July 24, 2014

NFL Story
By The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: April 28, 2014 08:40:50 PM


NFL Draft preview: Bills getting close to, ah, something

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley sounded quite confident and enthusiastic about the state of his team during a pre-draft luncheon with local media, though it seemed he went a little overboard when he said the team was "close" last year and the players know that.
Exactly what "close" means is uncertain. If he meant close to escaping the AFC East basement, well, that was true, if you believe finishing at 6-10, two games behind the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets, who tied for second at 8-8, qualifies. Like most GMs, Whaley seems to have an inflated sense of the viability of his roster.
Granted, the Bills enjoyed a pretty good offseason. The signing of middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, which allows Buffalo to move 2013 defensive rookie of the year candidate Kiko Alonso to his more natural weakside linebacker spot, immediately upgraded the second level of the defense. Another veteran free agent signee, Keith Rivers, could become the strongside starter in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's 4-3 alignment.
Bringing in free agent Keith Williams to play left guard will be an upgrade over what the Bills had last year.
Wide receiver Mike Williams, a talented player with a checkered past, was acquired for a throwaway sixth-round pick in this year's draft, but he should help the receiving corps. Ravens castoff Corey Graham will provide depth in the secondary and help improve the special teams. Running back Anthony Dixon is also a top special teams player, and the team was also able to re-sign two of its own key free agents, kicker Dan Carpenter and tight end Scott Chandler. Additionally, the Bills picked up the option year on defensive tackle Marcell Dareus' contract, tying Dareus to the team through 2015, and they lavished safety Aaron Williams with a four-year contract extension.
The only significant departure was that of star free safety Jairus Byrd, so the Bills do seem to be on the right track. Still, it seemed a bit much for Whaley to say, "What we did this offseason affords us the opportunity to go any way and every way in this draft."
Well, to a point, but are some obvious areas that need to be addressed. Picking an offensive tackle wouldn't move the interest meter a millimeter among the fan base, but the position is a glaring need, as Erik Pears simply isn't stout enough to be a starter. The Bills would love to grab one of the three top-ranked tackles -- Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan -- though it is uncertain if any will be available when Buffalo picks at No. 9. Lewan seems to be the most likely to be available, and he is a player who could start immediately for Buffalo.
The Bills have a bunch of tight ends, but none of them is a complete player. Chandler is a big target, but he has average hands and athletic ability and isn't a great blocker. Tony Moeaki is trying to rebound from two lost years (out of four) due to injury, but he is intriguing as a possible downfield threat. Chris Gragg was a seventh-round pick in 2013, Mike Caussin has been injured his whole career, and Lee Smith is nothing more than a blocker. Thus, if North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is sitting there at No. 9, he may be too enticing to pass up.
Linebacker depth is a real issue, and if Rivers doesn't work out, the Bills need to find someone who can step in and start. No one currently on the roster fits the bill.
As for wide receiver, there was plenty of talk after the season about the Bills needing to find a big, athletic receiver who could be their prime-time player. Stevie Johnson and Mike Williams are not true No. 1 material, and it seems the same is true for holdover players Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham. However, Clemson's Sammy Watkins won't be there at No. 9, and there are questions about whether Texas A&M's Mike Evans is worth that pick, so it looks as if the Bills might try to add a receiver later in the draft


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