With the 2011 NFL Draft quickly approaching, it's time for yet another mock draft. For this post, I will offer my predictions of who the Buffalo Bills will choose with their first three selections, as well as alternative options that may or may not be on the board at the time.
If the Bills hope to improve on their ugly 4-12 record from 2010, they cannot afford to miss on any picks this year.
The front office at One Bills Drive seems to know this as well, considering they were already seen at Florida Atlantic's pro day, showing their commitment to finding any "diamond in the rough" that may go overlooked.
Keep posted for part two, examining Rounds 4 through 7!
Cornerback Patrick Peterson out of Louisiana State University seems to be the only "can't-miss" prospect in this year's draft. While draft boards and ranking change daily, Peterson is the only common name you see in the top 5-through-7 picks.
At 6'2," 219 pounds, Peterson is a huge corner, and he has the speed to keep up with big guys such as Brandon Marshall and Braylon Edwards, receivers he would see multiple times each year if he were to play for Buffalo.
At Louisiana State, Peterson played 13 games as a true freshman in one of the best conferences in the nation. In his three years as a Tiger, Peterson racked up 145 tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted seven passes while averaging 29.1 yards per kick return and 16.1 yards per punt return.
DE Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Marcell Dareus has played on a 3-4 defensive line ever since he was a true freshman at Alabama.
His pass rushing skills are great, and would present major problems to opposing offensive lines—who also have to account for Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams. He has the size to play inside when the Bills use a four-man front as well.
In his two seasons at Alabama, Dareus recorded 71 tackles, 20 of those for a loss, 11 sacks, a forced fumble, and 17 hits on the quarterback.
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
Texas A&M defensive end Von Miller burst onto draft boards late in the season and has solidified himself as a top-10 selection after an impressive Senior Bowl and combine.
Miller proved himself during his four seasons as an Aggie, recording 178 tackles, 39 sacks and almost 50 tackles for a loss.
Furthermore, he knows how to strip the ball, as he forced 11 fumbles. Miller has prototypical size for a pass rusher, as he stands at 6'3," 251 pounds. He is strong against the run, but he needs to work on his play from the linebacker position, as he will need to drop into coverage.
He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine, so the speed is there, but he will need to work on his technique to fully prosper. His pass rush moves are already there, and his athleticism is unmatched, but far too often, you can see him try to run around offensive linemen rather than through them.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
Despite the lack of experience under his belt, the 6'5", 250-pounder managed to complete 185 of his 280 pass attempts for 2,854 yards, while tossing 30 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.
Furthermore, he added another 1,473 yards on 264 rushes, scoring another 20 touchdowns.
There is no doubting his talent, but what I am doubting is how he chooses to use that talent once he signs that rookie deal (and the Under Armour one). Will he take the constant scrutiny and defamation as motivation? Alternatively, will he go the JaMarcus Russell route, sign the check and become complacent?
DE/ OLB Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
Clemson pass rusher Da'Quan Bowers had a breakout 2010 season, and his name has been linked to the Bills as of late, ever since head coach Chan Gailey stated that they would be utilizing a hybrid 3-4 defense that would show 4-3 looks at times.
At 6'4," 280 pounds, he is best fit to play defensive end on a team featuring a 4-3 defensive front. Watching tape of Bowers, you can see that he has great strength and burst off the line, but he has only played with his hand in the dirt.
Bringing in Bowers would put him in a position where the Bills coaching staff would be moving him back and forth between end and linebacker, making his transition to the NFL even more difficult.
At Clemson, he had a standout 2010 season, finishing his collegiate career with 150 tackles and 20 sacks, 16 of which coming last year.
Bringing in veteran inside linebacker Andra Davis last season via free agency didn't do anything except help the Bills earn the league's worst run defense, allowing almost 200 yards per game on the ground.
QB Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Assuming the Bills don't select Cam Newton in the first round, Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada has seen his stock significantly rise after the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine.
At 6'6" and 225 pounds, Kaepernick has the ideal size for an NFL quarterback. Similar to Newton, he has a strong arm and uses his legs to gain extra yards.
Kaepernick might be the sexy pick for coach Gailey, who ran a version of the Pistol offense that Colin ran in college. He is the only quarterback in NCAA history to pass for over 2,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 yards in three seasons.
In his four years at Nevada, Kaepernick completed 59.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 10,098 yards, 82 touchdowns to just 24 interceptions, while adding another 4,112 yards on the ground, scoring 75 touchdowns.
ILB Martez Wilson, Illinois
Martez Wilson is a guy that hasn't been getting a lot of national publicity, despite being the consensus No. 1 overall inside linebacker prospect entering the 2011 NFL Draft. That changed after his impressive combine performance, in which he ran a blazing 4.49 40-yard dash.
At 6'4", 250 pounds, Wilson would be a great addition next to Paul Posluszny (assuming he re-signs) at the sam inside linebacker, allowing Poz to use his instincts while Wilson engages the fullback to stop the run.
Wilson had a great career at Illinois, where he recorded 222 tackles (111 of them this past season), forced two fumbles and sacked the quarterback nine times.
TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph also missed most of the 2010-2011 season with a leg injury. He fought through the injury for the first five games of the year, catching 28 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns, but couldn't continue after that.
With the NFL turning more and more to spread offenses—utilizing tight ends—the Bills are in dire need of a guy who can do it all, from blocking, to catching the zero routes down the seams.
Shawn Nelson was supposed to be that guy when the Bills selected him in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft, but injuries and competition have not allowed him to flourish to his full potential.
In his career at Notre Dame, Rudolph made 90 receptions for 1,032 yards, scoring eight touchdowns. He will have to have some great workouts to prove that his leg is ready to go, but I would be content with Buffalo selecting him in the second round.
Last year, the Buffalo Bills' obvious need at offensive line wasn't addressed until the fifth round in Ed Wang. This year, the Bills will finally address the front seven in the third round by selecting Allen Bailey.
Bailey is an extremely versatile defensive lineman, as he has been shuffled around the Hurricanes line for almost his entire tenure at "The U.” At 6'4" and 288 pounds, Bailey would be a solid fit at the defensive end position when the Bills utilize their 3-4 front.
He has long arms, and more often than not wins the battle of leverage with opposing offensive linemen. Bailey has a high ceiling for improvement, as rushing the passer has been his primary duty.
He is decent in his run-stopping ability, but he could also play inside at tackle as the Bills use more of a "hybrid" 3-4 look, switching between the 3-4 and 4-3.
At Miami, Bailey recorded 106 tackles and made 21 sacks, and was a constant force of leadership and pressure for the Hurricanes. He could do the same in Orchard Park.
DT/DE Marvin Austin, North Carolina
Marvin Austin was atop most draft boards around the web prior to the season; however, after being dismissed from the University of North Carolina's football team along with several other highly touted prospects, Austin's stock has fallen rapidly.
At 6'3," 212 pounds, Austin is a mean and nasty lineman the Bills could use immediately if they choose to go in another direction with their No. 3 overall pick.
He is solid in stopping the run, and commands multiple blockers at times, allowing teammates to make plays.
ILB Kelvin Sheppard, Louisiana State
Kelvin Sheppard will bring not only dominance to whichever team selects this LSU standout, but leadership as well. Vastly overshadowed by his fellow defensive teammate, Patrick Peterson, Sheppard has quietly amassed 311 tackles, five forced fumbles, five sacks and two interceptions.
Weighing in at 240 pounds, he can add some beef to his frame to play strong side, while Posluszny can get to the ball carrier.