Nice fits: Offensive tackle Cordy Glenn, linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Jamell Fleming.
After the signing of big-ticket free-agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Bills enter the draft with the luxury of truly eyeing the best player available on their board. Pass rush was their No. 1 weakness and on paper that has been resolved.
After 21/2 offseasons of work, general manager Buddy Nix and his staff feel they've gotten to a level where they can address depth and not worry so much about starters. They feel their team, despite a late-season swoon that left it with a 6-10 record, is ready to make a big and permanent step forward.
"It's time for us to take a step and be relative all the way through," Nix said.
Given where they sit, the Bills could use the No. 10 pick in the draft on a left tackle, wide receiver, linebacker or cornerback and not face too much criticism, although on paper tackle is their thinnest position after losing Demetress Bell to the Eagles. Nix feels this is a very good overall draft and that there isn't much drop in talent between the No. 10 and 20 spots, which puts a lot of names into play for Buffalo.
Offensive tackle: If Buffalo would quit losing starting left tackles to the Philadelphia Eagles (Jason Peters, Demetrees Bell), maybe it could plug this important hole once and for all. The team's top prospect here is second-year pro Chris Hairston, who logged seven starts a year ago but seems more suited as a straight-away smasher than nimble bodyguard. Landing a blue-chipper here in the draft would go a long way toward stopping Chan Gailey's graying process and allow quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who battled a hidden rib injury last season, to sleep better at night. The Bills like Georgia's Cordy Glenn and Stanford's Jonathan Martin over the more highly ranked Riley Reiff of Iowa.
Linebacker: The Bills switch to a 4-3 means there is one less body needed here in their base defense. Veteran Nick Barnett (130 tackles in 2011) and last year's top rookie Kelvin Sheppard will man two of the spots and former Chargers Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman will give overcoming years of injury one more try. But the Bills need depth and were they to spend the 10th pick on a top playmaker Boston College tackle machine Luke Kuechly, it could be the final piece to the puzzle of what is now a very improved defense on paper.
Wide receiver: Retaining free agent Stevie Johnson eliminated the need of finding a new No. 1 receiver. But No. 2 is up for grabs and the Bills are also interested in adding some deep speed to the mix to take some pressure off Johnson. Oft-injured Marcus Easley and newcomer David Clowney will get their shots. Taking Notre Dame's Michael Floyd in the first round would sell tickets. A better bet is someone like Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill or Illinois' A.J. Jenkins in the second.
Cornerback: The likely starters are Drayton Florence and second-year pro Aaron Williams, but depth is an issue given Terrence McGee's injury history and Leodis McKelvin's free-agent status in 2013. When you play in Tom Brady's division, a team can never have enough top-shelf corners. Taking Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick or South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore in the first round would not be a shock.
Nice fits: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Defensive end Andre Branch, wide receiver Tommy Streeter.
The Dolphins have three pressing holes to fill. Miami must find a young quarterback to develop. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, Arizona State's Brock Osweiler and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins fit the west coast offense. The team must add a pass rusher to put on the opposite side of Cameron Wake. And the Dolphins must also find a receiver who has the speed to stretch the field because that's the one missing ingredients to this wide out unit.
Pressure players: Even though Jamaal Westerman and Gary Guyton were signed as free agents, Cameron Wake is the only proven, polished pass rusher on the roster. The Dolphins prefer pass rushers with more than one year of production at a major university. And they need to be big and physical enough to set the edge, but athletic enough to turn the corner on a blitz. Players like North Carolina's Quinton Coples, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, USC's Nick Perry, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, Syracuse's Chandler Jones, Marshall's Vinny Curry and University of Miami's Olivier Vernon are the best young quarterback hunters available.
Quarterback: David Garrard has had a productive 10-year NFL career. But considering his age (34) and injury history, Garrard is not a long-term solution for the Dolphins. Hard to imagine Matt Moore is either despite his productive season in 2011, where he produced a 87.1 passer rating, and finished the season with a 6-3 record. Moore's also entering the final year of his deal. The Dolphins will likely use an early draft pick to add someone worth developing as the future of Miami's new west coast offense. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill (great feet), Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (quick release, but old), Michigan State's Kirk Cousins (intangibles off the chart) and Arizona State's Brock Osweiler (super tall and deceptively athletic) are the best of this draft's second-tier options.
Wide receiver: After the Brandon Marshall trade, all that's left is a bunch of solid, but not sexy receivers like Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Clyde Gates and Legedu Naanee. It would be ideal if the Dolphins added playmakers with some size and speed. Green Bay's Jordy Nelson is the blueprint of the type of receiver Joe Philbin needs for his offense, and players like LSU's Reuben Randle, Wisconsin's Nick Toon, Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Miami's Tommy Streeter, Wake Forest's Chris Givens, and Arkansas' Joe Adams fit the mold.
Offensive line: The Dolphins are fortified on the left side with Jake Long, Richie Incognito and center Mike Pouncey, but the right side is vacant of proven, polished starters. Lydon Murtha, Nate Garner, John Jerry and Artis Hicks, who was signed this offseason, are solid options as viable starters on the right side. But the Dolphins are looking for leaner, more athletic offensive linemen than the past regime. Miami of Ohio guard Brandon Brooks, Miami guard Brandon Washington, Southern Mississippi's Lamar Holmes, Boise State's Nate Potter and Pittsburgh's Lucas Nix, Ole Miss' Bobby Massie and Troy offensive tackle James Brown should be there in the middle of the draft.
|New England Patriots|
Nice fits: Defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, defensive end Chandler Jones, defensive tackle Devon Still.
It's never easy predicting the Patriots' draft strategy, but one thing is certain: if there's a potential trade on the table that can add value now and in the future, the Patriots will be in the mix.
The benefit they have is the multitude of early-round draft picks, starting with three in the top 50 (Nos. 27, 31 and 48). This gives them the flexibility to work with teams that want to either trade up or down in the pecking order, and, likewise, would be willing to deal NFL-ready talent or future picks in order to do so.
What they do depends on a) the value they see in this year's draft and b) the value they see in next year's class. There have been times in the past when they've stockpiled picks in future drafts either because they didn't like what was on the table at the time, or because they felt the proposed trade presented more value than utilizing the pick on a player.
Cornerback: Some would argue that improving the pass rush is a greater priority, but if the Patriots had consistently strong one-on-one coverage against elite receivers and accountability in the secondary among their safeties and nickel backs, they'd be able to get away with shoddy pressure now and then. Devin McCourty regressed horribly last season, so now the team must find an elite cover corner who can hang with the league's top receivers. There's still uncertainty as to whether or not Kyle Arrington is the real deal, so the Patriots are tinkering with aging veterans such as Will Allen in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. Looking toward the draft would be a more reasonable option.
Defensive end: Even if having dependable cornerbacks is more important right now for New England, the team can't afford to overlook its weak pass rush either. Injuries sapped them of most of their strength this year, but the switch from 3-4 to 4-3 really didn't yield exceptional results, outside of career years from Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. The problem now is Anderson left for Buffalo and Carter, who missed the end of the year due to injury, is an unrestricted free agent, so two players who combined for 20 sacks could both be playing elsewhere next season. This puts a strong emphasis on drafting a linebacker/defensive lineman hybrid with versatility to play both with a hand on the ground or standing up in coverage.
Running back: The Patriots lost a big piece of their offensive puzzle when BenJarvus Green-Ellis left to sign with Cincinnati. Green-Ellis doesn't put up eye-popping numbers or make too many highlight-reel plays, but he's dependable; he's yet to fumble in his NFL career and is as reliable as it gets in short-yardage situations. The onus is on second-year players Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley to fill that void. Both showed some flashes last year, but it's way too early to tell whether or not they can develop into every-down backs, which is somewhat of a problem since the Patriots have a window of opportunity that will continue to close each year they don't win a Super Bowl.
|New York Jets|
Nice fits: Tackle Cordy Glenn, running back David Wilson, safety George Iloka.
With just four starters acquired via the draft the last three years, the Jets are in the challenging position of drafting for need as well as depth.
Coach Rex Ryan will be looking for players who can help the Jets return to the ground-and-pound, defense-first approach that catapulted the green and white to consecutive AFC championship games in his first two years at the helm. Offensive line help is a necessity after quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked 39 times last season, which makes tackles Cordy Glenn, Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin a trio of potentially interesting first-round targets.
The additional offensive line help will also be necessary to allow the Jets to re-emphasize the running game after falling to 22nd in the league in rushing last year, down from fourth in 2010 and first in 2009. A running back with big-play capabilities, both as a rusher and a receiver, would be an ideal 1A to grind-it-out starter Shonn Greene, and there should be ample opportunity to draft that player on the second day.
Finding immediate help at safety is also essential for the Jets, who are very thin behind question-mark starters LaRon Landry and Eric Smith. Linebacker and wide receiver are less glaring short-term needs for the Jets, though they'd be thrilled to land the eventual replacements for the likes of Calvin Pace and/or Bart Scott and find someone who could push Santonio Holmes as the No. 1 receiver.
The idea of the Jets trading up or down to land the player(s) they want can't be discounted. General manager Mike Tannenbaum made the biggest deals of the 2009 draft when he traded two picks and three players to the Browns in exchange for the No. 6 overall pick, which he used on Sanchez, and later dealt three picks to the Lions to move up and grab Greene in the third round.
Offensive line: Not only were Sanchez' 39 sacks just 14 fewer than he absorbed in his first two seasons combined, but the Jets need to enhance their personnel in the trenches in order to dominate with the ground game.
Safety: Jim Leonhard has suffered serious, season-ending leg injuries each of the last two seasons and the Jets' current starters are injury-prone LaRon Landry and the aging Eric Smith.
Running back: Shonn Greene is solid if unspectacular, but if the Jets are to return to their ground-heavy ways, they'll need a big-play complement to Greene who is more reliable than the inconsistent Joe McKnight and the barely tested Bilal Powell.
Linebacker: The Jets may have found a big-time player in Aaron Maybin, the one-time Bills bust who had six sacks in a situational role last year and is still just 24, but Calvin Pace and Bart Scott are each on the wrong side of 30 and showing the wear and tear of a combined 21 NFL seasons.
Wide receiver: Santonio Holmes is being paid as a true no. 1 receiver, but he sure didn't play or act like it last season. There is little depth behind Holmes and second-year player Jeremy Kerley, the latter of whom has plenty of upside.
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