Almost unanimously, the Buffalo Bills' draft needs for 2012 have been narrowed down to attaining help on the offensive line or adding players who can rush the quarterback.
Early mock drafts had the Bills selecting an offensive lineman (namely Riley Reiff, offensive tackle out of Iowa). However, just about every mock draft coming out recently has the Bills drafting a defensive end or outside linebacker (aka someone who can get after the opposing quarterback), and for good reason.
For as much negative attention as the offensive line has been garnering in the offseason, they honestly were not that bad of a group.
They certainly had no trouble run blocking, especially early on last season. Fred Jackson of the Bills led all running backs in the NFL in RB efficiency after the first six weeks of last season. Jackson got off to a blistering start, but broke his fibula and only played in 10 games, which certainly hindered the Bills down the stretch.
Nonetheless, Jackson sported a career-high 5.5 yards per carry last season before going down with injury, and a good amount of the credit for that needs to be given to the Bills O-line.
As for pass blocking, well, let’s just say that Ryan Fitzpatrick made the offensive line look far worse than they were a season ago.
Fitzpatrick was only sacked 22 times last season. A total of 27 other quarterbacks were sacked more often than the Bills QB a season ago. Eric Wood and Company protected their quarterback.
Amazingly, Fitzpatrick threw 23 interceptions last season (most INTs of any quarterback in the league).
To put Fitzpatrick’s performance into perspective, Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers was sacked an astonishing 44 times, yet Smith only threw five interceptions and sported a QB rating of 90.7. This was far better than Fitzpatrick’s QB rating of 79.1.
Something needs to be said about Fitzpatrick’s decision-making. Maybe he should take more sacks if it means he’s not throwing passes to the opposing team for those killer turnovers. Personally, I think it’s unfair to blame the offensive line for the struggles Fitzpatrick had last season. He really floundered after signing that big contract.
This leads us to why the Bills have to address the pass rush in the 2012 draft. Buffalo totaled 29 sacks for the entire season. Only the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had fewer total sacks than the Bills.
The most sacks recorded by any Bills player was 5.5 by rookie Marcell Dareus. Buffalo simply has to get a dynamic pass-rusher to change their fortunes by pressuring opposing passers.
The ideal scenario for the Bills in the 2012 draft would be to select the next Aldon Smith, who recorded 14 sacks in his rookie year for the 49ers. Obviously, that will certainly be easier said than done, but if the Bills could draft a player with even half of the production Smith had, it would be an improvement from last season.
Long story short, unless Andrew Luck falls to the Bills at pick No. 10 (Bills fans can dream), the Bills need to draft a pass-rusher. Doing anything to the contrary is only delaying the opportunity to add the team’s biggest need.
I don’t believe drafting the "best available player" on the board will be in the Bills’ best interest come draft day, unless that player can pressure the opponent's QB.