By Sal Capaccio
About the first round. And only the first round…..
Position that's very possible, but I don't think the Bills should take at #9: Safety. The Bills had their chance to secure this position for years to come by re-signing Jairus Byrd in 2013. When that didn't happen, the inevitable finally did - he left for New Orleans. After signing Aaron Williams to a long-term deal (a good move), the safety spot still has some question marks. Can Da'Norris Searcy take another step forward as he did last year? Can Duke Williams be the play-maker the Bills hoped when they drafted him last year? Can Corey Graham successfully make the move from corner to safety, or be impactful enough at the position if he plays both? If the answer isn't "yes" to at least a couple of these questions, the Bills have a problem on the back-end of their secondary. Even if Searcy does take another step from a very solid 2013, he's a free agent at the end of this season and they could lose him, as well. All that said, there's enough here on paper to feel at least optimistic - if not pretty good - about the group. And if the front-seven can even come close to the sack totals they had last year, that takes a lot of pressure off these guys and allows for the team to not have to rely on them as much to make plays. If you're a team that believes you can be a playoff contender (which the Bills do, even if you don't while reading this), you only draft a safety at #9 because you need him to come in right away and make an impact. That doesn't seem to be what's needed and would be a wasted pick for this team the way it's currently built.
Position that would help the Bills most immediately: Offensive Tackle. Nope, it's not sexy. But the fact is if the Bills take an offensive tackle at #9, he has a great chance to start opening weekend against the Bears. This season may very well rest on EJ Manuel's progression, and maybe more importantly, his health. He needs to have as much protection as possible up front. The running game was very good overall last year, but struggled mightily in short-yardage and goal-line situations. A big, strong right tackle could help both situations very quickly.
Position that would help the Bills the most 2-3 years from now: Linebacker. The Bills did a fantastic job in last year's draft identifying and grabbing Kiko Alonso. Now, they've moved him to the weak side in order to let him roam more freely and save on the wear-and-tear his body will take as his career moves forward. They signed Brandon Spikes to stuff the run - and he will. But Spikes has to come off the field on obvious passing downs and he only signed a one-year deal. So, even if he produces as the Bills hope, he could get a big payday next offseason and leave, creating another void in the middle. Manny Lawson had a terrific 2013, but there are questions how he fits into Jim Schwartz's new defense. The team will let Nigel Bradham, Keith Rivers, and even Ty Powell fight for spots and playing time, but in the end, another young, solid 3-down backer to pair with Alonso would shore this group up for several years.
Trade up? I've been on-board with this idea since it first popped-up a couple months ago. I totally understand it is VERY expensive to get the #1 pick, and still too rich for most to even get into the top 4 or 5. People who think it's crazy to trade-up keep trying to make me understand that. Stop. You don't have to. I know. I'm saying I'm still willing to do it. Guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins don't come along very often. They are franchise-changing impact players. These may be the only guys I'm willing to do it for, but if they can, I say go for it. It's been 14 years with no playoff football in Buffalo. The overall roster is as good as it's been in the past several years. That's the time to make a deal like this because A) that one player could finally put you where you haven't been in a decade and a half, and B) he gets to stay and grow with you and the other young players you've drafted the past few years. It's not like you have to give him back and he's only here for a year.
Trade down? Yeah, yeah, I know I just advocated trading up. But in a rare draft like this, with so much elite talent and depth throughout, I also wouldn't mind of the Bills traded down for more picks. They did last year and had one of their better first three rounds in a long time. I'm more for trading up than down because I believe this team needs more high-end talent than they do depth right now. But there's enough of that talent in this draft that would allow them to get starting-caliber players even by moving out of number nine.
The position I will be highly upset about if the Bills draft at #9: Quarterback. Sorry all you Johnny Football fans! I love the kid, too. In fact, I still like Teddy Bridgewater more than most mocks seem to indicate NFL execs do right now. And I even think Blake Bortles can be good in this league……in a couple years. But none of them, or anyone in this draft class, is coming in and taking this team any further than their current QBs can this year, with a healthy Manuel or not. This is not an endorsement of Manuel as a franchise quarterback. I have no idea if EJ will stay healthy and play more than 10-11 games this year. Or any year. And even if he does, I also have no idea if he's the franchise QB the team thinks he can be. But I do know he deserves a chance to show that he is OR even that he isn't. He was a rookie last year. He did some good things. Also did some bad things. And, of course, he couldn't stay on the field. But it's one season and it's a kid who never had any major injury issues in college and suffered the worst of his knee injuries last year by not being smart (see: not going out of bounds at Cleveland). I think he's at least earned the right to have another season to pass or fail. If he does stay healthy and does look like a franchise quarterback, picking a QB at #9 at the expense of not picking another player who will help you now and for years to come would be a complete waste of a very valuable pick. If he's often hurt again or doesn't improve as a healthy QB, you find his replacement next year and let him walk into a roster already built to compete.
My first round mock: Here it is. No trades. Only one comment (on the Bills pick, of course). Otherwise, just 32 picks. Not based on anything other than what teams need and the value of players. I'll hang up and listen:
1. Houston Texans - Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina
2. St. Louis Rams - Greg Robinson, OT Auburn
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Khalil Mack, LB Buffalo
4. Cleveland Browns - Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
5. Oakland Raiders - Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson
6. Atlanta Falcons - Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M
8. Minnesota Vikings - Blake Bortles, QB UCF
9. Buffalo Bills - Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina
---I know the Bills have liked Ebron since the middle of last season. The two questions that have had to be answered since then are, "do they still like him as much after gathering all the info they have for five months?" and "is number nine too high to take a tight end?" I believe the answer to the first is "yes," and the answer to the second is, "maybe, but we don't want to risk losing our man." The Bills have been behind the NFL curve for the last several years when it comes to the tight end position. Sure, Scott Chandler led the team in receptions and yards last season, and Chris Gragg and Tony Moeaki are both players they think can do some nice things for them. But none has the raw athletic ability to go along with the size and speed of Ebron. At 6'4" Ebron can be the red zone target the Bills offense sorely lacked last season. But his athleticism will also put pressure on opposing secondaries and be a matchup problem for most linebackers and safeties. Speaking of pressure, this front office and coaching staff may feel it right now with ownership uncertainty above them. That's why they'll want to get a guy who can help them - and especially their young quarterback - immediately. Ebron fits that category and a void on the offense.
10. Detroit Lions - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Alabama
11. Tennessee Titans - Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State
12. NY Giants - Aaron Donald, DT Pittsburgh
13. St. Louis Rams - Calvin Pryor, S Louisville
14. Chicago Bears - Timmy Jernigan, NT Florida State
15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State
16. Dallas Cowboys - Anthony Barr, LB UCLA
17. Baltimore Ravens - Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan
18. NY Jets - Odell Beckham, Jr, WR LSU
19. Miami Dolphins - Zack Martin, OL Notre Dame
20. Arizona Cardinals - CJ Mosley, LB Alabama
21. Green Bay Packers - Ryan Shazier, LB Ohio State
22. Philadelphia Eagles - Marqise Lee, WR USC
23. Kansas City Chiefs - Brandin Cooks, WR Oregon State
24. Cincinnati Bengals - Bradley Roby, CB Ohio State
25. San Diego Chargers - Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech
26. Cleveland Browns - Kelvin Benjamin, WR Florida State
27. New Orleans Saints - Cody Latimer, WR Indiana
28. Carolina Panthers - Davante Adams, WR Fresno State
29. New England Patriots - Ra'Shede Hageman, DT Minnesota
30. San Francisco 49ers - Dee Ford, DE Auburn
31. Denver Broncos - Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG UCLA
32. Seattle Seahawks - Joel Bitonio, OT Nevada
You can tell me what you think about the draft by following me on Twitter and tweeting me @SalSports. Also, listen to special NFL and Bills draft coverage Thursday and Friday on WGR Sports Radio 550 when I host from 12-3pm.