"What is this? Donte Whitner all over again?!"
You can have that line of thinking back, just as long as you read through why the Buffalo Bills drafting a safety at 8th overall might make more sense than you'd think.
Deal? Okay, great. Here goes nothing:
When you look at the Bills roster as it's constructed, there are plenty of glaring needs that jump out at you. Whether it be quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, guard, pass rusher, linebacker, cornerback or safety, there will be no shortage of players in this year's draft that the Bills could use.
When talking about eighth overall, assuming that quarterback may be more of a second-round option with this year's group, safety would rank near the top of positions they have a need for. Factoring out quarterbacks, here is why I'd discredit some of the other positions before I would with safety:
- Tight End - Unless you're getting a lock solid tight end that will be a Pro Bowl player for years, selecting a tight end with as many needs as they have at eighth overall makes little sense.
- Guard - I honestly believe that the Bills would have made more of an effort early on to re-sign Andy Levitre if they valued the guard position all that much. They found Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart off the waiver wire. Urbik is a solid starter and Rinehart served as the top backup. You can find guards in the middle rounds.
- Pass Rusher - With the signing of Manny Lawson to a four-year contract, where does a versatile pass rusher fit in to this defense right away? Lawson, Mario Williams and Mark Anderson are already there. If you draft a guy like Dion Jordan or Jarvis Jones, that's the same role you just signed Lawson to do.
- Linebacker - First of all, who's to say they've given up on Kelvin Sheppard and Nigel Bradham yet? Sheppard is entering his third season, and Bradham showed flashes during his rookie season. They certainly aren't All-Pro players at this point, but you could do far worse. Secondly, is there someone worthy of the eigth overall pick that plays either middle or weakside linebacker? It doesn't appear so.
- Cornerback - This would have been a much stronger consideration had the Bills not re-signed Leodis McKelvin. Since they did, they'll have a full-scale competition between him, Aaron Williams and Ron Brooks to see who comes out victorious. Also, if you believe the Buddy Nix principles (which you should by this point), they will select a cornerback at some point of the draft -- likely within rounds two through four. They'll compete for the job as well.
First and foremost, the value of the wide receivers. With Lance Zierlein's report that Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is slipping on draft boards and could even be available in the second round, that means that the Bills have not invited the top two receivers (Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins) in for draft visits this year.
If you don't view that to be significant, then recall what Buddy Nix said about the type of wide receiver they would be looking for. In so many words, Nix said they want a receiver who is open even when he is not. To interpret, that would mean the player has to possess either superior size, physicality or a combination of the two. That is not Tavon Austin, and eighth overall is a bit too early for DeAndre Hopkins.
Let's get in to more of the case for safety now. Of course, there is the hold steady at the position. Former fourth-round pick Da'Norris Searcy worked his way in to the rotation last season, even taking reps away from starter George Wilson at strong safety. Searcy is said to have a good presence against the run, but he may not be fully developed when opponents fight through the air.
Searcy was also a favorite of the last coaching staff, mind you. And that coaching staff, with the presence of Searcy, Wilson and even Jairus Byrd, was enamored by Alabama safety Mark Barron in the 2012 NFL Draft. If he were on the board at tenth overall, I've been told that Barron would have been in a Bills uniform.
Now, with Wilson out of the equation and a new coaching staff and a brand new defense, Searcy starts off from sqaure one.
The looming situation involving Jairus Byrd's contract needs to be considered as well. Byrd, franchised by the Bills this off-season, is with Buffalo for one more year. Past that? Who really knows. The Bills could always franchise him for a second season, or they could even let him walk if they can't agree on a fair price.
One day, Byrd will get paid with a large free agent contract. Whether or not it's with the Bills will be the big question. Even if they do re-sign Byrd to let's say... $7.5 million per season, Buffalo won't have to commit a monster contract to their young safety and have him locked up for the next four seasons. Last year's eighth overall pick, Ryan Tannehill, signed a four-year deal worth $12.668 million. That comes out to $3.167 million per season, which is an extremely manageable contract.
So then why does taking a safety, outside of a quarterback, with the eighth overall pick make the most sense for the Bills?
Simply put, look at the way the NFL is trending. Tight ends are taking over the league and a premium has to be put on finding players to stop them. Having a strong safety alongside Byrd that has those capabilities to disrupt the game of those players is very important to what the Bills want to do on defense.
Look at the Ravens and Jets since Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been in the league. They've all had superb play from their safeties, really putting a premium on having that position be able to hold their own and help set the tone to make the opposing offense more one-dimensional. Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Jim Leonhard, Kerry Rhodes, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell... all have been added either through the draft or free agency to make sure they have legitimate and responsible playmakers in the deep defensive secondary.
Not convinced that safeties are worth it in the first round? Getting a player in to the correct scheme is important at any position and safety is no exception. With that said, take a look at safeties taken in the first round over the past 10 years:
2012: Mark Barron, Harrison Smith
2010: Eric Berry, Earl Thomas
2008: Kenny Phillips
2007: LaRon Landry, Reggie Nelson, Brandon Meriweather
2006: Michael Huff, Donte Whitner, Jason Allen
2004: Sean Taylor
2003: Troy Polamalu
Out of that group, who have been complete misses? Jason Allen, most definitely. Kenny Phillips has struggled with injuries but remains intriguing to teams every year for his talent alone. Outside of them, you have Pro Bowl players and people that are still starting to this very day.
Say what you want about Donte Whitner, but he was in the wrong defensive scheme in Buffalo. To me, he is a solid player that many in the area resented because of what Haloti Ngata turned out to be in Baltimore. Any player that is used improperly is going to struggle some. Would you ask Chad Pennington to throw fly patterns 24 times a game? You get my drift.
If you look at the position from an historical perspective, the safety spot in the first round hits quite frequently -- maybe even more so than most positions. And if you believe the pre-draft visits could be an indicator, the Bills brought in five safeties for visits, ranging from a first round prospect, to a middle rounder, to a trio of late round safeties. Through that logic, the Bills are definitely looking to add.
Assuming I've held your attention for this long, perhaps you're intrigued by the possibilities of adding a top-flight safety to the mix. The next question is inevitable:
Who is a safety worthy of the eighth overall pick?
Meet Kenny Vaccaro from Texas. A safety with great size (6-feet, 214-pounds), physicality, hips and coverage abilities. Vaccaro was used all over the field at Texas, even dabbling at nickel when teams went in those sets. Having someone with Vaccaro's versatility can not only put Searcy on the field in situations, but also serves as a two-in-one type of pick that can help the secondary overall.
Also be mindful of what the Bills had planned for Barron had he been the pick in 2012. Instead of seeing Bryan Scott on the field in countless nickel situations, that would have been Barron's role. Covering up the tight ends will be his job, because to this point he has showed he is darn good at it. With Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Dustin Keller and whoever the Jets add in the division, you better be sure you have someone to help keep those players at bay.
While by many accounts, he will need to get better at tackling and not be overly aggressive, these are virtues that can be fixed with the proper coaching. Buffalo's secondary coach? The very experienced Donnie Henderson, who has even led a defense himself.
So I ask once again, does a safety make sense to you at 8th overall?
If it didn't before, I hope it does now.