With the NFL draft just two months away, the picture seems to be getting fuzzier as opposed to clearer in terms of what the Bills might do with in the early rounds.
When Buddy Nix first took over as General Manager three years ago, he joked that the NFL should give the Bills extra picks because they had so many holes. As Nix prepares for his fourth and quite likely final draft as Bills G-M, he might want to ask the league for those extra choices.
Clearly the Bills need a quarterback and Nix maintained through the last half of the 2012 season that it was time for the Bills to select the player they hope will be the quarterback of the future. When the Bills actually make that selection remains the big question.
In addition to quarterback, Nix has also talked about targeting linebacker and wide receiver. You can also make a strong case to address the cornerback position, where the Bills are extremely young. Tight end has nothing to offer in terms of pass catching behind Scott Chandler who tore an ACL two days before Christmas. The Bills might also be in the market for a guard if they are unable to re-sign Andy Levitre.
I still say, if the Bills have a quarterback they love and believe he is their "QB of the future", then go ahead and grab him with the eighth pick. I don't care about all the draft experts who will yell and scream that its a reach. If the guy turns out to be a franchise signal caller, who can lead the Bills back into the playoffs on a regular basis and into contention for the Super Bowl, no one will even bring up that "he was a reach."
If you don't take that player at eight, then you have to sweat it out that he'll still be on the board at the 41st pick, the Bills slot in the second round. Buffalo could always try to move back into the first round, as they did for JP Losman and John McCargo, but its still a gamble. Who can you swing a deal with? How far up do you need to go? What if another team moves up before you have the chance and they take the quarterback the Bills coveted?
During an interview on WGR last week, Nix said they try not to "reach" in an effort to fill a need and will maintain the integrity of the board. But during the season, Nix also said he learned something about selecting a quarterback from the last few drafts. He said wherever you have that quarterback slotted on your board, you should probably take him one round higher.
My gut is telling me the Bills won't grab a quarterback with their first choice but instead will go after a wide receiver or a linebacker. Keep in mind Nix once cited the work of the Cincinnati Bengals when talking about what it takes to turn around a team's fortunes. He referenced the 2011 draft where the Bengals grabbed wide receiver AJ Green with the fourth overall selection and then got their quarterback of the future, Andy Dalton, in round two at pick 35. The Bills were intent on fixing their defense at that point and chose defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in the slot before Green. The Bills went with cornerback Aaron Williams just before the Bengals sent in the card for Dalton.
You can make a very strong case for wide receiver with the eighth pick. Nix has said the team needs a big, outside receiver who "can be open when he isn't open", meaning he can make plays even when covered. The receiving corps is considerably thinner after the Bills opted not to tender contracts to restricted free agents Donald Jones and David Nelson. The receivers currently on the roster are:Stevie Johnson, TJ Graham, Brad Smith, Marcus Easley, Kevin Elliott and Chris Hogan.
That's a whole lot of nothing after you get by Johnson. Smith has the most career catches in the group with 101. Graham had just 31 in his rookie season. Elliott had 10 receptions in 13 games with Jacksonville last season. Easley and Hogan are still looking for their first ever catch in a regular season game.
Linebacker was a need even before the Bills decided to release Nick Barnett. Kelvin Sheppard, who was average at best last season, and Nigel Bradham would appear to be starters at this point. The depth includes Arthur Moats and Chris White. Bryan Scott and Kirk Morrison are unrestricted free agents.
Cornerback, which was one of the weakest positions on the team last season, remains a huge question mark. According to Nix, at this point, Leodis McKelvin, who lost the nickel job last September, would be the starter opposite Stephon Gilmore. That is if McKelvin re-signs with the Bills. He is scheduled to hit the free agent market on March 12th.
Here are the corners currently on the roster with their total number of NFL games played and career interceptions: Stephon Gilmore(16/1) Aaron Williams(20/1) Justin Rogers(29/2) Ron Brooks(9/0) Crezdon Butler(13/0) TJ Heath(5/0)
Williams may have played himself out of the cornerback position and over to safety. Rogers eventually lost the nickel job last season after taking over for McKelvin.
As I mentioned, don't forget about tight end. Who knows when Chandler will be healthy coming off the ACL injury. The next guy on the depth chart is Lee Smith who has just eight catches in 26 games with the Bills over the last two seasons. After that, we're talking Mike Caussin, who has five catches in his career and then rookie Derek Buttles.
Keep in mind, the Bills can certainly address some of these holes in free agency which will take place before the draft. Nix said the Bills will be a player in free agency at some point, maybe not the first day or two.
As far as the draft goes, the Bills have one pick in each of the first six rounds. They traded their seventh round selection to Seattle for Tarvaris Jackson.