to defensive end, but he is just a shell of his former self and is constantly nagged with injuries.
Buddy Nix simply cannot afford to miss on the No. 10 overall pick, with pass-rushers of the likes of Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram and North Carolina's Quinton Coples, among others.
The Bills already have a No. 1 wide receiver in Stevie Johnson, who is slated to become a free agent in March. He is expected to be re-signed, but there still is a need for a viable No. 2 option.
Donald Jones doesn't have the size or speed to play outside, and David Nelson is best used as a slot receiver. Meanwhile, Roscoe Parrish is getting old and may not be retained.
If the Bills opt to select a wide receiver with their first-round pick, which is highly unlikely, a player like Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon or South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery would add a major weapon for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bills failed miserably drafting James Hardy a few years back, and they can't afford to miss on another big-time prospect.
4-3 Outside Linebacker
With the Bills going back to the 4-3 defensive front, there is a gaping hole at the weak-side linebacker position. Coach Gailey stated that Kelvin Sheppard will man the middle linebacker position, while Nick Barnett will play outside.
Barnett was a great addition prior to the 2011 season, as he held down the middle linebacker position while assisting Sheppard in his transition to the NFL.
Chris Kelsay played outside linebacker in the 3-4; however, he will most likely move back to his natural defensive end position, leaving a need for another outside linebacker who can stop the run, rush the passer and cover the flats.
The Buffalo Bills struck gold when they landed cornerback Aaron Williams in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, as he saw plenty of reps when he wasn't injured. Seventh rounder Justin Rogers was also a pleasant surprise.
However, Leodis McKelvin continues to be a liability, and Terrence McGee isn't getting any younger and is constantly hurt. The Bills finished 19th in the league in pass yards allowed, and although they had 20 interceptions, only six were by cornerbacks.
Buddy Nix will most likely address the position in the draft again to add another playmaker opposite Williams. McKelvin will probably stick around until his deal is up, due to his team-friendly contract.
Franchise Left Tackle
The Bills surprisingly had a solid performance by the offensive line this past year, despite all the injuries and the multitude of different combinations they used. As a whole, the unit allowed just 23 sacks, while running backs averaged just under five yards per carry.
However, after giving quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick a large contract in the middle of the season, the Bills' front office may want an upgrade over the inconsistent Demetrius Bell and young Chris Hairston to protect their franchise quarterback.
The 2012 draft is heavy with players capable of playing left tackle, including Iowa's Riley Reiff, Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Ohio State's Mike Adams.