Thursday, May 26, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Buffalo Bills

No team in the NFL might have solely upgraded one unit more effectively than the Buffalo Bills did with their defense. Trust me, the last sentence was painful to type as a Dolphins fan. Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix landed what looks to be the best player in the entire draft in Alabama defensive lineman Marcel Dareus as the Broncos passed on him in favor of Von Miller. Dareus teamed with Kyle Williams - the best defensive lineman you've never heard of; seriously, he gets no respect whatsoever - is a scary prospect for teams like Miami and the New York Jets who trive on trying to run the football. However, the Bills had a prime opportunity to select any of the top quarterbacks other than Cam Newton in the first round, and passed again in the second round on the likes of Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick. That decision places a lot of faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who might not be as sneaky-good in 2011.

1st round, 3rd overall) Marcel Dareus - DT - Alabama
The Bills landed an absolute stud with the 3rd overall pick in the draft in Dareus. Initially, I expect they'll play him at 3-4 opposite 2010 pick Alex Carrington. Kyle Williams was formidable at NT in 2010, despite being undersized. It's worth nothing that Williams and Dareus both played in Nick Saban's defenses (Williams at LSU, Dareus at 'Bama) and both are versatile. Dareus may take some snaps at the NT/DT spot in passing situations as he should not come off the field. He'll help to replace Marcus Stroud, who went east to the division rival Patriots prior to the lockout.

How he fits in: While the 3-4 system Dareus will be playing in won't be as conducive to the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, I expect Dareus will make noise that would make Ndamukong Suh proud. He's very strong at the point of attack and has experience playing a 0-technique (a true NT), 1-technique (4-3 NT), 3-technique (4-3 DT), and 5-technique (3-4 DE). An oustanding athlete at 6'3" 319lbs, he clocked a 4.93 in the 40 and showed very well in all position drills at the combine. He'll be a forced to be reckoned with for many years for the Bills.

Outlook: From a player perspective, it's darn near impossible to find someone with the technique, size/speed combo, and experience that Dareus brings to the league. He had some minor injury issues at Alabama, primarily an ankle injury that nagged him throughout 2010, and had some off-field incidents, including taking money from an agent. However, I think those issues with Dareus are in the pass, and provided he's healthy, he should make a very significant impact for the Bills defense as a rookie.

2nd round, 34th overall) Aaron Williams - CB/S - Texas
The Bills added another solid talent to their deep secondary. Williams has experience at both cornerback and safety, so it remains to be seen where he'll fit in. Given Jarius Byrd's performance at FS, I'd expect Williams to compete for the boundary corner position opposite Terrence McGee. The AFC East possesses some big receivers such as Braylon Edwards, Brandon Marshall, Taylor Price, and while McGee and fellow corner Leodis McKelvin are solid, neither has the size that Williams does to matchup with those receivers. Williams wasn't tested much as a junior despite notching 12 pass break ups. He didn't work quite as well as many thought, but he's gamer, and despite being a little rough around the edges technique-wise, he's certainly got starting potential as a rookie. At the very least, he's a solid nickel corner

3rd round, 68th overall) Kelvin Sheppard - LB - LSU
The Bills have one stud in the middle of their linebacking corps in Paul Posluszny, but Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor aren't much to go along with him. Sheppard, who was a terror at LSU, should earn that starting role next to Posluszny. Playing in a similar mold to the Cowboys Bradie James, a former LSU star, Sheppard is 6'1" 250lbs and has great football IQ. He's a bit limited athletically, so he won't be patrolling sideline-to-sideline, but that's Posluszny's job. Sheppard will be adept at taking on guards, stacking and shedding, and making tackles against the run. He offers some versatility in big nickel packages and should be a day one starter.

4th round, 100th overall) Da'Norris Searcy - S - North Carolina
This pick had me scratching my head a bit, but if you've heard from Donte Whitner, the incumbent strong safety for Buffalo, he wants out and his play hasn't exactly proven to be worth the 9th overall pick. Search won't challenge Jarius Byrd at all, but he could represent a solid backup and eventual starter at strong safety. A big guy at 5'11" 223lbs he's an in-the-box safety who excels against the run, but did manage 4 interceptions in 2010. At the very least, he should be a solid special teams contributor as a rookie and push guys like Jon Corto and Bryan Scott off the roster.

4th round, 122nd overall) Chris Hairston - T - Clemson
The Bills finally addressed their offensive line, potentially adding a left tackle in Hairston. At 6'6" 326lbs he's a big guy and only surrendered one sack allowed for the Tigers in 2010. He's not a nimble athlete, so I'm not sure if he'd overtake Demetrius Bell (Karl Malone's son) at left tackle or have a better shot at the right tackle spot which has seen several different players manning it the past two years. A very experienced player, Hairston could surprise people, but I'm more surprised the Bills didn't try to add a left tackle earlier in the draft.

5th round, 133rd overall) Johnny White - RB - North Carolina
Most people probably had no idea who White was when the Bills drafted him. I just shook my head as they made another solid pick. White was shuffled down the depth chart at North Carolina, but he bears an eerie resemblance to Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants. A small, but powerfully built back, White runs hard, has great hands, and is a willing blocker. He even played 7 games at cornerback as a sophomore due to injuries despite starting 8 games at running back as a true freshman. He turned into a kickoff returner after an injury to Brandon Tate as well. A do-it-all kind of player whose best football is still in front of him, White should be a name to keep tabs on, and I'm sure Chan Gailey will find multiple ways to use him.

6th round, 169th overall) Chris White - LB - Mississippi State
The Bills add another indside linebacker to provide depth. White, a two-year starter and team captain for the Bulldogs, he led the team in tackles for loss and sacks in 2010. At 6'2" 240lbs, he's slightly small for an inside spot on a 3-4 team, but he's got decent straight-line speed, despite being about as athletic as a tree stump. He's probably going to have to fight on special teams simply to make the Bills roster, but he bears watching as a developmental prospect down the road to replace guys like Torbor and Ayodele.

7th round, 206th overall) Justin Rogers - CB - Richmond
The Bills added another corner to an already deep stable on their roster. While guys like McGee, McKelvin, and Williams won't be in any danger, guys like Reggie Corner, Ashton Youbouty, and Drayton Florence could be in trouble down the road. Rogers is a developmental prospect who'll be making a big jump coming from a Divison IAA school in Richmond to the NFL. However, he's had some former teammates make the leap such as Tim Hightower of Arizona and Lawrence Sidbury of Atlanta. Richmond is a solidly run program, and Rogers bears watching.

7th round, 245th overall) Michael Jasper - DT - Bethel
This might be my favorite prospect in the entire draft. Jasper, a potential NT prospect checks in at 6'4" 394lbs, and no, that's not a typo. With his weight once hovering near the 460lbs region (see for yourself, he's #69 in this photo), Jasper has steadily lost weight to try and make a run at an NFL roster. While there's virtually no chance of him making the roster, he could be a practice squad candidate and an eventual backup NT down the road if he keeps his weight in check. Here's a pretty decent video of his training, and one of his mentors, NFL G Artis Hicks who has played for Philadelphia, Washington, and Minnesota in his career.

Overall Grade: B+
The Bills added some important pieces to their defense in Dareus, Williams, and Sheppard, all who should be starters their rookie years. They added a solid lineman, though he's not the type of elite tackle you see, especially in the AFC East which has Jake Long, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and now a rookie in Nate Solder. Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston aren't even close to those guys. The Bills added some depth for the defense in Searcy, White, and Rogers, and a very interesting developmental prospect in Michael Jasper. However, they ignored drafting a quarterback of the future despite having their pick of the litter in both the 1st and 2nd rounds, and didn't address the tight end position. For that, their grade slips a little bit. However, Dareus, Williams, and Sheppard could really make an impact on defense, which keeps the Bills at a B+ for now.

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