Last year in our preview article we wrote how it was the most important draft in years for the Bills. Marv Levy's first draft was an unqualified success. Now Levy, Tom Modrak, and Dick Jauron need a repeat performance since this may trump last year as the most important draft in years. Offseason moves have solidified the albatross of the team over the past many years but it has also left numerous holes to fill.
Marv Levy said in his state of the Bills address after the season ended that the team needs to fix the offensive line and he exploded into free agency by signing Derrick Dockery, Langston Walker, and Jason Whittle on the opening day of free agency to hopefully once and for all fill all the holes on the line. That means in this weekend's draft the offensive line goes from a primary need to a very minor need, possibly a second day pick on a guard. Levy has also talked about improving from within, so he obviously thinks the three linemen picked last year will develop into solid reserves negating the need to even pick one lineman if they don't find one at the right spot to their liking.
Not need offensive linemen is a good thing since there are numerous other holes to fill including three starting positions at least. The signings stopped the Bills from re-signing Nate Clements and London Fletcher. Even without the signing of the trio they never would have given Clements the richest contract by a defensive player in NFL history. Fletcher didn't fit into the team plans because he is on the wrong side of 30 and makes his tackles down the field. These moves created holes but they were expected holes, it is the two unexpected holes that makes this draft even more important then it was before.
The trading of Willis McGahee and Takeo Spikes was understood because both players wanted out but now the team as an enormous hole at linebacker with both Spikes and Fletcher gone and a big hole at running back to go along with the hole at cornerback that Clements left when he departed for San Francisco.
The big question is who will they pick with the 12th pick of the first round or will they trade up or down? The consensus choice is the Bills would like to select Patrick Willis, the inside linebacker from Mississippi who seems to be the only can't miss linebacking choice. The Bills feel they have some flexibility to fill the open linebacker position since they can play Angelo Crowell either inside or outside depending on who the draft. They are also very high on last year's 6th round pick Keith Ellison. I agree that Ellison is ready to take over as a full time starter but he really needs to stay on the weakside, precluding the Bills from picking a weakside backer. While most mock drafts have the Bills taking Willis, we have learned to expect the unexpected from the Bills on draft day ala last year's pick of Donte Whitner.
We think the Bills will take care of their linebacking needs. I think the Bills may take Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, he can play in the middle or outside giving the Bills more flexibility. He is considered more of a weakside linebacker but in the Bills cover two scheme he may be big enough to play the strongside. They may also trade down to add more picks since they have that many holes and Posluszny may be able to be picked later in the round.
Don't be shocked if the Bills go for a cornerback in the first round, someone like Leon Hall of Michigan or more likely, Darrelle Revis from Pittsburgh. I don't think this is too likely however since the corner isn't as important as a linebacker in the cover two and the team is high on last year's third round pick Ashton Youboty.
Once the Bills get their linebacker or cornerback, they should hit their running back needs in the second round. They will not pick a running back in the first round since they acknowledge you can get one later in the draft who can develop into a solid player. Levy may want to find this generation's Thurman Thomas by picking a player coming off of a major injury. Michael Bush of Louisville missed all but one half of one game of the 2006 season because of a broken leg. He may not be ready for the start of the season but Levy may take a shot as Jauron feels he can go into the season with Anthony Thomas as his number one back.
There are a few more things to think of regarding the backfield situation. They are planning on adopting the two running back approach that became very popular among coaches last year and not popular among fantasy league GMs. It has also been confirmed that they will not take a fullback, they rather use the roster spot for a special teams player and use a tight end in the H-back role when they need a two back set. So who will be the compliment to Thomas, or who will Thomas be the compliment of? If they don't go with Bush in the 2nd round, they may be leaning towards a Antonio Pittman of Ohio St., Chris Henry of Arizona, or Kenny Irons of Auburn. If nobody they like is available when they pick in that round, it isn't likely they will wait to the third round to get their man. Look for them to bite the bullet at the time and resurrect a deal for Michael Turner of the Chargers.
With two picks in the third round, assuming the team gets a linebacker and a running back in the first two rounds, they will go back to defense to fill their cornerback hole and don't be shocked if they take a taller wide receiver. I will be very happy if they get those four positions dealt with in day one so they can go for depth in day two with their last four picks.
One position that some say the Bills may address early in the draft is defensive tackle. They feel they may have filled their major hole there by getting Darwin Walker in the trade with Philadelphia. They also used a high pick last year on John McCargo and expect him to develop this year after missing more than half the season last year with a broken foot. I do expect a development run stuffing tackle to be taken as early as round three but definitely in day two.
Other spots they will look to fill on day two will be adding depth at certain positions including guard, linebacker, quarterback, wide receiver, and safety. The trade of Kelly Holcomb means they will likely draft a late round quarterback to be the number three guy. They are very thin at depth at the safety position meaning picking at least one is necessary. If they don't get their man there, they may end up moving Coy Wire back to Safety. This will especially happen if they draft two or maybe even three linebackers in the draft. They do not need any defensive ends with the re-signing of Chris Kelsay. They may take a tight end that can double as a fullback.
One thing is for certain, the second day of the draft will be filled by hard working, high character players who can play special teams well. That is the epitome of a Marv Levy type of player. Levy feels if he drafts intelligent players that have a lot of heart on the football field then the coaching staff can teach them the other stuff. That is the philosophy he had as a coach. It is the philosophy he had last year when he engineered the best Bills draft in years. That will be his way this year, so when he makes jaw dropping picks don't worry think of the Whitner pick and smile.