By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
After the Bills literally sprinted for the bus against the Jets in the season finale, Chan Gailey could only shake his head and say "we may have further to go than I thought we did". He may be right about that, as the Bills were simply not competitive against division rivals New England and the Jets over the final two weeks to limp home with a 4-12 record.
The good news, and Bills fans could use some about now, is that the Bills will get the #3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft as we head into a season of great uncertainty over a new CBA. Assuming Stanford's Andrew Luck leaves early, and with coach Jim Harbaugh seemingly in position for his dream job back home at Michigan, the Panthers will almost certainly take him with their #1 pick.
The Bills can certainly take a promising quarterback at three, and there are several who may be NFL starters one day, but I'd be totally shocked to see the Bills use the pick on a player who may not play for at least a season or two. We've established here that while Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the Bills' qb of the future, he has earned the right to be their qb of moving back into respectability.
Just how good is Fitz? Poor Brian Brohm found out first hand against the Jets that moving the offense behind the Bills offensive line, and especially against a good front seven, is tough. Brohm looked awful against the Jets, but in fairness, he had no time to throw with no running game and a host of no-name receivers to throw to.
As for qb's after Luck, it's not as promising as you might think, at least in talking to one former NFL scout who now runs a scouting service. He says after Luck, there is a big drop off, and that includes the intriguing possibility of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. I love the fact Newton is a winner and an amazing runner with a strong arm and good accuracy, and most Bills fans would probably be excited if his name is called.
But Newton would be a project, not to mention hugely expensive, and Chan Gailey and gm Buddy Nix would prefer to start winning games now while letting the future take care of itself, even if that should mean moving away from having a shot at a "can't miss" franchise qb. Hey, there is no such thing as "can't miss" when it comes to qb's anyway, and as we've mentioned several times, the Bills have other holes to fill right now.
Can the Bills do something about their o-line with the #3 pick? Based on everything I've seen and heard, there simply are no dominant offensive tackles rated anywhere near that high, and besides, it's pretty obvious the Bills need some - make that one - impact player on defense.
THAT could happen at #3.
Of all the names being tossed around, I do like what I see and hear about Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who many project would be an outstanding 3-4 defensive end; a guy who plays hard all the time and is well respected by his teammates, but also has great speed for his size and by most accounts would be a difference-maker right away.
Then again, we all thought big tackle Mike Williams was a "sure thing" when the Bills took him 4th overall in 2002.
Other d-lineman rated at or near the top by most "draft experts" are Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson), Nick Fairly (Auburn) and Robert Quinn (N. Carolina). Fairly is interesting because he is so dominant, but there seem to be questions about how he fits a 3-4 scheme. As far as that goes, I think a player is a player.
I'm not sure if Nix has it in him to move down for an extra pick or two with that #3 pick, but with the Bills needs, there's no reason not to at least consider it, unless they are totally sold on somebody in that spot.
At least we know this; Gailey and Nix will come up with the same guy, unlike when Dick Jauron overruled his scouting staff to grab Aaron Maybin at #11 out of Penn St a couple years ago.
Maybin actually played against the Jets. I think.
Summing up here, Newton would be a great hit with many long-suffering Bills fans, and I'll admit it would be fun to see the hype surrounding him and watch that spill over into training camp, somewhat like the signing of Terrell Owens brought about two years ago.
But the Bills defense - especially against the run - should be the #1 priority in this draft, with the hope the o-line can be helped through free agency or from improvement within. While Ralph Wilson does have room to spend under the cap, and showed he's even willing to gamble with the recent lucrative deal for Shawn Merriman, he'd have to tie up BIG bucks to sign Newton or another qb taken at 3, and that money might be better spent in free agency for immediate help.
Gailey as coach and Fitzpatrick as qb may not be what Bills fans envision as their ideal coach-qb combo going forward, but they've shown enough to think at least the team is headed back in the right direction.