The State of the Buffalo Bills
By: Joe Herne (Guest Columnist)
April 4, 2010
Jimmy Clausen: Bills Draft Pick at #9?
In another tumultuous offseason in upstate New York, Buffalo Bills fans have once again seen a changing of the guard. A new general manager and head coach means a lot of change in Buffalo, or does it? Terrell Owens is gone, Aaron Schobel is potentially retired, Brad Butler retired at 26, Eric Wood is recovering from a catastrophic lower leg break, Marshawn Lynch’s career is one strike away from being on a 1-year hiatus, and the team seemingly has no starting QB heading into the draft. Oh, and an open letter to Aaron Maybin reads, “Dear Sir, please be a better OLB than you were a defensive end last year.”

And yet; as always, there is cautious optimism in the air this year for Bills fans. Perhaps blind optimism, but it is present, no less. Here’s a breakdown of where the team is, and where I see it heading for the draft.

The Bills made some quiet changes to scheme and personnel this offseason that have flown under the radar, but could play a significant role in what we see occur April 22-24. For starters, the Bills have changed defensive alignments from a 4-3 to a 3-4. This is a growing trend in the NFL, and as part of this move Ryan Denney is out, while Dwan Edwards and Andra Davis are in, leaving the Bills with a front seven that is already adequate:

Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams will likely split time between NT and DE, Dwan Edwards, John McCargo and Spencer Johnson will all likely rotate in and out. Williams is the only one in the group that really is pro-bowl caliber, but it does leave Buffalo with no less than five quality defensive linemen that are all relatively interchangeable.

At linebacker, Buffalo still doesn’t really fit the 3-4, if Schobel is in fact done. Aaron Maybin, Paul Posluzny, Kawika Mitchell and Andre Davis likely round out the starting group, leaving one of the later three out of position at OLB, as all are suited to be on the inside. If Schobel comes back, the Bills instantly have depth at ILB and OLB, that is assuming Aaron Maybin can find himself. Chris Kelsay, Keith Ellison, Nic Harris, Chris Ellis all will need to carve a niche for themselves somewhere on this defense. As the 3-4 continues to develop, look for some of these names to continue to change.

Not much could should or will change in the secondary. The team led the league in interceptions, and with the emergence of future all-pro Jairus Byrd at FS, it will allow coordinator George Edwards more leeway to use Donte Whitner as a man to man cover guy as opposed to zone (where he’s less natural) and get used to seeing Whitner in the box as more of a “Rover” type SS, as they have a guy with elite range covering the deep middle. Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin probably couldn’t be happier changing to a 3-4 either as this scheme will suit both guys’ man coverage talents.

On offense, there is probably a bit more uncertainty, which is natural for any team when they’re unsure of their starting QB. However, two things are very sure about the QB situation. All three QBs on the roster were well thought of coming from college, and Chan Gailey has a history of getting the most out of his QBs: Kordell Stewart, Jay Fiedler, and Tyler Thigpen all shined under Gailey. That said, the coach and GM Buddy Nix have said they will bring four QBs to camp… Who is number four? We shall see.

At RB, the Bills retain a two-headed monster in Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. No doubt, these two are dynamic in their own right, and they are close friends that are willing to share the load with one another. That said, there’s zero depth behind them, and adding a third back as injury and Lynch insurance is a priority.

The offensive line: The Bills played so many different combinations on the line last year, it was hard to grade individual players. One thing is sure; a lot of depth players got a lot of experience on the run last season. Everyone sees the offensive line as a massive need. However, when you look at the names, it’s hard to see how they can’t get a starting five. Eric Wood is recovering from a season ending leg injury, but is ahead of schedule and showed flashes of being a dominant interior lineman. Andy Levitre shined all of last year, and actually graded out very highly in the three games he saw action at left tackle. Geoff Hangartner is nothing if not consistent. He is replaceable, but not right now. He brings a steady day in and day out work ethic, and he’s consistently healthy. Demetrius Bell is highly athletic, and is still learning, he’s incredibly penalty prone, but considering his inexperience, one can only assume that gets better. Jamon Meredith was highly touted in college, but was a relative unknown due to coming out in the supplemental draft. He again was highly inexperienced, but flashes great potential. Kirk Chambers showed ability to play both guard and tackle last year, he’s simply not the athlete the Bills brass thought he was. Left tackle isn’t an option but RT or either guard spot he filled in admirably. And lastly, the Bills brought in free agent Cornell Green from the Raiders. Green is a right tackle with limited upside, but he’s an experienced veteran with starting ability.

As it goes right now my belief is that if no moves were made on the offensive line in the draft, Andy Levitre would be the starting left tackle. Eric Wood would start at left guard, with Geoff Hangartner remaining at center, Kirk Chambers at RG and Cornell Green at right tackle. This leaves Jamon Meredith and Demetrius Bell filling in behind the tackles and guards. Obviously, that is worst case scenario assuming the Bills don’t make any upgrades within the draft or via trade. Even so, it’s a serviceable yet ordinary group. Injuries remain a concern here.

Wide Receiver is probably the biggest concern on the team right now as I see it. Terrell Owens and Josh Reed are long gone, Lee Evans remains the only player with any real WR experience. Roscoe Parrish will finally be given a chance to show his skills in this area. Second round draft pick James Hardy will be given every opportunity to prove himself and the lesser known Steve Johnson is someone the Bills staff has grown to love, even if nobody outside Buffalo has a clue who he is. Even with those four, the Bills will obviously be looking to upgrade both depth and talent at this position…

That’s the roster as it breaks down right now, and what does it mean?

It means the Bills staff has made moves this offseason to situate themselves in a position where “needs” will not force their hand in the draft. Everyone wants to assign a priority to the Bills needs based on positional depth. What Buddy Nix has done is made quiet moves to stabilize the roster across the board, so he can legitimately take the best player available at pick #9.

Some players to think about:
Jimmy Clausen -- If he makes it to #9, he seems like a sure thing
Dez Bryant -- Probably grades out higher than Crabtree last year, Buffalo needs a guy opposite Evans
Bryan Bulaga, Anthony Davis or Mike Iupati -- Depending on how the Bills grade Levitre at LT, they could go either tackle or guard here. Iupati, in my opinion, has the ability to play all four exterior line positions and is someone worth keeping an eye on as a surprise pick at 9
Sergio Kindle, Jerry Hughes, or Brandon Graham -- Without knowing where Aaron Schobel is, or if Aaron Maybin will pan out, the Bills could become enamored with a rush OLB for their new scheme
Dan Williams – Buddy Nix wants guys with consistent production, so it makes Williams unlikely at #9 but he might not be able to pass on a “true NT”





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Jake Locker
QB, Washington
A.J. Green
WR, Georgia
Patrick Peterson
CB, LSU
Marcel Dareus
DE, Alabama
Robert Quinn
DE, North Carolina
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