Like most of the teams picking at the top of the draft, the Buffalo Bills have a lot of holes to fill. The 2011 Draft is wide open in terms of the premier prospects, which leaves a team like the Bills with numerous options for the No. 3 pick.
Cornerback, quarterback, outside linebacker, defensive tackle, defensive end and offensive tackle are all positions of need, but the value of taking a prospect at one of those positions varies greatly thanks to the quality of prospects available. With GM Buddy Nix running the show, and the hybrid 4-3/3-4 defensive line front, the Bills will be a very intriguing team to watch at the Draft—something that is not commonly said about this franchise.
So without further ado, let's take a look at the best options for the Bills this April...
A.J. Green—Wide Receiver, University of Georgia
6'3", 211 pounds
40 time: 4.50
A.J. Green is one of the few "premier" prospects in this draft.
Being compared to NFL greats such as Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald is always a good sign of a great prospect. Green's blend of great size (6'3") and speed, and jumping ability will almost assuredly make him a playmaker for years to come for whatever team picks him. That said, I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that the Bills will not select Green, even if he is available a No. 3.
With the emergence of Stevie Johnson, and to a lesser extent Donald Nelson, along with quality veterans Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish, the Bills really don't need to select a wideout at this juncture.
Nick Fairley—Defensive Tackle, University of Auburn
6'3", 291 pounds
40 time: 4.87
Nobody can question Fairley's raw athleticism or his ability to break through offensive lines to terrorize the quarterback. His power and speed at 291 pounds is impressive, but there are some significant question marks surrounding the standout junior.
First off, Fairley is a one-year wonder, jumping up from 1.5 sacks in 2009 all the way up to 11.5 sacks in 2010. Bills GM Buddy Nix has made his views on one-year wonders clear—he does not like them. Nix is much more likely to take a player who has proven their worth over multiple seasons on the collegiate level. Fairley has also had his drive and determination questioned over the last year and fits only in a 4-3 front.
Put this all together and you'll understand why Fairley may be a good pick for the Bills, but he won't hear his name called at No. 3.
Blaine Gabbert—Quarterback, Missouri
6'4", 234 pounds
40 time: 4.62
Blaine Gabbert is an interesting prospect, not only due to his blend of athleticism and arm strength, but also because of his meteoric rise up the charts since he declared for the draft. With Andrew Luck returning to school, the door was left wide open for another underclassman to steal the show. Gabbert is that underclassman. The Bills feel set at quarterback for now with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they certainly want to draft one at some point this April to groom behind Fitz.
Although he is not as polished a prospect as Matt Ryan or Sam Bradford, Gabbert does have ideal size and very good arm strength. His accuracy has been a major concern, but his pro day has helped to quell those doubts. Unfortunately throwing in shorts and a t-shirt is not the best way to measure a quarterback. His questionable accuracy, along with the fact that he came from a spread offense and his disappointing statistics in 2010, will likely force the Bills to pass on Gabbert at No. 3.
Patrick Peterson—Cornerback, LSU
6'0", 219 pounds
40 time: 4.34
There may not be more of a "sure-thing" in the 2011 draft than LSU's Patrick Peterson. Peterson may very well be the most talented prospect overall this year with his blend of shutdown capability, blazing speed and return ability. Buddy Nix loves versatility, and Peterson fits that as well—as he can play cornerback, safety and return kicks.
Even though there are no glaring question marks surrounding Peterson, like A.J. Green, the Bills may pass on him because of bigger needs. With Terrence McGee still performing at a good level, along with quality starters Drayton Florence and Leodis McKelvin (who needs to break out in 2011), the Bills are set at cornerback. If they can re-sign Donte Whitner—or upgrade via free agency, and continue to get quality play out of George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, then the Bills will be set at safety as well.
Although Peterson may be an instant starter, and likely a superstar, the Bills will most likely pass on him thanks to their No. 3 overall passing defense in 2010.
Da'Quan Bowers—Defensive End, Clemson
6'3", 280 pounds
40 time: Unknown
Da'Quan Bowers is a very solid prospect and he would be a very nice addition to the Bills defensive line in 2011. He is very athletic, strong and fast, but unfortunately he was not able to showcase any of these strengths at the Combine due to a lingering knee injury—which is a red flag for many teams.
Bowers also suffers, like Nick Fairley, from the dreaded "one-year wonder" tag. Bowers was a very highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but he was largely ineffective for his first two years at Clemson before busting out for 15 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in 2010.
Buddy Nix likes his Clemson players, as he selected C.J. Spiller at No. 9 last year, and Coach Chan Gailey recruited Bowers during his tenure at Georgia Tech, so they are undoubtedly familiar with him, but I just see too many other, better options for the Bills at No. 3.
Cam Newton—Quarterback, Auburn
6'5", 248 pounds
40 time: 4.59
We arrive at the biggest question of the 2011 NFL Draft—who will take Cam Newton? The ultra-talented, super athletic quarterback who took college football by storm in 2010 is already making his mark on the NFL and he hasn't even arrived yet. We all know the story by now—transfer, scandal, Heisman trophy, more scandal, national championship...and did I mention scandal? But I'm not concerned with his financial "concerns," or his father's (alleged) impropriety—as far as I am concerned, those are Auburn's problems now, and I'm a Bills fan, so let's move on.
Newton is obviously a born winner, winning at every level he's been at from high school, to Blinn College, to Aurburn. He has an incredibly strong arm and can put the ball anywhere you need him to, and he can outrun most defenders with his great speed.
Another plus is that if the Bills would draft Newton, they would create a huge buzz around the team, something they've lacked for years, and would increase merchandise and ticket sales immediately. Coach Chan Gailey is also a whiz at getting the most out of his athletic QBs, and he would be an ideal fit for Newton, who could sit for a year behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and learn the playbook before taking over in 2012 or 2013.
However, there are some big question marks around Newton. His accuracy is questionable, despite completing a high percentage of his passes and his footwork and character issues cannot be ignored. He just seems to rub some people the wrong way.
It is likely that the Bills could take Newton at No. 3, but it is far from a sure thing
Von Miller—Linebacker, Texas A&M
6'3", 247 pounds
40 time: 4.53
Von Miller is a special athlete and has a gift for getting to the quarterback. Not only does he use his superior speed to rack up sacks, but also his overly impressive strength. Miller needs to bulk up a bit, but his size should not be a concern—he has already added over seven pounds since the season ended, and superstars such as Clay Matthews and Elvis Dumervil came into the league weighing less than Miller.
The Bills haven't had a player who consistently racked up sacks since Aaron Schobel, and pressuring the quarterback has been one of their main problems over the course of their decade-long playoff drought. Miller would fit in nicely across from a (hopefully) rejuvenated Shawne Merriman and he has the potential to get 10+ sacks year in and year out.
As a Bills fan, I understand your concern with taking a linebacker this high, after the 2009 disaster that is Aaron Maybin, but rest assured, Miller is nothing like "Mayhem" Maybin. Von Miller is not a one-year wonder—he was consistently productive for multiple seasons, racking up 27 sacks and 39 tackles for loss in his last two seasons, and he seems to have his head on straight.
I would be ecstatic to see the Bills take Von Miller and I think he is the best player the Bills could take, except for...
Marcell Dareus—Defensive Lineman, Alabama
6'3", 320 pounds
40 time: 4.92
Let's see, here is the Bills checklist for a first round prospect:
Not a one-year wonder: Check
Consistently great production: Check
High motor: Check
Marcell Dareus is everything the Bills could hope for in a prospect—he's strong, he's quick, he's proven and more than anything he can step in right away and start and make a huge improvement to the Bills terrible run defense.
The Bills plan to run a hybrid defense and Dareus is ideal for this as well. If they run a 4-3 front, he can step in right next to star Kyle Williams and play defensive tackle, but if they shift to a 3-4 look, Dareus can push outside, as he has ideal size for a 3-4 defensive end.
Dareus has had some bouts of inconsistency, but overall I don't think there is a better fit for the Bills in this draft. He can stuff the run, pressure the quarterback, cut through linemen life a hot knife through butter and seems like a generally good, hard-working person.
No matter who the Bills take in Round 2 through Round 7, if they are lucky enough to come away with Marcell Dareus, then this draft will almost certainly go down as a success.