Forecasting the draft right now comes with the same credibility as an Ashlee Simpson-sung national anthem.
Still it's something for football enthusiasts to get their off season fix and publications to hawk on newsstands. Recently I did an extensive search on mock drafts and read many "established" sites with Football Futures, NFL Draft Countdown and Consensus Draft Services being prime examples. When it came to the Buffalo Bills and the eighth pick nearly half the mocks were in unanimity. They have Buffalo selecting Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
I'm frightened the pick would be a blunder. The last time Buffalo picked this high in the draft they selected Mike Williams fourth overall in 2002. Not to harp on Williams, but don't blame me for the skepticism. We all know how that turned out.
They can't afford the same gaffe again. It's too consequential to the franchise.
Now logically on the surface taking Ngata would make sense. Buffalo had pitiful front seven play last season to the point fans could come from the stands and run for a buck twenty five. At six foot five and 338 pounds Ngata could team with Sam Adams and take that alternative away.
There's a lot of positives about Ngata. He's very quick for his size. He gets an excellent pass rush. He can control the line of scrimmage and control multiple blockers and he plays with great leverage. Apparently his only weakness is an inconsistent motor and disappearing for long stretches. He's also known to have inferior technique skills as this stage. This concerns me a lot. In fact, it sounds a lot like some guys I'll be mentioning soon.
Don't get me wrong. Without question Buffalo need to address the defensive tackle position. Pat Williams bolting for Minnesota last season hurt the front four a lot more than former GM Tom Donahoe gave credit for. Sam Adams needs help alongside him and that's if he's even back. Ron Edwards was not the answer. Tim Anderson and Justin Bannon certainly weren't either. Buffalo needs another tackle who will stuff the run, back lineman off the line of scrimmage and take on blockers to open up space for the linebackers.
I'm all for an upgrade here. Just not with the eighth pick of the draft.
History tends to agree with me. Over the past ten years six defensive tackles were taken within the first eight picks. Only one has made a significant impact in the NFL, and he's no longer with the team that drafted him. Another player is still emerging three years later, while three have been flops and one unfortunately is dead.
A quick look at the last six defensive tackles to go higher than eighth in the draft:
DeWayne Robertson, NY Jets (3rd in 2003)- Came into the league with dominating tendencies but has been anything but. Through three years he only has eight sacks, including a career-best three and a half last season. His 97 career solo tackles and two forced fumbles aren't exactly the stuff legends are made of. Robertson still has upside and has shown flashes of excellence but hasn't yet lived up to hype surrounding his arrival.
Johnathan Sullivan, New Orleans (6th in 2003)- He's been a total bust. In three years he's missed 12 games and has recorded one and half sacks and 56 solo tackles.
Ryan Sims, Kansas City (6th in 2002)- Hasn't been much better than Sullivan. He's been injured two of his four years and when in lineup hasn't been productive enough. His five career sacks and 60 tackles are confirmation.
Gerard Warren, Cleveland (3rd in 2001)- The Browns took Warren over LaDainian Tomlinson in the draft and been paying for it ever since. Warren was a bust in Cleveland and after four years was traded to Denver. His 19.5 sacks in five years is moderately creditable but positively not on the level of a third overall pick.
Corey Simon, Philadelphia (6th in 2000)- Simon has by far been the most successful of this crop. Had 165 solo tackles and 32 sacks in his first five seasons with Philadelphia, including a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2003. He joined the Colts in 2005 after a money dispute with the Eagles but was hardly a factor this season.
Darrell Russel, Oakland (2nd in 1997)- At the time, his seven-year, $22 million deal was the richest rookie contract ever signed in the NFL. Russell made 28.5 sacks in his five seasons with the Raiders and played in the 1998 and 1999 Pro Bowl games before drug abuse and legal problems derailed his promising career. Tragically, Russell died in an auto accident last December at the age of 29.
There's another motive for being opposed to Buffalo taking Ngata as high as eighth... Depth at the position. While Ngata is evidently the best tackle of the college group there are plenty of other good options that could be had in round two. Broderick Bunkley, Claude Wroten, Jesse Mahelona, Gabe Watson and Orien Harris are all in the draft and between them it's almost assured at least one will be available when Buffalo picks in round two. Any would be an upgrade over the current situation and the team could use that first pick at a position where the talent level drops off deeper once the top guy is gone.
Free agency is also a viable option to replenish at defensive tackle. Actually, it's one of the few spots where depth and quality is available on the market. Cutting dead weight like Coy Wire, Johnathan Smith, Bennie Anderson and Mark Campbell would afford Buffalo the luxury of going after an established tackle on the free agent market. Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Kendrick Clancy and Larry Triplett are three names available that would make Buffalo's interior defense a lot more effective.
Releasing or restructuring Mike Williams and Eric Moulds would then free up money to upgrade the offensive line in one or two spots and leave ample money for the draft.
But make no mistake about it. Who Buffalo chooses with that eighth pick will go a long way towards determining the future successfulness or lack thereof on this team.
Ironically the position that might effect who Buffalo drafts is a spot the Bills won't have any personal vested interest in; quarterback. Matt Leinhart and Vince Young are top three locks and depending on how Jay Cutler performs at the scouting combine, he could propel himself to the New York Jets at fourth.
If he does, one of four serious impact players would be available to Buffalo when they're on the clock. Trades could effect who goes where but if three quarterbacks go very early then one would have to available as long as the Bills stood pat.
D'Brickshaw Ferguson- Would instantly solve their left tackle problem. Green Bay would be a strong possible destination at five but if they selected someone else San Francisco and Oakland would pass since they already pay franchise money at the tackle spot. The least likely to fall to eight.
Mario Williams- He's constantly been compared to Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney and for good reason; this guy is a freak at the defensive end position. He'd be the best prospect at his position in a Bills uniform since Bruce Smith.
AJ Hawk- Many consider him the top defensive prospect in the entire draft. Though Buffalo isn't weak at linebacker they'd be foolish to pass on him. Takeo Spikes is still a question mark and even if he's back healthy, Hawk makes plays Angelo Crowell can't. Can you imagine a healthy Spikes with Hawk and London Fletcher? They'd instantly have the best linebacking crop in the league.
Michael Huff- Some think he' s a corner in the NFL and some think he's a safety. I see him as a Troy Polamalu type. Lawyer Milloy is getting old fast and heading into his final year under contract. Anyone who's seen Huff at Texas knows this guy is a flat out playmaker. Look how valuable Polamalu is to Pittsburgh or Sean Taylor (when not in trouble) is to Washington. I'd take this guy in a second if he's still on the board.
Ngata could very well turn out to be a dominant pro.
But if recent history is any indication, he'd be bucking the trend. Thanks, but I'll wager my chips at another position.
(Patrick Moran is armed with an opinion and intends to use it. You can email him at email@example.com)