Well, it's December seventh, and after a decade of busts, poor scouting, and terrible personnel decisions, all leading to Sunday's devastating blowout loss at the hands of the Favre-less Minnesota Vikings, it is time to look ahead to 2011. The Bills are almost guaranteed a top-three pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and there are quite a few holes to fill.
While watching college football on Saturdays, I always ask myself whether these top ranked guys on all the "big boards" around the web and blogosphere have what it takes to make the jump to the next level, in a league where players on both sides of the ball are bigger, stronger, faster, and more instinctive than their college counterparts.
The Bills have more holes on their roster than a slice of swiss cheese, most notably on the offensive line and the front seven of the defense.
At 2-10, I am projecting they finish 3-13 for the season, but who do they address in free agency and the draft?
- Quarterback- I know, I know. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been pretty damn good ever since he took over for Trent Edwards, passing for 2,384 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions (all career highs) in his ten starts. But at 28 years old, this is his prime, and what we are watching now is probably the best we will ever see of him. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of his, and love his leadership, and play behind such a terrible line, but the Bills need a blue-chip prospect to take them to the next level
- Offensive Tackle- Demetrius Bell has been solid in his first year as the full time starter, but the right tackle position is a major hole, and there is absolutely NO depth on the entire line. The Bills need to quit shuffling in practice squad journeymen from other teams, and get bodies who can make an impact, protect the quarterback, and take on defensive linemen.
- Defensive End- Marcus Stroud is 32 years old and Dwan Edwards is 29. I'm not forgetting about Alex Carrington, but the fact that Spencer Johnson and John McCargo have been getting the nod over him is not a good sign. The Bills need some big, tough, run stopping defensive ends to effectively execute the 3-4 defense that they wanted at the season's start.
- Linebackers- Paul Posluszny has made a great transition to the inside linebacker position in the 3-4, but his supporting cast is old and weak. Andra Davis was brought in to teach the ins and outs of the scheme, but he is over 30, and on injured reserve. Same goes for Reggie Torbor. I like what I've seen from rookie Arthur Moats on special teams, and his limited snaps, and we can't forget Danny Batten, who missed his entire rookie year with an injury, but they need playmakers who can apply pressure, and stop the run.
Which Free Agents Could Be Added?
Now for this portion of my analysis, we have to realize this isn't Madden, and you can't expect every top prospect to take their talents to Buffalo, when there are flashier cities and teams also pursuing them. But hey, it's December, and it's always fun to ponder these things.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are both free agents after the season, but there's no way they are leaving their current teams.
Matt Moore, Kyle Orton, Matt Hasselback, and Alex Smith's contracts are also up at the end of the season, but they haven't gotten the job done wherever they have been, and that wouldn't change in Buffalo.
Michael Vick will also enter free agency, but his price tag will be too steep, and remember, he is 31 years old. By the time his supporting cast is ready to make that jump, he will likely be retiring.
For quarterback, wait until April.
Jared Gaither was a favorite of many Bills fans to trade for during the offseason, and he will become a free agent at season's end. He is on injured reserve as of now, and with the Ravens doing just fine with Marshall Yanda in his place, Gaither's price tag may have dropped just a bit.
He can play both left and right tackle, and he is an absolute monster. The guy is 6'9" and 340 pounds, and has arms as long as telephone poles. His pass blocking is solid, and he can open holes for the run like no other.
I'd like the Bills to sign him long-term, as he is still ripe at 24 years old.
Jermon Bushrod took over for Jammal Brown after the New Orleans Saints traded the Pro Bowl left tackle to the Washington Redskins, and the Saints will try to keep Bushrod at all costs. The reigning Super Bowl champions also may have a better sales pitch than 92-year old Ralph Wilson could deliver.
Johnny Jolly has been a forgotten man after his arrest for possession of codeine during the offseason, and has been dealing with legal issues, but he was a force on the Packers front seven last season, recording 34 tackles, a sack, and defending ten passes. Not bad stats for a 6'3" 325 pounder who could play both end and tackle in the 3-4.
Manny Lawson of the San Francisco 49ers is the sexy prospect here, but the Niners will probably want to keep their strong linebacking nucleus of Patrick Willis and Parys Haralson together.
However, Lawson is just 26 years old, and has surprising speed and strength for a 6'5" 240 pound linebacker. Last year he has 68 tackles and 6.5 sacks, and has already racked up 37 tackles, two sacks, and forced two fumbles this year.
His price tag may be steep, but with Shawne Merriman obviously leaving Buffalo, there may be room for Manny.
Antwan Applewhite of the San Diego Chargers isn't really a household name, but I'd love him on the Bills. He's 24 years old out of San Diego State, but as a restricted free agent, it may be difficult to acquire him.
Others: Kevin Burnett (SD), Stephen Cooper (SD), Kirk Morrison (Jacksonville)
2011 NFL Draft: Who Do The Bills Choose?
With multiple holes to fill on both sides of the field, the Bills will have some big decisions to make come draft day.
First Round Options:
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford- Andrew Luck is ranked as the top overall prospect in college football, leading the Stanford Cardinals to a No. 4 ranking, and a trip to the Orange Bowl.
Luck has passed for over 3,000 yards, tossing 28 touchdowns on the year, and has mobility to extend plays with his legs. His 6'4", 235 pound frame is prototypical of what you look for in a passer, and he has excellent pocket presence.
With the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals additionally looking at the No. 1 pick, they may opt to draft Luck, despite the fact that the Panthers gave Matt Moore the reigns of their offense just a season ago, and used their second round draft pick last year to select Jimmy Clausen, out of Notre Dame.
The Bengals still have Carson Palmer under center, a former No. 1 overall pick, but he isn't playing like the Carson Palmer of a few seasons ago, and Cincinnati may use another No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback.
DE/DT Marcel Dareus, Alabama- As I stated previously, the Bills are aging on the defensive line, and adding Alabama nose tackle Marcel Dareus could bring some much needed physicality to the front seven. At 6'3" 305 pounds, Dareus could slide from tackle to end in the 3-4.
Dareus is a dominating pass rusher, and can push blockers out of position, and despite his size, he has great ability to use swim moves and get to the quarterback. He's stout against the run as well, and doesn't get beat often.
The only knock on him is his work ethic, as some scouts have noted that he gives up a bit early on plays, and has always played in a rotation. Not sure if he's worth a top five pick just yet.
DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson- The Bills selected a Clemson Tiger with their first pick last year in C.J. Spiller, and they may be in prime position to grab another elite prospect this year. Da;Quan Bowers has shot up draft boards with his outstanding play this year. He is listed as 280, and is a smaller end for the 3-4 scheme, but his superior strength and at 6'4", he still has room to add some bulk.
Bowers has racked up 16 sacks this year, adding 61 tackles, with over 20 for a loss. There is no question that he has NFL ability, but the Bills will need to evaluate whether he can fit the 3-4 scheme they wish to use on a full-time basis.
CB Patrick Peterson, Louisiana State- I know, I know. The Bills need a quarterback. They need an offensive lineman. But they also need a dominating, game changing, defensive player. That game changing player is Patrick Peterson. No offensive linemen are clear cut as last year's class of Russell Okung, Trent Williams, Anthony Davis, and company, and if Andrew Luck is off the board, I wouldn't be surprised if Buddy Nix went with the next best available player. We did draft C.J. Spiller when we already had Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.
Peterson is a lockdown corner, and despite the fact that teams rarely target him, he still has 21 tackles and four interceptions. He's a threat in the return game, and at 6'1" 211 pounds, he will be able to face off with the big receivers in the division like Brandon Marshall and Braylon Edwards.
OT Nate Solder, Colorado- Definitely not worthy of a top three pick, but if the Bills trade down to acquire more picks, Solder would be the choice here. At 6''8", he has room to add significant bulk. He has started every game for Colorado at left tackle for the past three seasons, and is extremely athletic for his size. If you watch him, he is very agile, and uses great footwork, and rarely lets a defender get behind him.
Who Do You Want?
Well there you have it. There is my analysis of what the Bills have in store for them over the next couple of months. Are there any players I missed? What free agents would you like Buffalo to go after? Who do they take if Andrew Luck is off the board?
Let the comments roll!