The Buffalo Bills took another big step towards turning their team into potential playoff contention with the completion of the 2012 NFL Draft class. This draft class can also be referred to as the 3G class, with Gilmore, Glenn and Graham being drafted with their first three picks.
The Bills wound up making a total of nine draft picks, and addressed both sides of the ball, drafting four players on offense, four players on defense and one player for special teams.
The 2012 draft even included Bills General Manager Buddy Nix making his first draft-day trade, as he jumped up two spots in the third round to draft No. Carolina St. wide receiver T.J. Graham.
We will take a detailed look at the draft class as individual choices, collectively as a group, and how the draft class shapes the team and which veterans are now in danger of losing their spot on the roster. We will also take a look at how the Bills draft was graded by the community of NFL experts.
On to the presentation.
There was a constant theme to this draft class. The Bills clearly wanted players that had plenty of starting experience at the collegiate level. All of Nix's picks had at least three years of starting under their belt. That is not by accident.
The Bills draft class seemed like a little bit like Noah's Arc. A pair of tackles. A pair of corners. A pair of linebackers. That is a way to make sure that you have the position covered. If one of the two fails, or gets hurt, you have the second one ready to step up.
Buddy Nix is a man of his word. Prior to the draft, Nix stated that he wanted to draft two tackles, two corners, a linebacker and a wide receiver. He was able to meet all of those goals. The only thing he wanted to accomplish but didn't was drafting a quarterback. That will now have to wait for either free agency or picking up a rookie free agent that wasn't drafted.
Buffalo could be referred to as SEC North, or ACC North, as all six of the Bills' first six draft picks came from those two dynamic conferences. That continues the theme of the Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey connection to the south, following up earlier draft picks like C.J. Spiller, Marcell Dareus, Kelvin Sheppard, Da'Norris Searcy, Chris Hairston, Chris White and Johnny White.
Bleacher Report Matt Miller did a mock draft for the first round of 2013, (yes, I know it is awfully early for that, but we often take a forward-thinking approach at Bleacher Report), and the final tally wound up with 23 of the 32 first-round draft picks Miller had, were coming out of either the SEC or ACC. Get used to this Bills fans, that is where the majority of the talent is.
With a number of intriguing options available on the big board to the Buffalo Bills with the No. 10 overall pick, the Bills stayed true to their rankings and took the best player available, which was South Carolina corner Stephon Gilmore.
Coming into the first round, there was debate from Bills fans that the team should try to draft wide receiver Michael Floyd from Notre Dame, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, Alabama safety Mark Barron, or Gilmore. As it turns out, Barron and Kuechly were already off of the board by the time the Bills turn came around, leaving the team to decide between Gilmore and Floyd.
Due to the depth of the wide receivers in the 2012 class, the Bills probably figured that taking the talented corner made more sense, as they could hold off on a receiver until the second or third round. That is exactly the way it worked out, as this was probably a scenario that the Bills front office had thought through prior to the draft in their strategy sessions.
Gilmore is 6' and 1/2 " tall and weighs 190 pounds. He will form a young talented cornerback duo with Aaron Williams that should be together in Buffalo for years to come. It will be interesting to see if Gilmore wins a starting job as a rookie, or if the Bills break him in at nickel corner first, and then eventually slide him over into the starting role after he has some actual game experience.
If he wants to start, Gilmore will have to beat out the trio of Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence, who will offer stiff competition to the rookie. With those three veterans, combined with Justin Rogers, Williams and the subsequent draft pick of Ron Brooks, there will be some fierce competition in training camp for roster spots.
It will be interesting to see how the left and right tackle battles emerge from training camp to see who becomes the starter at left and right tackle for the Buffalo Bills in 2012.
Bills fans had assumed that Erik Pears would be the starter in 2012 after the Bills gave him a contract extension. Demetress Bell is now a Philadelphia Eagle, so the big question that remained was Chris Hairston up to the task of holding down the left tackle job on his own.
Well, help is now officially here. Between Pears, Hairston, Sam Young, and newly drafted rookies Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders, the Bills have five tackles vying for the two starting jobs. There will be plenty of competition in camp, that hopefully raises the game of all parties involved.
One of the knocks on Glenn was that he was inconsistent in college, and if he pulls that in the pros, he will find himself watching from the sidelines a lot.
Glenn has the size at 6'6" and 345 pounds to be a very effective tackle. Does he have the feet to be an effective tackle? That is a fair question, and something that the Bills coaching staff will be working with him to improve. No question that Glenn was hurt by not being drafted in the first round, so that anger can hopefully be funneled into competing on every down and showing teams that he is better than they thought.
When the first round came and went, Glenn decided to leave the "Green Room" at the NFL Draft, and he flew home instead of waiting around for Day Two. He wasn't happy to be passed over like he was, and understandably slow. Hopefully he can use that motivation during his entire NFL career.
Pick immediately before Glenn: Carolina Panthers drafted Midwestern State G Amini Silatolu. Pick immediately after Glenn: Miami Dolphins drafted Stanford T Jonathan Martin. You would have to think that the Dolphins were hoping Glenn would fall to them, so they drafted the next-best tackle in Martin.
Have to be honest, T.J. Graham was a name that caught me by surprise when the Bills drafted him in the third round with the pick at No. 69. Guess I was not alone, as quite a few people have claimed to be surprised by the selection as well.
Mike Mayock claimed that he graded Graham as a seventh-round pick. Buddy Nix must have really wanted Graham badly, as he even gave up a beloved draft pick (albeit a seventh-round choice at that), to move up two draft spots and draft his man.
If Graham can be a difference maker by using his blazing speed (runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds) to effectively change field position on special teams, then it will be worth the investment. If he fumbles the ball away, (Graham is not very big at 6' and weighs just 180 pounds) it will be considered to be a major gamble and reach for Nix.
From a wide receiver view, Graham is smaller than Marcus Easley, but they both have that speed you require to be a deep threat. If Easley has another setback in his third year, then you insert Graham to stretch defensive secondaries out, and give more room to Steve Johnson, Donald Jones and David Nelson to do their thing underneath.
The Bills already had a crowded wide receiver corps before the drafting of Graham. Between Graham, Johnson, Jones, Easley, Nelson, Naaman Roosevelt, Derek Hagan, David Clowney, Ruvell Martin and Kamar Aiken, that makes 10 total receivers, and that doesn't even count Brad Smith. Clearly some ends are going to have to be released from the roster.
Pick immediately before Graham: Houston Texans drafted Ohio St. WR Devier Posey. Pick immediately after Graham: Jacksonville Jaguars drafted California Punter Bryan Anger. Between the Bills drafting of Graham and then the Jaguars drafting a punter in the third round (he's not Ray Guy), there was some head scratching going on in Radio City Music Hall.
With their first of two draft picks in the fourth round, the Bills drafted Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham with the No. 105 overall pick. Bradham is a 6'2" 240 pounds thumper, who led the Seminoles in tackles for each of the past three years.
Bradham started three years at Florida State and led the team in tackles every year. In his college career, Bradham made 306 tackles, of which 21.5 went for a loss. He was voted as team captain for Florida St.
According to his scouting report from National Football Post, Bradham doesn't have the quickest of reactions, so that is an area that the Bills will have to work with him on.
Bradham joins the competition at linebacker, which means that he and fellow rookie Tank Carder will join veteran linebackers Nick Barnett, Scott McKillop, Arthur Moats, Kirk Morrison, Bryan Scott (listed as a linebacker on Buffalo Bills.com team roster), Kelvin Sheppard and Chris White. Bradham figures to be part of the special teams unit, and will compete to get some snaps on defense, probably in situations that defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is comfortable with him handling initially.
Pick immediately before Bradham: Carolina Panthers drafted Arkansas WR Joe Adams. Pick immediately after Bradham: Seattle Seahawks drafted Utah St. RB Robert Turbin.
With their second draft pick in the fourth round (overall pick No. 124), the Bills drafted LSU CB Ron Brooks. When the pick was announced on the NFL Network channel draft telecast, LSU head coach Les Miles happened to be sitting in with the analysts at the time.
Miles beamed when Brooks was drafted and made some comments about his cornerback. He felt that although he is a smaller version of Morris Claiborne, he is every bit as fast as him. Miles also stated that Brooks should wind up having a long career in the NFL.
Brooks is 5'11" and weighs 188 pounds. At the NFL Scouting Combines, Brooks recorded the fastest time of all cornerbacks, running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds.
That speed will come in handy with some of the new additions to the AFC East division, such as speedster Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech, who was drafted by the New York Jets.
As we sighted in the earlier slide with Stephon Gilmore, there will be heavy competition for the cornerbacks at Bills training camp. Brooks will be asked to play on special teams, and work his way onto the defensive unit as he gains more confidence from the coaching staff.
Florida State tackle Zebrie Sanders was the second tackle drafted by the Bills, this time with the draft pick at No. 144 overall.
Sanders has great size, at 6'6" and weighs 318 pounds. He has experience playing both right tackle and left tackle at Florida State.
We talked about the five tackles on the Bills roster on the Cordy Glenn slide earlier, so the challenge for Sanders will be to elevate his game to be able to be a swing tackle, capable of playing on either side of the offensive line at a moment's notice.
Here is the link for the National Football Post scouting report on Sanders.
Pick immediately before Sanders: Carolina Panthers drafted Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman. Pick immediately after Sanders: Tennessee Titans drafted SMU TE Taylor Thompson.
Based on how players seem to get flattened when he hits them like a tank, Bills fans can easily get behind the new weapon on the Bills defense, TCU linebacker Tank Carder, who was drafted with the No. 147 overall draft pick.
Just like Nigel Bradham, Carder had at least three years of starting experience at linebacker. Although he never led the team in tackles at TCU, Carder finished either second, third or fourth during his final three years with the team.
Carder is a 6'2" and 237 pounds linebacker that is a player that Michael Lombardi of NFL Network was very high on. The Bills had brought Carder in for a visit prior to the draft, so they must have been delighted to see that he was still available at No. 147.
We detailed the number of linebackers that Carder will have to compete with on the Bradham slide, so he might also have to start out contributing on special teams, and working his way on to the defensive unit from there.
When Buddy Nix was trying to describe Oregon guard Mark Asper at the post-draft press conference, he used the word "house", as in Asper is as big as a house. At 6'7" and 325 pounds, you would probably feel that same way standing next to him.
Asper is tentatively penciled in as the backup center to Eric Wood. That probably means he wouldn't be active on most Sundays, as the Bills prefer to carry only seven offensive linemen, which would be the five starters and a swing guard and swing tackle.
You also have to wonder if Michael Jasper is ready to take on a more active role on the offensive line in his second year, or if he will be bypassed by a player like Asper. Here is his scouting report from National Football Post.
Buddy Nix was joking that the Bills had to wait around the war room for roughly three hours between picks 178 to pick 251. Was the wait worth it?
Well, if kicker John Potter is able to kick the ball through the end zone and make opposing offenses start the majority of drives from the 20-yard line, then the answer will be yes, he was worth the wait.
Potter is being viewed as a kickoff specialist, freeing up Rian Lindell to focus on field goals and extra points.
Potter kicked for Western Michigan and he is 6'2" and weighs 209 pounds.
From NFL Network, NFL Analyst Michael Lombardi, he gave the Bills draft an "A" grade. Here is a link to the video of Lombardi's grades, not just for the Bills, but for the entire AFC East division.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated, came out with draft grades for all 32 teams, and he gave the Bills a B+.
From Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller, here is a link to his grade review article, in which he gave the Bills an "A" grade.
A great draft by the Buffalo Bills in 2012. The selection of Stephon Gilmore is a classic example of not overthinking your pick. He has shutdown corner ability and will instantly upgrade the secondary. Cordy Glenn could be a sleeper at left tackle, and at worst case he's a long-term starter on the right side.
T.J. Graham and Ron Brooks are nice depth players who can play on third down and special teams. Same goes for Carder and Bradham, two future starters with good upside.
The sleeper may be Zebrie Sanders, a guy who could be a surprise star at right tackle down the road.
From ESPN's Mel Kiper, on his review of all 32 NFL teams draft classes:
Top needs: LT, WR, OLB, CB, QB
Needs = C, Value = B and Overall Grade B-
For an interesting look at the top 50 undrafted rookie free agents, here is a link to a Bleacher Report article written by Adam Oderkirk, who is keeping active tabs on where the top 50 free agents land, such as USC DL Dajohn Harris, (pictured).
The Bills are expected to announce their rookie free agents sometime during next week. The Bills still have room to add up to at least 11 free agents, which would bring them to their allotted 90 players limit, set by the NFL.
Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix want to see as much competition as is possible at every position on the roster. That is one way to ensure that the team will be as good as they possibly can, but will also mean that there isn't such a steep drop off in talent when the starter goes down, and the backup has to go in.
The Bills continue to close the gap on the New England Patriots. We are not all the way there yet, but I believe the Bills talent base is such that they are now the second best team in the AFC East, and they have leapfrogged over the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
Let's see who else the Bills are able to add to the roster during the upcoming week. Feel free to leave your thought or comments about the Bills draft below.