NFL Draft Thoughts!

At 3-10, our Buffalo Bills are slotted with the 5th pick in the draft come April.  It’s never too early to start talking about the NFL Draft, so we should look at the possible scenario of who we could look at with that pick.  I’m going to analyze draft needs for those currently picking before the Bills and those who could potentially work their way down to picking before us.  We’ll look at prospects and I hope to have some reader interaction, whether it’s chewing me out or just giving your two cents about someone.  All comments welcome!

The current order of the Top 5 is as follows:

1.  Carolina Panthers (1-12)

2.  Cincinnati Bengals (2-11)

3. Detroit Lions (3-10)

4.  Denver Broncos (3-10)

5. Buffalo Bills (3-10)

First things first, I would be very surprised if Stanford QB Andrew Luck opts for the 2011 NFL Draft.  There is a lot of unfinished business for him at the college level.  They were very close to making a run at the National Championship game, which makes me think he will want another chance at that.  Secondly, with Cam Newton most likely out of the picture, Luck will be the pre-season favorite for the Heisman Trophy next year.  Thirdly, I still feel that Luck and Coach Jim Harbaugh are joined at the hip, and will make a move to the NFL together.  If the team with the 1st pick in the draft hires him (e.g. Carolina), I think that will be the way to get Luck on the draft board.

[Quick side-note, I've come to the realization that I've been way, way too hard on highly touted QBs in my evaluation process if I feel they are slightly overrated.  In the case of Luck, I've dogged him for months.  He's a heck of a QB with inconsistent deep accuracy.  I can get over that considering all of his other attributes (I currently have him with a 9.5 grade).]

Now, let’s get to the business at hand.

The Carolina Panthers are now on the clock…

As WR Steve Smith so eloquently put it for struggling 2nd round pick QB Jimmy Clausen, “He ain’t at Notre Dame anymore.”  Carolina has struggled mightily this season and I can’t see them working their way out of the league’s basement.  Despite taking three quarterbacks last April (the aforementioned Clausen, QB Tony Pike in the 6th, and QB-turned-WR Armanti Edwards in the 3rd), the team is desperately in the market for a signal caller.  While most QBs take time to develop, I personally didn’t like either last year.  The closest Jimmy had looked to a decent QB was week 12 against the Browns, where the Panthers were a John Kasay kick away from winning (Clausen was 16-28 for 195 and a pick).  As for Tony Pike, Coach John Fox opted to sign Brian St. Pierre off the street as opposed to starting a guy that had been in the system all year.  That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement.  Matt Moore has had flashes of looking like a gamer, but his inconsistencies are most likely going to scare off the next head coach for this floundering franchise.  This is why, given the opportunity, I think the new front office would still opt for a QB with the 1st pick if Stanford QB Andrew Luck decides to enter the draft.

If Luck doesn’t come out, the team needs help with their front seven.  They are one of the league’s worst run-defenses.  They have some young building blocks in MLB Jon Beason, OLB Thomas Davis (though injury prone), and DE Everette Brown.  After that, there’s really not much.  They could use another DE, definitely a DT, and possibly an OLB.  The offensive line has been a disappointment this year, but they have a good LT in Jordan Gross and solid players C in Ryan Kalil and RT Jeff Otah.  Taking a guard 1st overall? Not happening.

If he chooses to come out, I think the Panthers will go for…

With the 1st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select… Da’Quan Bowers, DE Clemson

(Alright, I’m done now)

He’s listed at 6-4 280, could probably play the 5-technique as well as end in the 4-3, and he has been super productive this season, with 16 sacks thus far. He’s not really worth the 1st overall pick, but he fits the need. Bowers will fill the void of Julius Peppers and will be a step in the right direction for this franchise.  Nick Fairley would also be a solid pick here, because he is also scheme diverse and has been very productive at the 3-technique this season stopping the run and the pass.

If Luck does come out, Bills fans should be crossing their fingers that the Panthers scapegoat John Fox and leave GM Marty Hurney in place, even though he continued to mortgage their future by trading away the following year’s choices for current year selections.  For instance, New England will probably have the 1st pick in the 2nd round because Hurney wanted Appalachian State QB/WR Armanti Edwards in the 3rd round.  Hurney drafted Clausen and will probably give him time to develop.

2nd overall: Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are quickly becoming similar to the Raiders in trying to project their draft: throw away logic.  While it’s really sad to watch QB Carson Palmer’s gradual fall since that fateful 2005 playoff game against the Steelers, I’m starting to feel he just can’t be trusted anymore.  At the very least, he needs a fresh start in a locker room that’s not inhibited by the T.Ocho Show.  I think they will probably stick with Carson, but it’s something to look at.  The Bengals need a QB, DE, DT, and S.  They could also use interior offensive line help.

The Bengals are 24th against the run, and would love for Bowers to fall to them.  He probably won’t, and I think the pick will be DT Nick Fairley.  Management has gone in this direction early before, taking DT Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson 1st overall back in 1994.  Even though it ended ugly, he was a good football player.  A guy you shouldn’t sleep on here is QB Cam Newton.  I don’t know why, but Cam has Cincinnati written all over him.  He has all the accolades and hype and will probably be polishing off National Championship MVP award.

3rd overall: Detroit Lions

Unlike the 1st two teams, the Lions are situated at QB with ’09 1st round pick Matthew Stafford.  The Lions have actually quietly added some young talent the past few seasons.  Even though they have the pieces for a running game in Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith, they are 27th in rushing yards.  They need offensive line help.  Jeff Backus has played better this season, but they need to find a true LT to protect some of their past few 1st round picks (RB, QB, WR, TE).  You can’t get much out of your skill positions without a good line.  They’ve given up tons of yards on the ground this year, as well.  They have some solid pieces along the front in DTs N’Damukong Suh and Corey Williams and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch.  However, DE Cliff Avril is more of a situational pass rusher instead of a 3-down player.  They could also use LB help to shore up the front seven.

The most glaring need is CB for the Lions.  I’m still a big fan of the Alphonso Smith trade, even though he got torched repeatedly on Thanksgiving.  He’s a starter, but they definitely could use a lock-down guy to stop the bleeding.  I feel the perfect match for the Lions is CB Patrick Peterson from LSU.  He’s tall, fast, physical, and has the stick ‘em hands of a WR.  He is also dangerous returning kicks.  I’m a huge fan of Peterson and he has the presence and confidence to make the whole Detroit defense better.

4th overall: Denver Broncos

Man, this Denver team is falling apart at the seams.  They actually have a decent offensive line, but QB Kyle Orton has played horrendous down the stretch.  Even with that and the fact that QB Tim Tebow will probably not be there next season, I strongly doubt they go QB Jake Locker here.  Their biggest problem is defense.  They have had a lot of trouble stopping…well everything.  They are 32nd in points allowed, 19th against the pass, and 31st against the run.  CB Champ Bailey is getting older and promising young CB Perrish Cox looks like he might be going away for a long time.  That’s why Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara makes since here, but I think the front seven is more of a pressing need.  Fairley would be a good fit here, but I expect the pick to be DE/OLB Robert Quinn from North Carolina.

Personally, as much as I really want to because he fits exactly what the Bills need, I don’t like him very much.  I think he’ll struggle being a consistent every down player and he has a lot of work to do.  Denver has gotten little production out of 2009 1st rounder Robert Ayers, who I feel is a more natural fit at 4-3 end.  They need someone to rush the passer and Quinn does have the measureables and the production collegiately to fit the bill.

5th overall: Buffalo Bills

With Nick Fairley and then Patrick Peterson off the board here, I’m hitting my head on the wall.  If only Matt Millen was still in Motown to take A.J. Green instead of Peterson!  I would love it if we could trade down at this point, but it’s so tough to get out of the Top 5.  The best chance at that would be if a team like Minnesota wants to make a blockbuster move up to get Locker, but some are now saying he could fall to the 2nd round!  Speaking of which, I like Locker (9.1), but he’s pretty risky for 5th overall.  Plus, I’m still drinking the Kool-Aid on having Fitzy as a bridge QB until Levi Brown takes that next step.  There is the argument, though, that you have to take that top QB if you have a crack at him, and there is a chance that Andrew Luck could get to 5 if he goes for the draft.

Who can we get here?  We could use a top tackle so we can shift Bell to his better fit at RT, but I don’t feel that Anthony Castonzo from Boston College or Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin are worth this pick.  (I’m beating this to death, but I think we can fill this need in the 2nd round with James Carpenter of Alabama or DeMarcus Love of Arkansas if he falls).  DE/DT Marcell Dareus and DE Adrian Clayborn are solid, but I think they both fit the 4-3 much better than the 3-4, despite the size qualifications of both.

Value wise, A.J. Green would be the best player available here, but I’m not sure we can take a WR this early with so many other holes.  Taking a corner would not be bad, considering McGee is injury prone, Florence has free agency looming, and Leodis has not given any indications that he’ll become an effective starter anytime soon.  Looking at models that Buddy has been through, the Chargers were willing to spend the 5th pick in 2002 on Texas CB Quentin Jammer.  I wish CB Prince Amukamara was more physical and was a better tackler, but he’s a good cover man and can lock down top wideouts.  Again, I would love it if Fairley or Peterson fell to this pick, but I think it’ll end up being unlikely.  The Buffalo media will have a field-day if the Bills go CB or WR with this pick…

Some teams to keep on eye on…

The Cowboys only have 4 wins, but they have become a tough team to beat and definitely don’t need a QB.  If anything, they would take a CB or an OT if they fell below us.

The Cardinals are 4-9, but they are pretty bad.  If they have a crack at a top QB, I would be surprised if they didn’t pull the trigger.  This is important to note because, if Luck comes out, he could potentially slip through to our pick, but only if Arizona isn’t picking before us.

C’mon, now I want to hear everybody’s thoughts on the draft! If the Bills were in that dilemma at 5, what would you do? Do you hate my assessments about anyone? Let’s hear it, rumors your friend’s uncle’s barber said… I can’t get enough of pre-draft speculation…

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  • Cinc

    Everette Brown is still a situational pass rusher at best right now. Charles Johnson is the standout DE on the Panthers. Hardy is showing a lot of potential at DE as well. The biggest need for the Panthers outside of QB is a stud DT. Followed by a #2 CB. If Hurney skips Luck he will have a full on riot from all but the most die hard Clausen homers. You don’t skip a potential franchise QB because you drafted a guy that was skipped by every team at least once and many twice, including ones desperate for QB help.

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  • Matt

    Haha I’m sure you’re right about the riots in the Carolinas. I’m always amazed by how loyal execs are to “their guys,” though, even when it’s fairly obvious. Speaking of Fairley, do you think they would go for Fairley then 1st overall? Many mocks don’t even have him breaking into the Top 5 yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time. He’s that kind of player, in my opinion. I’d be so amped if he fell to Buffalo. Marcus Stroud, Kyle Williams (Albeit biased, but I think he should be in the running for DPOY if he wasn’t on a 3-10 team), and then Fairley, while rotating in Dwan Edwards, Spencer Johnson, and Torrell Troup…BIG TIME upgrade for Buffalo.

  • Cinc

    I’m alright with Fairley if Luck does not come out and we trade down. He’s good, but he’s no Suh or McCoy. Definitely not worth a #1 pick and I’m not sure anyone outside of Luck really is worth the #1. Bowers and Peterson are the closest but I still would rather trade down a bit if Luck chooses to stay. Outside of Luck the next 5 or 6 picks are all pretty close talent wise.

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