With the eighth pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select...
The remainder of that sentence has been what Bills fans have been trying to figure out since April. Even after a year of high expectations ended in bitter disappointment, one could argue that this team was only a few deep completions away from being a playoff team. Normally it's unfair to compartmentalize a season into a couple of plays, but there were a handful of close games this past year when the deep ball was there and ex-starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick failed to connect on it.
Now, that being said, the team was maddeningly awful at times and probably didn't deserve to make the playoffs. However, the playoff seeding doesn't factor in subjectivity, only wins or losses.
How far away is this team then and what are its draft needs?
Quarterback is obviously an issue, with journeyman Kevin Kolb the early favorite to start opening day. Kolb has the pocket mobility, confidence and accuracy in the short-to-intermediate game to be a starting quarterback in the right scheme. He's long been over-hyped as a potential savior, which isn't him. He needs pieces around him, to stay healthy and an offense tailored to his strengths, but he can be a bridge quarterback for the club. If this new offense calls for a more balanced attack, there is a good chance this offensive line will struggle.
Chan Gailey never got the credit he deserved for manufacturing an offensive line. By running an offense that had its linemen in a 2-point stance regularly along with quick passing, the team was able to be successful with players who weren't great pass protectors, but had flashed the ability to open up holes in the run game.
Cordy Glenn is talented, but has raw footwork and is a much better fit at guard than tackle. Eric Wood seems to end every season on injured reserve. Kraig Urbik's new contract will likely look bad by December. Erik Pears has had health issues and it's unclear whether he or Chris Hairston will play right tackle in 2013. On paper, it would appear 2012 fifth round pick Zebrie Sanders would be penciled in at left guard unless something changes.
On defense, the defensive line could potentially use another pass-rusher, but that won't be a pressing need. The linebacker corps and back-end are a different story. Bringing in Manny Lawson was a great move for the team. He's been perennially underrated because he hasn't been as good as his talent would dictate. However, he can be a rock-solid starter at strong-side linebacker, which is hard to find.
The team appears high on Nigel Bradham and he will likely get every chance to win the weak-side spot. In the middle, Kelvin Sheppard has shown that he will likely max out as a two-down thumper and a liability in the passing game. While this draftnik still considers Stephon Gilmore a better fit at free safety than cornerback, he has the raw tools to become a good one and will obviously be the No. 1 guy come September. The guy starting opposite him is still unclear, however. The team paid Leodis McKelvin as if he will get an opportunity to pass the incumbent, the ever-toastable Aaron Williams.
Coming out of Texas, I gave him a third-round grade, believing he looked more like a nickelback than a starter on the outside. At this point in his development, even that appears too generous. Jairus Byrd is playing at a high level at free safety, but there is an opening at strong with the release of George Wilson. It would be an upset to not see Da'Norris Searcy ascend to the starting role, but that is a position that should be addressed in the draft.
With this laundry list of draft needs, where should the team look in the first round. I narrowed it down to the following three:
1) QB Matt Barkley, USC
Barkley is arguably the most polarizing figure in the draft. In my humble opinion, he's the best quarterback prospect in the class. While Barkley isn't the type who will go out and win you games, if he has pieces around him, he can be an above-average starter at the next level. An appropriate NFL comparison would be Chad Pennington. He's been projected to go anywhere from picks seven to 41. If you like a guy, you don't wait around hoping he falls in an attempt to get value, which is why he should get consideration here. That being said, I don't like him enough to over-draft for need at eighth overall, though, and would wait to see if he's on the board at 41.
2) OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
While Andy LeVitre was significantly overpaid by the Titans and it's lucky the Bills didn't try to tie up that kind of cap space for him, the fact of the matter is that the team has a glaring hole at left guard.
LeVitre's strength was his ability to pull and get out into space, which helped free up C.J. Spiller on big runs and screens. Cooper is even more athletic and is more stout at the point of attack. The problem here is that it's hard to sign off on taking a guard with so many holes to fill, especially in the top ten. This is coming from someone who puts a heavy emphasis on the offensive line.
Last year, I was pining for the Bills to take Stanford guard David DeCastro at 10. However, unlike DeCastro, I didn't give Cooper a top-five grade. Cooper's upside is limited to the fact that he doesn't have a mean streak. He can carry out his assignment at a high level, but will not maul the defender off the snap. Some may prefer to see Chance Warmack here, but I have Cooper and Warmack with even grades. Warmack's a better run-blocker, but Cooper has the athleticism and versatility to play all three interior spots, which could be very valuable if Wood cannot prove he can stay healthy.
Both of those guys would be good additions to the team, but my final option is the way the Bills should go on April 25.
3) WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Patterson took the long road to get to where he is today. He had poor grades in high school and was forced to begin his collegiate career at NC Tech for a year, before transferring to Hutchinson Community College (Kan.). There he burst onto the scene, and after two seasons was considered the top JUCO prospect in the nation by many scouting services, choosing to sign with Tennessee. Patterson made the most of his one season at the Division-I level, racking up 1,858 all-purpose yards and scored 10 TDs (five receiving, three rushing, one punt return and one kick return). It isn't often that a JUCO player can have that type of production his first season, but it's a testament to Patterson's rare physical talent.
With his game-breaking combination of size, speed, and explosiveness, Patterson has elite talent. He's one of the most gifted runners I've ever seen in the open field when the ball is in his hands.
Patterson has received a bad rap from pundits and "unnamed" NFL executives. Public perception paints this picture that he's lazy, incredibly raw, lets too many passes into his chest, and too dumb to pick up an NFL offense. It makes it seem like you're taking a chance on an athlete and seeing what happens. That's not fair to Patterson.
I believe the laziness misconception is the product of the JUCO stigma, where many assume that that's the reason the player wasn't able to harness his potential coming out of college. In addition, middling to below-average route running is also an indication of a player's dedication to the game. After really studying Patterson on and off the field, I believe he's a guy that truly loves the game, though. It's important to him and he wants to succeed at it. He has the swagger and confidence all great receivers need to have.
Looking at his body type in college, he was muscular, but somewhat linear. Despite his thinner thighs, he still had the surprising balance to run through arm tackles. In my scouting report I noted that he'll have to improve his upper-body strength if he's going to consistently beat pressure at the next level.
If you look at him now, Patterson looks jacked. In terms of his route running, it's true. He certainly has to improve. However, people act like he's never seen a route tree. Patterson understands how to create separation with his suddenness and elusiveness. It's a matter of not rounding off his routes and consistently exploding through his breaks on a snap-to-snap basis.
While he does let more passes into his frame than you'd like to see, anybody that watched a lot of tape on him knows that he can make some spectacular grabs away from his frame. He demonstrates the hand-eye coordination to continue to do that at the next level. The reason a lot of passes end up in his chest is because he uses his body to shield and box out defenders.
Mental busts and being able to read coverages has been an issue for him, but he shouldn't be written off because he may lack book smarts. School has always been a problem for him. As stated, he struggled with it in high school and the rumor was that he stopped going to classes at Tennessee. Some people just aren't great at school, but I'm looking forward to seeing what Patterson can do in terms of studying film and learning to read coverages now that he doesn't have to worry about classes.
(He seems to lose focus at times on the field, just not being plugged into the game. This bring me to an aside, that I would be interested to see whether or not all of his issues stem from ADHD. It would help explain his struggles in school and inconsistent focus.)
Patterson has the potential to be a special player at the next level. With stick ‘em hands, good size, and explosiveness, players with his physical talent don’t come along very often. While he needs to improve his route running and his ability to read coverage, he seems intent on improving both aspects of his game. Normally that should be taken with a huge grain of salt, because players that don’t put in the time in college won’t in the pros. However, he’s only had one year of Division I coaching. His route running certainly needs to improve, but he already can create separation.
His biggest issue is his mental busts. After initially thinking he enjoys the game but isn’t driven to excel at it, I now think that’s inaccurate. This kid loves the game. He just needs to get up to speed so he can stop thinking so much on the field and rely more heavily on instinct. A team will need to be patient with him, scaling back the complexities of the scheme to allow for him to make a smoother transition to the next level.
If a team that runs a heavy sight-adjustment scheme gives him a phonebook to memorize right away, I think he’ll get lost. He has so much talent that, even if he never develops the rest of his game, he should still end up an above-average receiver and dynamic returner. When it’s all said and done, this kid could very well end up the best player in the class.