Draft helps Bills keep pace in AFC East

Buffalo didn't find a replacement for Jason Peters on Saturday but Aaron Maybin, Eric Wood (left), Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre are the exact players Buffalo needs to address its problems in the cutthroat AFC East, says BFR's Tyler Dunne...

Michael Oher would have fit a dire, immediate need at offensive tackle for the Bills. After dealing the unhappy, overrated Jason Peters to Philadelphia, the Bills could have turned a new leaf at tackle with Oher. A feel-good, rags-to-riches story for a team logging arrests left and right.

Instead, Buffalo took a risk/reward pass rusher in Aaron Maybin.

No problem. A batch of left tackles fell to Buffalo at the 28th overall pick. Eben Britton, William Beatty and Phil Loadholt were all available in the second wave of talented tackles in this year's draft.

Instead, Buffalo took an intelligent, gritty center in Eric Wood.

Come again?

Saturday came and went without a replacement for Peters. Kind of a buzz kill. Buffalo reportedly tried hard to climb ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals for Andre Smith. To no avail. So now, they must humbly shift Langston Walker to the left side and cross their fingers.

Visions of Andrew Walter getting whiplashed into the turf in 2006 may induce migraines throughout Western New York at this development. With Walker guarding the back door, the Raiders allowed 72 sacks that year. You can hear Trent Edwards gulp in worry from here.

But don't post those season tickets on StubHub quite yet, folks.

Buffalo is in the midst of a knockout, forward-thinking draft. We all came into this weekend thinking – wait -- knowing that the Bills would take a defensive end, offensive tackle and tight end with their first three selections. Not so. Instead, Buffalo's first three selections all reflect the nature of its division. The Bills are strategically combating the precise areas they need to within the cutthroat confines of the AFC East.

As New England welcomes back Tom Brady, New York adds Mark Sanchez and the defending-champion Dolphins toss Pat White into its ‘Wildcat' offense, competition in the division is rising. Arguably no division in the NFL is better.

After going 0-8 in the AFC East last season, the Bills had no choice but to draft players that immediately address the problems Buffalo had with New England, Miami and New York.

Aaron Maybin, Eric Wood, Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre all elevate Buffalo's chances in the division.

First, Tom Brady and Chad Pennington are not shoot-from-the-hip gunslingers. They'll sit in the pocket and digest the field like upscale college professors. If you don't get after them (see: Brady's surgeon-like 684 yards and nine touchdowns in two blowouts against Buffalo in '07), they'll burn you. If you do (see: the Baltimore Ravens' pillage of Pennington in last year's wild card), then you'll dominate. Simple.

Maybin is a step in the right direction. Brian Orakpo was still on the board at No. 11, but Maybin has more upside. He's a one-dimensional defensive end – a rabid creature you cage for two plays and release on third down. In one year at Penn State, Maybin wreaked havoc with 12 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. He probably declared for the draft a year too early, but for the long term the Bills may have a James Harrison-type of pass rusher. Sure, the risk could bomb but Buffalo needed to take a chance here. Brady's rehab is on schedule, Buffalo had to add a blood-thirsty pass rusher.

Neither Wood nor Levitre are the tackles the Bills needed. Rather, both project as solid interior linemen. Last year, Duke Preston and Derrick Dockery were disasters against the 3-4 defenses in the division. An overhaul was needed. Between Wood, Levitre and Geoff Hangartner, Russ Brandon did just that. Buffalo is loaded inside. Finally, the Bills should have the bodies to go toe-to-toe with Vince Wilfork, Jason Ferguson and Kris Jenkins.

As reported here in a feature on BuffaloFootballReport.com, the Bills maintained a heavy interest in Levitre. He played tackle at Oregon State but projects as a guard due to his shorter arms. While watching film with Buffalo's coaches on an official visit, both sides quickly realized that his style is perfect for the Bills' scheme.

Both Wood and Levitre are extremely smart players. Wood was an all Big-East academic team member and Levitre nearly attended Stanford. After Preston's bonehead play in Week 17, isn't that what the Bills need – intelligence at the point of attack? This duo has a nasty, play-to-the-whistle mindset.

Rather than conventionally fill the void at left tackle, the Bills chose to infuse the interior with two, gritty prospects.

Cornerback Jairus Byrd, whose father was a Pro Bowl defensive back for San Diego, brings a playmaking flair to the secondary. He had 17 interceptions in three seasons at Oregon. Drafting him protects the Bills against the potential loss of Terrence McGee in free agency next year. After losing Jabari Greer, Buffalo needed another nickel or dime DB. The Bills suffered without slot corners last season with Donte Whitner forced to double at corner at times.

Also, Byrd can play safety where Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson have had run-ins with the law.

So don't freak yet, Bills fans. Maybe Buffalo didn't secure a Jonathan Ogden on Saturday – but maybe it won't matter. More importantly, the Bills added the exact players they needed to seriously contend in the AFC East.

thdunne@gmail.com


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