In the fifth installment of the “Predicting the Bills Breakout Players of 2012″ series, I’ll take a look at second-year left tackle Chris Hairston, out of Clemson.
Chris Hairston was an afterthought in the 2011 NFL Draft, being selected with the No. 122 overall pick in the fourth-round. Without any offseason activities to allow Hairston to fully understand the Bills’ blocking schemes, not much was expected out of the Clemson product who had made 36 career starts for the Tigers.
However, when the incumbent starter Demetress Bell was plagued throughout the season with injuries, Hairston was thrown into the fire to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick’s blind side. Hairston appeared in 13 games, making seven starts, and performed far above any expectations fans had for him.
Hairston took the opportunity as a blessing, blocking for his former teammate at Clemson, C.J. Spiller, and held his own in pass protection. General Manager Buddy Nix hasn’t been exactly exuberant in his comments regarding the left tackle, stating before the draft:
We need tackles, but we think Chris Hairston can play left tackle for us and win. People say Fitz gets the ball out quick, but we run our offense with a lot of empty sets, with five blockers and if they bring six he better get it out. In this offense he has to get it out quick. Chris Hairston might not be the prettiest foot athlete that he can protect the back side. We’ve got Pears, and Sam Young is coming off of knee surgery. So we’ve only got three. We’d like to have two more.
However, due to his unexpected playing time last year, Hairston could make a significant jump in the 2012 offseason, by having the time to fully learn the team’s playbook. The Bills selected tackle Cordy Glenn out of Georgia in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, in order to provide some competition at the position, but he is still very raw as a pass-protector. The Bills also selected Florida State’s Zebrie Sanders, but he is more of a prototypical right tackle.
At 6’6″ and 330 pounds, Hairston fits the mold of the big, mammoth tackles Nix loves, and he will be given every opportunity to continue to start for the Buffalo Bills in 2012. Before the draft, Hairston told BuffaloBills.com:
It’s just the beginning stages. We still have the draft to take care of to make additions to this team to help us win. As long as I can do what I can do to help this team win that’s what I’m worried about. I’m not really worried about who they bring in or what they want to put on my shoulders. I’m just ready for anything.
While left tackle is one of the most important positions on the offensive side of the ball, Hairston's ability to learn the offense will be key for him entering the 2012 season, in which the Bills will face some of the league's most feared pass rushers.