After last year's draft luncheon held by the Buffalo Bills, I came away fairly certain that the Bills were targeting C.J. Spiller in one way or another.
This season, I think I've got how their mindset is working heading in to this draft.
General Manager Buddy Nix and Vice President of College Scouting Tom Modrak spent 45 minutes with Bills reporters answering questions about philosophies, players and everything that entails the 2011 NFL Draft.
The reporters were many, so you had to choose your questions wisely. The one thing I wanted to know above all else, is how they approach the draft when you're talking about stopping the run against rushing the passer.
"The highest paid guys are the ones that rush the passer," said Nix. "But with us, it's more important to us probably to stop the run. I don't think you're going to get where you want to be obviously unless you stop the run. And then you rush the passer. I don't know if that's giving you an answer or not."
Don't worry, Buddy. You gave me plenty there.
So the Bills value stopping the run before getting after the passer, but at the same time, both members of the front office stressed that they need the third overall pick to either be a starter or a major contributor right away.
Defensively, two names come to mind. Alabama DT Marcell Dareus, and Texas A&M OLB Von Miller. Both players Modrak said are "as good as advertised." Dareus is very good against the run and good at getting after the passer, while Miller is very good at getting after the passer and good against the run.
But the reason I think they may value Dareus over Miller is not based on anything they said about those two players, but what Nix said about Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The Bills gave up their interest on Gabbert almost too easily today. A reporter asked why Gabbert had such a meteoric rise in the draft process, and Nix took the opportunity to gloat. "His stock hasn't risen with us, it's always been high." Smell that? There's some smoke coming out of that answer.
If you'll recall, they did a lot of the same about Jimmy Clausen last year at the Draft Luncheon. They expressed how interested they were in him, only to pass on him twice in the same draft.
You might be asking, what do the Bills have to gain from sending out a Gabbert smoke screen? Well, there are as many as five teams behind the Bills in the top ten of the draft who need a quarterback desperately. Cincinnati (4), Arizona (5), San Francisco (7), Tennessee (8) and Washington (10). And there seems to be a legitimate drop-off after Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert.
So by Nix sending off a smoke screen, they might be trying to help Denver (who owns the 2nd overall pick) in making a deal. The Broncos have been publicizing that they're thinking about taking a quarterback to try and induce a desperate team in to dealing with them, but I don't think that's working. But Buffalo? QB hungry teams may just be scared by them.
To help induce a deal to go up and take Gabbert, that means Buffalo now gets to sit pretty with their pick of the litter on the defensive side of the football. And to me, if they had their druthers, it would be Marcell Dareus.
"He gives you the best of both worlds (against run and pass), even though numbers may not be there," Modrak said of Dareus. "He'll help somebody else."
I believe I have their top three pegged, based on interpretation of answers, and how they relate to their attitudes about certain players and positions heading up to this point in time. It goes as follows:
1) Auburn QB Cam Newton
2) Alabama DT Marcell Dareus
3) Texas A&M OLB Von Miller
Their interest in Newton is very, very real, but he probably won't be on the board when the Bills are on the clock. So in order to get that run stuffer that the defense needs, I think Nix is trying to drum up some team to get to number 2 and take Gabbert.
But as far as the quarterback position and Buffalo goes with the second round pick, the feeling I get is that the team will target a signal caller with their 2nd round pick.
"There's no doubt, it's an important position," Nix remarked. "It's a quarterback driven league. But we think we're in a good position. And actually, as hard as it is to say that when you've got other needs, it's probably the perfect time to take a [quarterback]."
This isn't a smokescreen to me, because of how Nix backed up the point. "I go back to San Diego, and I have to draw from that. But, if you can do it that way, the way we did it with Drew Brees -- it makes it easier if you've got Drew Brees now, but if you can take a guy and sit him a year or two so he's hungry and knowledgeable and ready to play, then the success rate is going to be pretty high."
That screams a second round quarterback to me.
As for trading down from the third overall pick? Don't get your hopes up.
"It'd be determined by how far down you move," Nix stated. "But, I wouldn't rule out anything, but there will be a guy there that we really want I think. So, probably wouldn't move down. It'd have to be a rare situation I think."
Just like every year, I do my best to try and get inside the minds of Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey when we're approaching the draft. I was able to do it last year with Spiller, and now only time will tell if I'm right about this draft.
To be honest, I don't care who they draft. They just need to get the third overall pick right, or else it will send the franchise back even more years.
"Where we're picking, we have to hit it on the nose. There's no way around it," said Modrak.