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April 4, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Preview: AFC East

by awieders

Courtesy freepicks.org

By Alex Wiederspiel

Much like last year I’m going to start making some divisional guides to help you take a look at what you’re team will do on draft day. You can check out last year’s AFC East preview here.

1. New England Patriots
2011 Record: 13-3
Season Finish: Super Bowl runner-up
Draft Picks:
1st Round — 27th Overall (from New Orleans)
1st Round — 31st Overall
2nd Round — 48th Overall (from Oakland)
2nd Round — 62nd Overall
3rd Round — 93rd Overall
4th Round — 126th Overall
Team Needs: WR, OG/C, DL Depth, 3-4 OLB, DB Depth

New England will be transitioning back to a 3-4 defense this season. Bill Belichick decided to convert to a conservative 4-3 defense because of the lockout, but now the team can revert to it’s roots in 2012. The Patriots were active in free agency signing WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Anthony Gonzalez, WR Donte Stallworth, OG Robert Gallery, TE Daniel Fells, FB Spencer Larsen, DE Jonathan Fanene, DE/LB Trevor Scott, FS Steve Gregory, and CB Will Allen. Essentially, the Patriots filled almost every need in free agency, though the quality of the players wasn’t necessarily outstanding. Still, New England didn’t overpay for anybody which gives them the flexibility to draft with any philosophy they want. The biggest coup was bringing in Brandon Lloyd to play with Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady. Though Lloyd is 30, he’s been a journeyman virtually his whole career, but Josh McDaniels has been able to get the most out of the sporadic Lloyd. Again, New England’s ability to commit virtually nothing in big money in any one of these players has given them, quitely, maybe the best off-season of any team in the NFL. Jonathan Fanene is another low-risk, high reward pick up (only signed a 3 year deal). Though Fanene will move to a new system in the 3-4, he’s got the perfect size (6’4”, 292 pounds) and has been an effective rotational player in Cincinnati (he tallied 6.5 sacks mostly off the bench last year). While he’ll be asked to adapt to a new role in 2012, he’s a much better fit then Corey Williams was in Cleveland (virtually the exact same situation when he left Green Bay…except Williams was way too big to play 3-4 DE and was badly overpaid). While New England has had a great off-season so far, they still have work to do. They allowed Mark Anderson and Andre Carter to walk, and while many could criticize the moves, New England wasn’t willing to give big money out to either player who are both nearing the end of their careers. Anderson, despite having double digit sacks, wasn’t consistently effective and in terms of quarterback disruptions was actually near the bottom of the league when combined with how many pass rushing snaps he had (granted, there is no way he could have been fresh with how much the New England defense was on the field…but even so he’s 33 and not worth the money Buffalo gave him).

(Above: Brandon Lloyd, Courtesy inquisitr.com)

Once again, like last year, I credit Bill Belichick for what he’s done. Though the field in the AFC was quite weak in 2011, the Patriots still were able to win 13 again and go back to another Super Bowl. At this point, there is no reason to believe New England will have any drop-off until Brady leaves, and even then, with how well the Patriots have done rebuilding without having to liquidate, this could be a team much like San Francisco after Montana left that could win another one without Brady. Still, that’s a few more years down the line if Brady can stay healthy.

Unlike most years, the Patriots actually only have six picks in 2012 and while they are all in the first four rounds (four picks in the first 62). But let’s be honest, New England will likely move down on draft day from one of, if not both, of their first round picks. Over a long drafting history the Patriots have had a tendency to ignore pass rushers. Bill Belichick has been more prone to trust proven veterans then rookies, who often take a long time to develop. But Belichick can’t afford to avoid that anymore. He needs an infusion of pass rushers this year after Jermaine Cunningham, a former second round pick who has shown some playmaking ability and versatility, has failed in his most important role–getting to the quarterback–and it’s been an issue for the two years he’s been in the league. Another issue has been staying on the field–where Cunningham missed seven games last season and often times failed to play anywhere other then special teams.

I fully expect New England to walk away with a pass rusher at some point in the first two rounds. Late in the first, Andre Branch and Whitney Mercilus will likely be top pass rushers to look at. In the second round consider possibilities like Ronnell Lewis, Bruce Irvin, Cam Johnson, and Chandler Jones. This class isn’t particularly strong, so New England may avoid making a first round investment in a pass rusher since there aren’t any low-risk prospects at the position this season. Other options in the first could include an interior lineman. The Patriots are in a great position where they bring back Brian Waters who played outstanding in pass protection last season and bring in Robert Gallery who has had success as a guard, but has struggled to stay healthy and may be nearing the end of his career. If New England chooses to make guard a priority in the first then Kelechi Osemele and Amini Silatolu will likely be their best bets with an outside chance at Cordy Glenn falling. Later guard prospects include Kevin Zeitler (2nd round), Ryan Miller (3rd-5th), and Desmond Wynn (4th-6th). Josh McDaniels runs almost explosive man blocking, so that means bigger, stronger, and stouter linemen will likely be in the mix. They may even look at a center, though they did just re-sign Dan Connolly to a three year deal. Connolly may wind up at guard though, so the Patriots will use that versatility to pick BPA if they go offensive line.

Among other things, in the first four picks the Patriots should continue to address the secondary. Devin McCourty’s massive struggles in 2011 were a carry over from 2010. Though McCourty displayed the impressive ball skills of a first round pick, he was still a liability in coverage, and moving to a primarily man based system in 2011 highlighted that. McCourty was among the worst in the league in yards per pass allowed and in FO’s particularly famous metric–success rate (yards allowed correlated to the down and distance). Late in the season, the Pats moved McCourty over to safety where the struggles continued. Ras-I Dowling, a personal favorite of mine, appeared in just two games last year as was put on Injured Reserve again after tearing a tendon in his leg. The Patriots can’t count on Dowling to stay healthy right now, and that means addressing corner is a huge need. If McCourty and Dowling play up to potential though, both could find a lot of success in New England. The Patriots need the depth though, badly. Brandon Boykin, Stephon Gilmore, and Trumaine Johnson (may move to free safety) are all options here.

The final option for New England could be to add another 3-4 defensive end, though I’m not sure that’ll take place in the first round. Michael Brockers and Devon Still could be possibilities in the late first, though I don’t expect New England to grab either one of them. If anything, someone may move up to grab Brockers and allow the Patriots their coveted trade down. I don’t want to put Brockers on trial too much, but like most of the DT class I think he’s a bit of a fraud. Film junkie Greg Cosell has said Brockers will likely be overdrafted based on what teams believe he can become, and not on what he is.

As for the wide receiver position, New England has more or less shown that they aren’t interested in necessarily adding a big downfield threat. Granted, Josh McDaniels career has been made off of what he was able to do with Randy Moss as one of his receivers, I can’t imagine New England using either first round pick on a wide receiver unless it’s Kendall Wright and I don’t think Wright makes it that far. If the Patriots decide to stick with the idea of chain-moving and maybe adding a red zone threat to compliment Gronk–there is a chance that the Pats could snag Alshon Jeffery or Mohammed Sanu (unlikely in the first round, though BB loves Rutgers alumni). The wildcard here is deep threat Stephen Hill, who is pretty much an open book–only knows straight-line routes and has inconsistent hands. Still, with his size and athleticism someone will try to turn him into a big-play wide out in the NFL. The Patriots took the risk on Nate Solder last season despite some series flaws in his game and so far it’s paid off–they may do the same thing in a loaded class of receivers.

With all the added depth, New England is probably again the favorite to win the AFC in 2012.

Courtesy questfor31.com

2. New York Jets
2011 Record: 8-8
Season Finish: 2nd Place in AFC East
Draft Picks:
1st Round — 16th Overall
2nd Round — 47th Overall
3rd Round — 77th Overall
5th Round — 154th Overall
6th Round — 187th Overall (from Philadelphia through Indianapolis)
6th Round — 202nd Overall (Compensatory Selection)
6th Round — 203rd Overall (Compensatory Selection)
7th Round — 232nd Overall (from Denver)
7th Round — 242nd Overall (Compensatory Selection)
7th Round — 244th Overall (Compensatory Selection)
Team Needs: RB Depth, WR, Blocking TE, OG, RT, DL Depth, OLB, ILB, FS

The Jets have a plethora of needs and didn’t have a lot of cap space to address those needs. They’re limited by guaranteed contracts to Bart Scott and Wayne Hunter (together they take up close to seven million in cap room) and the Jets were trying to move both of them during the off-season. They’re probably hoping that somebody will make them an offer on draft day. The Jets, despite their plethora of picks, are definitely in the running to move down on draft day. They can sit tight at 16 and still acquire a top notch player at a position of need, but the Jets are looking to try and stay competitive in what will be a partial rebuilding year. Offensively, the Jets have a couple of pieces in place, but because of last year’s fiasco, they went out during the off-season and found a coordinator in Tony Sparano who has had great success helping offensive lines overachieve, and in his one year of calling plays in Dallas, fielded a top ten offense.

The Jets are likely hoping that Wayne Hunter will get back to his outstanding 2010 form, but have to be mighty skeptical after an awful 2011 season that had him ranked as one of the worst tackles on either side of the line in the NFL. The Jets also are in trouble at guard, where Brandon Moore (despite earning an undeserving Pro Bowl bid) struggled in run support (and is now nearing the end of his very underrated career). On the other side, Matt Slauson has shown limited athleticism that has held him back in the open field–he may be better suited on the right side. Slauson is also coming off of extensive upper body surgery that will cost him all of OTA’s and mini camps–which won’t allow him to learn the new offense. Along the defensive line, the Jets could look at defensive end since Mike DeVito is entering a contract year (though not early since they took Muhammed Wilkerson, who played very well down the stretch, in the first round last year). At nose tackle the Jets return outstanding run stuffer Sione Pouha, but the Jets may add depth in the middle rounds with concerns about 2011 3rd round pick Kenrick Ellis since he may be deported.

(Above: LaRon Landry, Courtesy Pro Football Focus)

At linebacker, the Jets return Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Aaron Maybin, but Maybin is a situational pass rusher only and Bryan Thomas is probably going to be nothing more then a training camp body after his Achilles injury in October ended his season pre-maturely. As for Pace, he was one of the league’s least effective per-play pass rushers which makes the Jets linebacking corps. a seriously liability in pass rushing situations. On the inside the Jets still are locked into David Harris, but Bart Scott has become a liability in the passing game and no longer plays on 3rd downs. He was a problem in the locker room last year, reportedly because of his reduction in playing time. In the secondary, the Jets are still locked in to three outstanding corners in Darelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and the up and coming Kyle Wilson. While Revis struggled a little last year due to a knee injury, he’s about to get his first full off-season and training camp since the 2009 season that put Revis on the map as the league’s best corner. The Jets are considering move Cromartie to free safety, but they’ll likely look to the draft instead of splitting up their three corners. At strong safety, the Jets are hoping LaRon Landry can get back to Pro Bowl form (and that means staying healthy). An Achilles injury has sidelined Landry from fifteen games in the last two seasons, and he’s hoping that a stem cell treatment will heal the injury without need for surgery.

And yes there’s that Tim Tebow guy. Let’s be honest…the Jets gave up virtually nothing to improve their ability to score at the goal line–something Shonn Greene struggled at last year which led to Mark Sanchez tying for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with 6. I wager Tim Tebow starting one game in New York at about 1000 : 1. The Jets aren’t going to reconstruct the offense for Tebow. He’s there to push Sanchez (they gave him a 40.5 million dollar extension…basically guaranteeing the last two years of his rookie deal) and aid the goal line offense (and try and keep Sanchez healthy).

In short, the Jets look like they could be a disaster in 2012, but to avoid some of these problems the Jets have decided they want to become a bit more athletic. The offensive line is trying to trim down body fat (Ferguson and Moore don’t need that, but Hunter and Slauson most definitely do). The Jets also want their front seven–particularly the linebackers to trim down a bit to improve speed. That being said, while it may work for the linemen, it’s unlikely that Pace or Thomas are going to improve much (and Aaron Maybin needs to, if anything, put on some weight). Both are nearing the end of their athletic peaks (Thomas has already hit that and Pace is pretty damn close). So what else can the Jets do to help this team not be a door mat in 2012?

Use their ten picks wisely. The Jets could score big and land the draft’s most dynamic playmaker in Trent Richardson if he gets past Tampa Bay, but otherwise the Jets likely won’t look at running back after investing picks in Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight, and Bilai Powell in consecutive years. The Jets badly need another dynamic weapon to pair with Santonio Holmes. They could still go out and sign Braylon Edwards if he’s healthy (Rex Ryan has expressed a lot of interest in bringing Edwards back). The Jets could look at Michael Floyd, Alshon Jeffery, or Kendall Wright at 16. Floyd has the highest stock, but is probably the worst fit. Sanchez has shown an ability to succeed when he has a big, rangy flanker to throw it up to on the deep ball (which Braylon Edwards was), and that makes Alshon Jeffery the most likely choice. Kendall Wright has the deep speed, but might be a stretch at 16 and joins an already undersized receiving corps. The Jets are hoping to get some production out of low-risk signing Chaz Schilens, but if he can’t stay healthy (which he never can) it won’t matter. The Jets will address wide receiver within the first three rounds.

Otherwise, the Jets are likely looking at an offensive linemen or a pass rusher. The Jets need a centerfielder at safety, and Mark Barron is too similar to LaRon Landry to play the position in New York. Expect the Jets to look safety in the second or third round. As for offensive linemen, the Jets would love to get David DeCastro if he falls, but he’ll probably wind up going in the Top 12. Still, guards usually fall on draft day, even ones as highly touted as DeCastro. If he makes it to 16 and the Jets don’t trade out of the spot–he will be the pick. Otherwise, the Jets will likely decide between an array of pass rushers such as Nick Perry, Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw, and Andre Branch. The Jets are known to be particularly interested in Branch and Upshaw (having had private workouts with both). The Jets usually don’t draft players that they don’t conduct private sessions with, but that trend doesn’t always stick in the NFL (Cincinnati was notorious for not drafting players they didn’t interview as well, but drafted Jermaine Gresham in 2009 anyway). More then likely though, based on New York’s goal for more athleticism and speed in the linebacking corps., they’ll be most interested in Nick Perry and Andre Branch. Rex Ryan has made it known that he wants a pass rusher at 16, but this is the season of misinformation so you can’t take everything at face value. As for offensive linemen, the Jets may make a move for a versatile player like Cordy Glenn who can play right tackle or kick inside and play at either guard spot. The Jets want to give Vlad Ducasse the chance to start in 2011, but he’s been extremely ineffective in his two years since being a second round pick. Either way, the Jets have to look at the offensive line. If the Jets pass on the offensive line early they could look at Bobby Massie in the 3rd round, Mitchell Schwartz (3rd-5th), or even maybe Rutgers guard Desmond Wynn.

At safety, the Jets ideally will look for a well-rounded Eric Weddle type or a rangy Ed Reed type. The rangy Ed Reed’s are few and far between, but sleeper Trumaine Johnson out of Montana could fit the bill in the second round. In the later rounds Michigan State’s Trenton Robinson (3rd-5th round) or Texas’  Blake Gideon (4th-6th) will be options at safety. Well-rounded Eric Weddle types include Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame (2nd round) or sleeper Winston Guy Jr. out of Kentucky (5th-7th round).

The Jets could be players for Dont’a Hightower at the 16th overall pick, but with their desire to slim down it seems unlikely. In the later rounds you have to expect one or two inside backers–one as a special teams guy and one who the Jets hope can start. Options will include Carmen Messina (New Mexico), Travis Lewis (Oklahoma), and maybe even Mychal Kendricks in round two. Other possibilities later in the draft include blocking tight ends like George Bryan.

If the Jets draft well they’ll set themselves nicely in the next two years, but 2012 will require the best coaching job Rex Ryan has ever done and outstanding work by Tony Sparano. Ryan has to find a way to manufacture a pass rush, rookie or not, to keep this team afloat.

Courtesy cappersmall.com

3. Miami Dolphins
2011 Record: 6-10
Season Finish: 3rd Place in the AFC East
Draft Picks:
1st Round — 8th Overall
2nd Round — 42nd Overall
3rd Round — 72nd Overall
3rd Round — 73rd Overall (from Carolina through Chicago)
4th Round — 103rd Overall
5th Round — 145th Overall
6th Round — 196th Overall (from New Orleans)
7th Round — 215th Overall
Team Needs: QB, WR, TE, RT, DE, S

Miami is likely moving to the 4-3 this season on defense, but they’ve got enough talent on defense that it should be okay. Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick should be able to transition to end and tackle respectively. Philip Merling should be able to move to strong-side end. Randy Starks will also move back to tackle, which should benefit him. Koa Misi could also move to outside linebacker in the 4-3, but don’t be shocked if the Dolphins do a little pruning late in the draft for depth.

The big news was the failed attempts at landing Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn while also the surprise trade of Brandon Marshall. Miami is trying to rebuild an offense that has simply been unable to do the job. Chad Henne is gone. Brandon Marshall is gone. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown played in Baltimore and Philadelphia respectively last season. Vernon Carey is now among the departed Dolphins as well. It seems so long ago that the Dolphins went all in behind Chad Henne, thinking they could unseat New England atop the AFC East.

So what’s next? Stephen Ross has desperately searched for a franchise quarterback, but right now is stuck with Matt Moore, David Garrard, and Pat Devlin. If Ryan Tannehill is available at 8th overall, and I think he will be, the Dolphins are going to pull the trigger on a new gunslinger and try to solve their long standing issues at quarterback. If Miami fails to walk away with a new signal caller in this draft, they may be heading for disaster in 2012. Matt Moore played relatively well in 2011. He may not be their franchise guy, but he can definitely hold the fort for Miami to draft a rookie in the first two rounds–though preferably in a top heavy quarterback class they’ll get Tannehill right here.

If Miami chooses to go another route, or misses out on Tannehill (the Dolphins have been rumored in a trade up with Cleveland for weeks, and it wouldn’t shock me if they make the move on draft day), then they could be looking at grabbing a pass rusher here for the 4-3 conversion. That being said, Quentin Coples would be a BPA selection and Nick Perry would be kind of an upset pick as his stock has soared thanks to outstanding post-season workouts and a reevaluation of his tape. More likely though, the Dolphins will look at Riley Reiff to play right tackle (a huge need) or hope for Justin Blackmon to fall (a serious possibility). Michael Floyd’s 40 yard dash may help jump him into the top ten, but if a team wants him to be a deep threat they are looking at the wrong player. If Miami misses out on Tannehill and Coples, but isn’t sold on drafting Floyd, Reiff, Ingram, or Perry (and that’s a possibility) at this spot, they’ll try to trade down. But I don’t see it happening. Maybe if someone wants to trade up for DeCastro (still unlikely). Miami is sort of locked into this pick unless they want to move up, but they are definitely in the running to move up on draft day. I even could project a three way trade between Minnesota, Cleveland, and Miami so that the Dolphins don’t get leveraged by Minnesota on draft day.

(Above: Ryan Tannehill, Courtesy gcobb.com)

So that being said we move forward and the Dolphins are going to have to look at receiver if they’re drafting Tannehill. It’s an extremely deep receiver class and they can’t afford to not surround Tannehill with talent–especially when the best weapon on the team is Reggie Bush (and we still can’t be sure of what he is, but 2011 was promising). In the early second look at Mohammed Sanu, Reuben Randle, Tommy Streeter, or possibly Marvin McNutt. The draft is full of rangy flankers and Miami has to find one after dealing Brandon Marshall. If they choose to wait on receiver, Vinny Curry and Ronnell Lewis be possibilities in the second. Later in the draft, Chandler Jones, Cam Johnson, and Julian Miller in the mid rounds. Later in the draft the Dolphins need to look at safety. Markelle Martin could work in the second or third round. Late in the draft Miami could look at someone like Austen Pasztor out of Virginia for depth along the interior. At tackle, if the Dolphins don’t grab Reiff, or maybe Zebrie Sanders in round two, they can look later at bigger tackles like Rokevious Watkins or Josh Oglesby to work on the right side as mauling run blockers.

The Dolphins also, at some point, have to look at another tight end to join the serviceable, but upgradeable, Anthony Fasano in competition. It’s not an early round need, but if Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen fall to them in the second it might be a worthwhile choice.

In the end, Miami’s draft is unlikely to make them a playoff team in 2012, but they can be competitive again. They finished the year winning six of nine with Matt Moore at the helm, and can again be competitive in 2012. A playoff bid will only work if Moore can become more then just serviceable and if they can add some weapons that contribute immediately. If Tannehill starts immediately…that could be a disaster. Still, I am actually high on Tannehill. I just don’t want to see him start from day one. Miami isn’t as bad off as I thought they were, but I am a little concerned with the front office and ownership. Jeff Ireland has proven he’ll throw his coaches under the bus while Stephen Ross has proven that he’s the next Dan Snyder. Peyton Manning didn’t even want to meet with the Dolphins unless Stephen Ross was not present at the meeting. Dan Marino had to talk him into taking the meeting in the first place. Stephen Ross, at least right now, seems like a black cloud over the franchise. Until Miami actually finds consistent success under his ownership I’m going to remain skeptical.

Courtesy brightstarimages.net

4. Buffalo Bills
2011 Record: 6-10
Season Finish: 4th in the AFC East
Draft Picks:
1st Round — 10th Overall
2nd Round — 41st Overall
3rd Round — 71st Overall
4th Round — 105th Overall
4th Round — 124th Overall
5th Round — 144th Overall
5th Round — 147th Overall (from Seattle)
6th Round — 178th Overall
7th Round — 217th Overall
7th Round — 251st Overall (Compensatory Selection)
Team Needs: QB Depth, RB Depth, WR, TE, OG, OT, DL Depth, OLB, CB

For the next few years the Bills are all-in on the current roster. They don’t have at on of pressing needs, but they certainly could stand to improve. Handing out big money to Ryan Fitzpatrick (a below market deal though), Stevie Johnson, Mario Williams, and Mark Anderson has sent a message–the Bills want to play with the big boys. First, Buffalo needs to learn how to compete down the stretch of the season. Fitzpatrick cracked four ribs at one point this season, which led to many of his struggles. That being said, the Bills picked up his “option” (his new contract) and will be tied to him for probably the next three seasons (the contract’s guarantees are virtually all paid in the first three years). Don’t expect them to take Ryan Tannehill even if he falls. Expect them to trade down to the highest bidder or pass on him. Still, don’t be surprised if the Bills do draft a quarterback in the middle rounds. They can’t be comfortable with oft-injured, but tough Fitzpatrick being backed up by Brad Smith and Tyler Thigpen (Thigpen has found success in the Gailey offense before, he is also an undersized quarterback…the Bills have to find a durable back-up).

The Bills will likely go best player available at tenth overall. If Trent Richardson falls he’d be difficult to pass up. Fred Jackson is entering the final year of his contract at age 31 and coming off of a broken leg. GM Buddy Nix did say though that Jackson would be extended this off-season, so perhaps this is again a scenario where Buffalo would choose to make a deal. They are outrageously deep at running back, but not necessarily sure if C.J. Spiller will be a feature back or if Fred Jackson will ever be the same. There are enough question marks at the position that depth can’t allow them to pass up on one of the most dynamic backs to come out in years.

But again I don’t see Buffalo having to worry about this scenario either. At this point, they’ll have to be looking at corner, perhaps even hoping that Morris Claiborne will fall on draft day after his horrible Wonderlic score, but also unlikely. In the end, I’m guessing that the Bills will be looking at Riley Reiff, Dre Kirkpatrick, David DeCastro, and even Luke Keuchly. David DeCastro would be best player available and would also send Kraig Urbik to the bench. Riley Reiff would have to play left tackle in Buffalo because Erik Pears is locked in at right tackle after signing an extension. The Bills are comfortable with last year’s fourth rounder Chris Hairston, but he’s the only player at the position so I can’t imagine the Bills would ignore the position if Reiff is the best player and they can’t go anywhere else with the pick.

(Above: Mario Williams, Courtesy thesportsbuff.com)

The Bills also could wind up going wide receiver, though Buddy Nix has maintained confidence in Marcus Easley if he’s fully healthy (a super sleeper this year to be the Bills No. 2 receiver). Michael Floyd would be an interesting option in the Chan Gailey offense, though Gailey may want a more versatile receiver. I’m still not sold on Floyd’s deep speed, and with his off-field issues I don’t imagine him going in the top ten. The Bills have some decent prospects at corner after drafting Aaron Williams, but McGee and Florence are on the wrong side of 30 and no long-term stability contractually while Leodis McKelvin has been a huge disappointment. This is where I expect them to go–it’s the only area where the need, the value, and the fit all match up. Luke Keuchly is a popular pick here, but he won’t really fit Buffalo’s system playing on the outside. Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard showed promise last season and was a 3rd round pick. Don’t expect him to go anywhere, anytime soon.

So when it’s all said and done the Bills will likely draft a corner–Kirkpatrick, Gilmore, or Jenkins? Mike Mayock thinks that because of Gilmore’s natural athleticism, talent, and size he’ll be a Top 15 pick, but Gilmore is outrageously unpolished as a corner and looks like he may simply be another Ahmad Carroll. Janoris Jenkins I think may wind up being the best of these four corners his off-field issues will keep him from going this high. To me, Dre Kirkpatrick is the logical choice for Buffalo. Still, with all this debate, Buffalo could improve flexibility and move down on draft day. If the Bills want to get really crazy maybe they’ll snag Melvin Ingram or Nick Perry here to really overhaul their DE corps., but it just seems absurd to commit that much when you consider Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, and Shawne Merriman are all expected to combine for nearly 30 million dollars in 2012. I really think Buffalo will try to trade down on draft day, but if they can’t…then Dre Kirkpatrick is the guy.

But there are some other things obviously to deal with come draft day. Buffalo is in prime position in round two to grab Dwayne Allen or maybe Orson Charles if he falls to round three due to his off-season DUI. I don’t think Buffalo will address the receiver position unless it’s with a game-breaker in the first two rounds. They have enough late round picks invested in receivers that they don’t need any more projects and really don’t need any more depth. Line depth though is necessary. The Bills have a versatile, albeit undersized linemen in Andy Levitre. Despite his inconsistencies, Levitre was a second round pick in 2009 and not a player they want to give up on now. Still, they’ll look at guard during the middle part of the draft at some point to compete with the underachieving Kraig Urbik. The Bills like long, athletic linemen and could be interested in Stephen Good in the middle part of the draft. I anticipate in the early part of the 3rd the Bills go after a 4-3 outside linebacker like Tank Carder or maybe an athletic linebacker like Mychal Kendricks.

Buffalo’s conversion to the 4-3 defense is a big step towards becoming a better team. On offense, the Bills must find a way to keep Fitzpatrick healthy, and the best way to do that now is in this draft. This team could be a wildcard team in 2012, but there are no guarantees until we see Ryan Fitzpatrick play consistently for an entire season.

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