With the 2012 NFL Draft approaching quickly, the Buffalo Bills are looking to turn the corner and become legitimate competitors in the AFC East division. At season’s end, “Billievers” were desperate for a pass rush, just somebody that could pressure the quarterback, after rookie defensive tackle, Marcell Dareus, led the team with a measly 5.5 sacks. Well, general manager, Buddy Nix, was agressive in free agency, bringing back some key players, and adding All-Pro defensive end, Mario Williams, as well as Mark Anderson to improve the defensive front.
Now, without the gaping need for a pass rush at the No. 10 overall selection it’s time to take a look at 10 prospects the Buffalo Bills should be keeping a close eye on come April 26.
WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon has been rated by most draft analysts as the clear-cut No. 1 wideout in this year’s draft. However, recently reports surfaced that his stock could be dropping. What Justin Blackmon lacks in his speed, he makes up for with his reliable hands and toughness.
At just 21 years of age, Blackmon caught 224 passes for 3,118 yards, while scoring an astounding 35 touchdowns in the last two seasons alone. Additionally, he was the Biletnikoff Award recipient two years in a row, an award given to the best wide receiver in the country, and was a unanimous All-American.
DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Before you jump on me for bringing up the Crimson Tide’s Courtney Upshaw after the signings of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, I am seeing Upshaw as a standup, strongside linebacker, used occasionally in passing situations, much like a Lamarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Upshaw has been a cornerstone of the Alabama defense throughout his tenure with the Crimson Tide, recording 140 tackles, 35.5 of which were for a loss, 16.5 sacks, and forced four fumbles.Not only can he effectively rush the passer, but he is stout against the run (another area of need for a team consistently at the bottom of the league in rush defense).
While I’m not keen on Upshaw at the No. 10 spot, I certainly wouldn’t have a problem selecting him in a trade situation.
DE Vinny Curry, Marshall
Another defensive end? Look at the Dallas Cowboys under Dave Wannstedt’s rotational defensive line. One gets fatigued, another goes in. Keep bringing the heat. Curry is a second to third round option that could bring a proven pass rush. A four-year player as a member of the Marshall Thundering Herd, the 6’3″ 266-pounder has recently shot up draft boards after a stellar collegiate career in which he recorded 112 tackles—49 of which for a loss—26.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 32 quarterback hurries.
Curry is a perfect fit for the Bills’ hybrid 4-3 defense they will be utilizing this upcoming season, as he is a natural defensive end, but has the body type to stand up and play outside linebacker in the 3-4 or nickel situations. In his junior campaign, he led the nation in tackles by a defensive lineman with 94, adding 12 sacks.
Watching some film of Curry, it’s evident that he can set the edge and has a burst of explosiveness off the ball. He has a strong bull rush and doesn’t stop until the whistle blows.He can sometimes get caught off balance in his pass rush, but his relentlessness makes him successful more often than not. Another pro on Curry for the Bills is his ability to stop the run. He doesn’t give up on plays, and hustles to chase down running backs and is instinctive enough to read and react to plays. Curry is unique in that he can use both speed and strength to beat blockers, as he comes off the snap quickly, and with force.
WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
Ah, the pick everyone has been waiting for. The Bills already re-signed their No. 1 wideout, Stevie Johnson, to a five-year contract extension, but they could still use a big, physical target for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Michael Floyd was reliable for his entire tenure with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and has the ability to beat a variety of coverages.
At 6’3″, 224 pounds, his separation abilities are incredible. He displays strong hands, can get up in the air with his 36.5″ vertical and has the speed to get down the field with his 4.4 40-yard dash.
In his four years as a member of the Fighting Irish, he was a major contributor, racking up 266 receptions for 3,645 yards and finding the end zone 36 times. With the Bills, he could be the perfect No. 2 receiver opposite Johnson, with the ability and potential to become a top-notch wideout in the National Football League. Selecting Floyd would not only give the Bills an upgrade at the wide receiver position, but would allow youngsters Donald Jones and David Nelson to flourish on the inside—where they excel.
LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Now, I’m not talking about using Kuechly as an inside linebacker. I want to move him outside. The Bills have lacked an outside backer that can cover tight ends for years, and this tackling machine could be the man to solidify the front seven once and for all.
While playing outside linebacker in his first season at Boston College, Kuechly managed 158 tackles (15 for a loss) before moving inside for the next two seasons. In his three seasons at Boston College, Kuechly racked up over 500 tackles, an average of roughly 16 per game.
While there were questions coming into the NFL combine regarding his coverage speed, he quickly dismissed those when he ran a 4.58 40-yard dash and impressed in every drill. Kelvin Sheppard seems to have taken over the middle linebacker role. While Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison are slotted as the outside backers, Kuechly could easily find his way climbing up the unimpressive depth chart.
T Jonathan Martin, Stanford/ Riley Reiff, Iowa
Stanford Cardinal Jonathan Martin could fit the bill, as he has a high ceiling for improvement.At 6’6″ 305 pounds, he has quick feet and can both pass protect and is nasty in his run blocking.Martin missed just two games at Stanford, protecting Andrew Luck’s blindside, and is a safe pick at the No. 10 overall spot.
Another prospect worth considering on the offensive line is Iowa’s Riley Reiff. Although he seemed a bit out of shape at the NFL Combine, his tape makes up for it.He has been rumored to fit best at right tackle, but his instincts and ability to kick slide could make him a solid left tackle in the National Football League.
CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
Terrence McGee is getting up there in age, Leodis McKelvin hasn’t proven much, and Drayton Florence is a shell of his former self.So why not grab a proven cornerback with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft?
Stephon Gilmore started 40 games at South Carolina, racking up 181 tackles, eight interceptions, 17 passes defensed, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and 15 tackles for a loss. At 6’1″ 195 pounds, Gilmore is quickly rising up draft boards, as he is a big time cornerback with great instincts and athleticism.
He is best fit in a 4-3 zone defense, which the Bills will be operating out of, but he is versatile enough to become a solid press corner with some coaching. His production in the SEC speaks for itself, and he could be an immediate upgrade to the Bills’ secondary.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Rquinn619