The Biggest Questions for Buffalo Heading into the 2013 Draft
Rarely is it a good thing when a team has more questions to be answered in the middle of the offseason compared to when it began.
For the Buffalo Bills, their lack of a productive offseason thus far has further frustrated a fan base and created more holes than would be desirable for any NFL team. Even worse, the Bills possess glaring holes that may not be able to be filled solely through this month’s draft.
Buffalo has been one of the toughest teams to peg in a wide-open draft because its needs do not necessarily fit with the value that will be there when it selects with the eighth pick.
Quarterback, guard, wide receiver and linebacker are all major needs for the Bills, but there seems to be no consensus between those who understand the organization in terms of who Buffalo is targeting early.
Geno Smith, Chance Warmack and Cordarelle Patterson are the popular predictions as you glance over the most trusted mocks. However, there is one thing that we have learned about Buddy Nix’s term as general manager—prepare for the unexpected.
Whoever the Bills select in the first three rounds is irrelevant at this point because their thought process is so unclear, but they must hit one whoever they select if this new regime wants to turn the team around quickly.
Either way the Bills have some big questions heading into the 2013 draft, and the ball is in their court to answer them.
Is Drafting a Quarterback at No. 8 Still in Play After Kevin Kolb Signing?
Responses were mixed when news about Kevin Kolb signing with the Bills broke Saturday evening (via NFL.com).
Buffalo has kept all of its visits and players interests much closer to the vest this offseason as opposed to other years, so it was no surprise that the news about Kolb to Buffalo came out of nowhere.
Kicking the tires on a re-hash like Kolb may not be the most popular move to drive offseason ticket sales, but the team obviously feels the reward outweighs the risk. The team pulled out all the stops to get Kolb interested in coming to Buffalo, which he finally did with a two-day visit, Thursday into Friday.
The two parties finally agreed to a deal on Saturday afternoon, which can be worth as much as $13 million over two years if Kolb meets certain benchmarks.
It is doubtful that Kolb retrieves the full amount of the money laid out in the contract, but if he does it is a good thing for both parties involved. The more money Kolb gets out of the contract, Buffalo should be reaping the rewards in success. If Kolb flames out, then the Bills can easily dispose of his incentive-laden contract.
The former Cardinals and Eagles quarterback most likely signed with the Bills with the expectation to get a fair shot at the starting gig. However, the Bills have been projected to trot out a rookie starter next season ever since Ryan Fitzpatrick was released.
Unless Geno Smith falls to the eighth overall pick, Buffalo might pass on a quarterback until the second or third rounds. Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson are not the long-term answers at the position for the Bills, but they provide a good bridge to what their plans are for 2014.
What Type of Receiver Do the Bills Really Need?
There is no question that Buffalo’s depth at wide receiver has hurt them over the past few seasons.
Steve Johnson, the Bills’ top wide out, is a former seventh-round draft pick and really the only reliable threat at the position. T.J. Graham is the highest-drafted player at receiver with a lofty third-round pedigree to live up to.
Marcus Easley is the only other receiver on the roster who was drafted by the Bills, as a part of Buddy Nix’s first class in 2010.
Buffalo has been reluctant to add receiving threats early in the draft, but quick turnarounds executed by teams like Cincinnati may change that thought process. The Bengals added A.J. Green one pick after Buffalo selected Marcell Dareus two years ago, and they have been a playoff team in each of his two seasons.
The wide receiver market may not provide much in terms of value for where Buffalo selects in the first round, but there will be plenty of options in the second, should they choose to go that route.
Nix is on record for saying that he wants to add a big receiver to lineup on the outside with Graham, so the team can slide Johnson into the middle of the field. Johnson is one of the superior route-runners in the game, which would prove helpful in a move to the slot.
Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen are both big targets that will likely be first-round picks, but neither is good value at eight.
Justin Hunter, Patterson’s college teammate at Tennessee, and DeAndre Hopkins have big-play potential in the second round, while Da’Rick Rogers could slide all the way to the third.
Nix knows what he wants, but is a big target really necessary to get the passing game to the next level?
Frankly, Buffalo needs to add playmakers, regardless of their size.
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, teammates at West Virginia, both provide upside with big-play potential at the next level. However, both players are being discounted because of their smaller stature.
Neither would be popular picks in Buffalo, but fans should be more considered with adding talent rather than boxing themselves into a corner.
Does Manny Lawson Solve the Linebacker Issue?
Manny Lawson was the other Bills’ signing in what has been a very quiet offseason for the franchise.
Lawson has been an average if underwhelming outside linebacker since being drafted by the Niners in the 2006 draft. A former college teammate of fellow Bills defender Mario Williams at NC State, Lawson was expected to be an outstanding pass-rusher in the NFL.
Unfortunately those results have never been produced by the seventh-year pro, but he comes to Buffalo with a chance to be a key part of Mike Pettine’s new scheme.
Lawson does temporarily fill the hole left by Nick Barnett’s release, but how much value does he really hold in the Bills’ long-term plans?
Linebacker is one of five major holes that the team needed to address this offseason, and I do not believe Lawson’s signing changes that idea.
Big East linebackers Sio Moore and Khaseem Greene each provide a ton of value at the position in the second round.
Moore is a late-riser in the process after an outstanding combine, but the college production is there and he is a three-year starter, which Budd Nix prefers out of his prospects.
Greene fits the same Bills as Moore and has virtually the same measurements, except Moore is a bit more explosive of an athlete.
The linebacker need may get pushed back to next year now that Lawson is signed, but expect the team to draft one early in this year or next.
Will the Bills Add a Tight End?
The pursuit of Fred Davis speaks volumes about the Bills' front office wanting to add another quality player at tight end.
Scott Chandler will be coming off an ACL injury and other than the under-used Dorin Dickerson, Buffalo has no pass-catching tight ends on the roster. Chandler has proven to be reliable in his two seasons with the Bills, but there is no timetable for his return, which has escalated the need in this draft.
The top few tight ends will go off the board without Buffalo taking an interest, but players like Vance McDonald or Nick Kasa would be nice picks in the middle rounds of the draft.
McDonald was a workout warrior at the combine, but he possesses freak athleticism to go with those results. He also put up some pretty good numbers as a three-year starter at Rice with 119 receptions and 15 career touchdowns.
Kasa is a less-known entity because he only played one year at tight end for the Colorado Buffaloes. He was converted from being a defensive end in 2012, but looked natural in the switch as both a blocker and pass-catcher.
He showed well at both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl despite not generating a lot of buzz during the season. He also looked fluid despite being one of the heaviest tight end prospects in the draft.
Even if Chandler comes back strong, which is still unlikely, Buffalo has seen what two good tight ends can do to revolutionize an offense.
Do Mario Williams and Mark Anderson Make Defensive End Not Needed?
Mario Williams and Mark Anderson were the two big free-agent prizes the team landed last season, but they did not provide much bang for the buck in year one of the experiment.
Williams played poorly early on but finished strong with 10.5 sacks after receiving a procedure on an ailing wrist. Anderson was limited to only five games and one sack, so fans are still waiting to see what he will do in a Bills uniform.
The depth behind those two players has been decimated this offseason with the retirements of Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman, as well as the decision to not re-sign Kyle Moore or Spencer Johnson.
While none of the losses are earth-shattering, Buffalo would be wise to add a player or two to the line in the back half of the draft.
Every team has a need for situational pass-rushers across the line.