2012 NFL Draft: Is Cornerback the Safest Pick for Buffalo Bills in Round 1?

Josh Cembellin@@JoshCembellinCorrespondent IApril 15, 2012

South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore makes a lot of sense for the Bills at pick 10.
South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore makes a lot of sense for the Bills at pick 10.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are facing a critical season in 2012. Chan Gailey is entering his third year as head coach—generally, a make-or-break year for NFL head coaches—and the team has finally put together a competitive roster that is expected to challenge for the division title.

As a result, holding the 10th overall pick in the draft is both a luxury and a burden.

On the one hand, Buffalo has an opportunity to land an immediate impact player. On the other hand, a botched top-10 selection could haunt the Bills for the next couple of seasons.

Finding the right playmaker to add to an up-and-coming roster could be the difference between the Bills being playoff contenders and playoff pretenders for not only this year but also for the near future.

So what are the Bills going to do?

Fans are likely growing tired of reading about draft speculation and predictions. There’s only so much to say before the process actually unfolds and teams start revealing their long-prepared strategies and plans.

For the Bills, there are many options to consider, ranging from taking a linebacker, wide receiver, offensive lineman or cornerback. But ultimately, much of what this selection comes down to is the way certain prospects do and don’t fit into the Bills’ roster and schemes. With this in mind, cornerback might be the safest way to go at pick 10.

LSU’s Morris Claiborne, the top-ranked corner in this year’s draft, is almost sure to be selected in the top five. After him, the general consensus for quite a while was that Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick would be the No. 2 corner taken. However, that perspective has shifted now that South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore has risen steadily in NFL circles.

Rotoworld.com stated on Sunday that “NFL teams are smitten with Gilmore’s size and speed,” and according to the National Football Post, Gilmore’s “clean” resume and history of being a high-character player is only helping his stock.  

Based on what Gailey and GM Buddy Nix have preached and done over the past two seasons, it’s clear they value the person just as much as the player when it comes to filling out the roster. Knowing that, it’s no surprise that they could be very intrigued with taking Gilmore in the first round.

There are always questions and uncertainties with any player taken in the draft, as it’s virtually impossible to guarantee how any player will transition to the NFL. But with some players there are more questions than others.

Can Riley Reiff be a franchise left tackle for the Bills? Can Jonathan Martin or Cordy Glenn?

Where would linebacker Luke Kuechly fit in with the Bills’ 4-3 defense? Nick Barnett is expected to start at weak-side linebacker, and Kelvin Sheppard is penciled in as the starter in the middle. Can Kuechly be a starter on the strong side over veteran Kirk Morrison?

And even if the Bills do like Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd as a No. 2 receiver, there’s a good chance he may not be available when they’re on the clock. He, too, has some character concerns after dealing with multiple alcohol-related incidents in the past.  

Consequently, Buffalo’s safest bet may be to target a cornerback in Round 1. They have a need at the position, and there aren't many questions about the talent of the players at the top of the board.

Terrence McGee is aging and is injury prone. Drayton Florence is coming off an unimpressive year. Reggie Corner is an unrestricted free agent. And Leodis McKelvin is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

This year’s cornerback class is deep, but Buffalo may be inclined to grab a top-tier guy early rather than wait to find a potential sleeper in the middle or late rounds.

The Bills could think long and hard about Kirkpatrick, who is an excellent zone-cover guy at 6’2” and 186 pounds. He’s also very physical and has good enough speed to recover.

But don’t count out Stephon Gilmore as the 10th overall pick. He has earned high praise from NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, and the fact that he has no history of legal troubles or character issues gives him an advantage over Kirkpatrick in that category.

Gilmore is 6’1” and 190 pounds—very similar to Kirkpatrick. He also ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the combine. If he’s the pick, he could be a wonderful addition to Buffalo’s group of defensive backs to pair with last year’s second-rounder Aaron Williams.

Together, the two could form a cornerstone—no pun intended—to the Bills’ back end for several years to come.