Bills Face Critical Draft
Finding a few big contributors important to playoff hopes.
by Steve Saslow
April 23, 2008

NFL DraftThe first draft being run by new Chief Operating Officer Russ Brandon is a crucial one if the Bills are to end the worst playoff drought in club history. This team has improved the talent level dramatically under the tutelage of Marv Levy. They now stand on the brink of a playoff spot according to many observers. Offseason moves made the holes to fill fewer but obvious.

The Bills didn't make many moves in free agency but made important ones on the defensive side of the ball. The signings of Spencer Johnson and Kawika Mitchell made the team bigger in the front seven. They went to mammoth up front with the trade for Marcus Stroud. These moves should help the porous run defense stay strong and not get pushed around late in games. The signing of Will James (formerly Will Paterson) should help the depth at the cornerback position.

Everyone knows what main holes remain for the Bills. Everyone from Ralph Wilson to Dick Jauron talked about the need for a big, strong wide receiver to help in the red zone and take pressure off of speedster Lee Evans. The other big needs include possibly finding a starting cornerback or at least another nickel corner that can play the slot. The team also needs a big, receiving tight end along with a fourth defensive end and a backup offensive tackle. They also need a fullback for Steve Fairchild's offense and a center they can groom for the future.

So what do they do with the 11th pick in the draft? Conventional wisdom says even though their biggest need is at wide receiver there isn't one worth taking with that pick. The best value at that spot could be one of the top three cornerbacks in the draft. If Troy's Leodis McKelvin, South Florida's Mike Jenkins, or Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are there the team may be hard pressed not to take one of them. McKelvin is likely to be gone but Jenkins or Cromartie could be there.

The Bills history shows that they aren't afraid to take a player at a position of need even if some expers think that player is a reach (see Donte Whitner). If that's the case the Bills may buck the experts and take a wide receiver. If they decide to do that, they will have their pick because it would be a shock if any receiver is picked in the top 10. There are a number of tall wideouts available. Malcolm Kelly was the chic pick for them earlier in the month but his slow pro day time and his griping afterwards has dropped his stock. If they pick a wideout here it would likely be Michigan State's Devin Thomas.

The team may decide to trade down to get extra draft picks and then get a wide receiver at a more valued position. Since they already have 10 picks I would expect them to take the corner there and then try to trade back into the first round (or early 2nd round) to pick a receiver like Kelly or Indiana's James Hardy, or Michigan's Mario Manningham.

It will be a very happy first day of the draft for the Bills if they end up with a corner and a wide receiver. Day two will help them round out depth starting at the tight end position. The team visited with Notre Dame's John Carlson and they may also like Purdue's Dustin Keller. It's not a deep class of tight ends but they all should start going in the third round.

With seven picks in the final four rounds of the draft the Bills will look to replenish their special teams that were hurt in free agency. They also need to fill other holes on the depth chart. With only three offensive tackles on the roster they need to find someone they can groom. Some say Melvin Fowler is the weak link on the offensive line and taking a center earlier in the draft isn't a bad idea. They have two fullbacks on the roster now but may look for a young guy that can step up and make the team while helping on special teams. Don't be shocked if they take a defensive end early. The pass rush was awful last year but should improve with the addition of Stroud to push the middle of the pocket. They can also play Johnson outside if need be making that position less crucial this weekend.

They may actually take two corners during the draft, they really don't have any right now with experience playing the slot which is crucial in the nickel package. A corner early in his career will likely play in the nickel and dime and will need to be able to man the slot.

Draft weekend is the most exciting weekend of the offseason for all rabid football fans. The Bills will do something that will make you scratch your head. The fact is under the leadership of Tom Modrak they have had a few decent drafts in a row. If they continue that trend this weekend it could be the beginning of a journey back to the playoffs as early as this January.