The NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and it's time for a last-minute primer.
The Bills have done a great job shoring up their defensive line, which was a beyond-pressing need heading into the off-season. While adding an elite three-down left end like Mario Williams (and an effective situational edge-rusher in Mark Anderson) will greatly improve the defense, General Manager Buddy Nix's work is not yet done on that side of the ball. Linebacker and cornerback need to be addressed, as well as the need to add depth overall.
Offensively, the team could improve at quarterback, receiver, tight end, offensive tackle and offensive guard. Other than that, the team appears set.
Without further filler, here's my mock. It's not what I think they will do, but rather what they should.
10: OG David DeCastro, Stanford
Ideally, the team will be able to trade down from No. 10, but that has not been Nix's M.O. After going back and forth on this pick for a while, I decided that I'd rather just have a stud than a question mark.
Stanford OT Jonathan Martin has upside to play left tackle, but he does have some work to do if he is going to be able to establish himself on the blindside. He's just too much of a worry 10th overall.
I believe Iowa OT Riley Reiff will be limited solely to right tackle at the next level. Michael Floyd is tempting, as he should become a good No. 1 target, but there are off-field concerns and it's a deep class at the position. In the end, I'd rather just take the best player available and bolster the offensive line. Admittedly, the Bills got by with Kraig Urbik at right guard last season. However, it's time Buffalo established itself as the better team in December with a dominating interior.
With Andy LeVitre, Eric Wood and DeCastro blowing open running lanes for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, the Bills should be able to push opponents around in the elements.
Possibilities: OT Jonathan Martin; WR Michael Floyd
41: CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
Hosley is a play-making zone corner that had a down year in 2011, as he dealt with nagging injuries and a transition to the boundary corner position at VT. While health is a concern with him and he needs to put on some weight, his ball skills are arguably the best in the class and he anticipates very well. He can provide immediate help as an off-corner, with the tools (fluid hips and natural speed) to develop into a well-rounded one in time. My biggest concern with him is that he'll only give me 12 games a year.
Given the need at linebacker, Cal's Mychal Kendricks is tempting, but I'd rather take the ball-hawking corner with upside than slightly reach for a player that should become a solid starter at inside linebacker (although some prognosticators are now saying Kendricks may sneak into the first frame).
Possibilities: LB Mychal Kendricks, California, OG Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
71: WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
Broyles' stock is all over the map, which makes him a difficult pick to project. His season-ending ACL injury and subsequent reconstructive surgery was devastating for his status. However, Broyles has been working his tail off to rehab as quickly as possible and should be proud of himself. He flashes very good concentration, with the athleticism to become a very good No. 2 receiver. His body type will limit him from ever becoming a true No. 1, though some team may try anyways. He's a big play waiting to happen and, if Broyles falls to No. 71, hopefully the Bills will pounce on him.
105: CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia
Speaking of plummeting stock, what the heck happened to that of Minnifield, the son of former Pro Bowler Frank Minnifield? He entered draft season projected to go in the late first or second round. He had his knee scoped in January, which has hurt his ability to work out. While all these other corners are running blazing 40's at their Pro Days and at the Combine, Minnifield could only sit back and watch. He finally guts it out and runs a plodding 4.63. Suddenly, despite his ball skills, work ethic, competitiveness and hips, many now see him plummeting to the 4th round. Even though I already took Hosley in this mock, the value is way too high to pass up. Plus, with Buffalo's new pass rush looking very good on paper, I envision Minnifield and Hosley jumping many routes. I'd walk away feeling like I just added two starting-caliber corners.
(As a quick aside, football is not a forgiving business if you have a penchant for collecting injury-prone players. However, with the exception of Hosley, I don't view any of the aforementioned prospects as being a risk of that. I believe that Broyles and Minnifield had some poor luck.)
124: S Tramain Thomas, Arkansas
Thomas is a very competitive player that flies around the field trying to take someone's head off. He can get plowed over by bigger backs when he's not getting a running start, but he flashes anticipation and ball skills when he's in coverage. He has the ability to be a starter at the next level, with the upside to get even better with time.
144: LB Emmanuel Acho, Texas
Acho isn't really great in any aspect of his game, but he can potentially be a starting linebacker in the NFL because he does a lot of things well enough. He's not a hitter or a physical monster, but he's intelligent and can get off blocks.
(As a trade possibility, Bengals WLB Keith Rivers should be on the block and would be an interesting acquisition for this pick and a 2013 conditional pick. After being taken 9th overall in 2008, Rivers missed significant time because of a broken jaw ('08) and a severe calf strain ('09). Then, he played most of the 2010 season with plantar facilitis. In the off-season, he had wrist surgery but was unable to recover quickly. He began 2011 on the PUP list before the team decided to leave him deactivated for the rest of the season. The next question most of you are asking is probably, "why would you want to bring him in?" Despite the obvious concerns, they have all been weird, fluky injuries, and Rivers is a good run defender when healthy. While the Bills don't really need another Will, he has the size and athleticism to improve in coverage if he can stay on the field. It's a wishful projection, but I'd like to see what he can do at the Sam with more seasoning. Best case scenario: Rivers is able to become an impact starter. Worst case: Rivers doesn't get re-signed after the season and the Bills burn a mid-round pick. Middling scenario: He provides solid depth, can be a two-down Sam, and we can re-sign him to a modest deal after the season.)
147: LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
While Burfict has enough red marks on his evaluation to make Bart Simpson blush, he's a guy that shouldn't be callously written off. Despite the current bandwagon thought-process of draftniks, Burfict does have the physical talent, aggressiveness, and tools to become a starting-caliber linebacker in the NFL with a boatload of upside. I never thought I’d say this, but I genuinely think a prospect may actually be misunderstood for once. The kid has self-esteem issues, most likely stemming from his lack of a father figure, leading him to have a problem with authority. If you get him a coach that’s more encouraging and supportive, I think you may have a stud on your hands.
178: OT Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
He could probably start at right tackle if necessary, especially in a spread-oriented passing attack. In a more balanced offense, though, he may struggle as a full-time player. His upside depends on the offensive scheme, but that would favor the Bills if the team targeted him. At any rate, he should be able to provide valuable depth.
217: DT Willie McGinnis, Rhode Island
McGinnis has the physical tools and competitiveness to become a starter. He has to prove he can overcome his level of competition, but he could be a steal.
251: DB Robert Golden, Arizona
Golden is instinctive, fast, and aggressive. He won’t take away many passes, but he can play safety and corner. That kind of versatility should serve him well at the next level. He has the potential to possibly develop into a starter down the road, but more likely he should at least be a valuable situational player for any team. He should be a good special teamer and can provide depth anywhere on the backend. With his skill set, Golden may be the tight end specialist the Bills have been looking for.