2011 Draft Wrap-Up

One more year, three more days, nine more players – ten steps forward.

Nix, Whaley, Gailey, and Modrak did, in my eyes, a phenomenal job this weekend in strengthening the core of their 2nd year 3-4 defense. Solid picks all around that have me excited about the team’s future – let’s take a look.

1 (3) – Marcell Dareus, DL Alabama [6’3″ – 319 lbs.]

With the number three pick in the draft, it’s usually very difficult to mess it up. When you’re in position to pick third overall, your team has plenty of openings as is, and whomever you pick figures to start immediately. Buffalo had plenty of prime opportunities with their first round selection, and in my mind, made the best possible selection they could have at any point in the draft with Alabama’s standout defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. Dareus should come in to start from day one at defensive end for the Bills alongside tackle Kyle Williams and opposite fellow end Dwan Edwards. Dareus carries his size well – being known for his athleticism and agility, with superb quickness for a player of his size and an uncanny ability to work the double team. While powerful in his initial movement off of the ball, he isn’t known for having what would be an explosive break, and is often late off of the snap. The chip on his shoulder – angry for being passed up by even two teams before being selected – seems to provide that extra little drive to be great and his maturity level seems much higher than most top picks of this club over the past decade.

2 (34) – Aaron Williams, DB Texas [6’0″ – 204 lbs.]

Most casual NFL fans (as well as many ‘experts’) didn’t realize that Buffalo desperately needed help in their defensive secondary. With Terrence McGee turning 31 by week six, number two corner Leodis McKelvin not living up to his first round billing, and nickelback Drayton Florence already proclaiming that he’s going to become a free agent, the cornerback pool looks thin. Reggie Corner has potential, but clearly, help was needed here. When you also factor in that starting strong safety Donte Whitner is on his way to a major payday from a relevant team (read: someone who plays the majority of their games away from Western New York), Williams was a sound selection. Highly regarded as a middle-to-late first round selection, Williams was a steal for the Bills at 34. His versatility helps them both in the present (offers options for free agency – keep Whitner or keep Florence… keep either?) and in the future, as he could effectively play any position in the backfield. While he does lack the top-end speed that is the norm amongst corners nowadays, he could still start as a coverman if Florence were let go. Something tells me that Williams is a better candidate to move to strong safety, however, to pair with free safety Jairus Byrd. His physicality, stature, and outstanding man coverage skills make him the ideal fit at safety, where the lack of speed won’t be showcased nearly as often. He is also one of the best run defenders amongst defensive backs in this class, which was Whitner’s biggest downfall during his tenure in Buffalo. In my opinion, Williams (who also goes by AJ) will start at strong safety in 2011 and likely for many years following. One of the better grabs of this draft as far as I see things.

3 (68) – Kelvin Sheppard, LB Louisiana State [6’2″ – 250 lbs.]

The scouting department really seemed to do a nice job in finding top quality wherever they were picking this year, and this is no exception. Sheppard was a three-year starter at inside linebacker during his tenure at LSU, and was also a team captain, which shows that he has the leadership capabilities necessary to man the middle of the team’s 3-4 scheme. Sheppard’s leadership and football knowledge paired with his high motor and range makes him a prime candidate to start early and often in Buffalo. While versatile, he isn’t very fast and wouldn’t be much of a proper edge rusher – should be relegated to the inside unless under extreme circumstances of need. Currently, Paul Posluszny’s contract situation is in limbo and there is a possibility that the former 2nd round pick does not return to Buffalo. In that event, Sheppard would almost definitely start alongside aging veteran Andra Davis after a brief preseason ‘competition’ with the likes of Akin Ayodele and Danny Batten, who missed all of 2010 with injuries. There are concerns that, with how aggressive he is on a play-by-play basis, that he isn’t an every-down type of player, and his struggles to keep up in coverage support that. With training and conditioning from this staff, Sheppard should be able to tone things down a bit and pick up more fluidity in coverage schemes as his career goes forward, which should definitely help him to stay on the field and sustain full drives.

4 (100) – Da’Norris Searcy, DB North Carolina [5’11” – 223 lbs.]

Searcy was all over the place on team’s draft boards for two main reasons – one, he played three positions at North Carolina regularly, and none of them for any length of time to become comfortable enough in the role to be considered a top-tier player – and two, his involvement in the NCAA scandal that many members of the powerful UNC defense were caught up in over the past few seasons. Still, Searcy projects to either safety position in the NFL as he is too slow to line up in coverage against most wideouts in the big game as a cornerback. He’s very instinctive with great feet and an eye for the ball, leading the UNC defense in both interceptions and pass breakups in 2010 despite missing a quarter of the season – something unheard of for a strong safety. He is also very well versed in the duties asked of a special teamer, so that will help him to stick on the roster as he develops and the staff finds a regular position for him.

4 (122) – Chris Hairston, OL Clemson [6’6″ – 326 lbs.]

Before his career ‘hits a wall’ and folks say that he can’t develop any further, understand this : Chris Hairston is not, under any circumstances, a left tackle or guard in this league. Because of his large, awkward frame, he isn’t capable of the fluid movement necessary of a left tackle, who needs to be quick enough to take on, usually, a team’s top pass rusher. As far as guard goes, his limbs are far too lengthy to get low-to-the-ground leverage and proper ‘pop’ with his hands off of the snap. He’s a prototypical mauler at the right tackle position, and that’s why he’s been mentioned as a sleeper here in the fourth. He doesn’t have great short-area quickness, which is the quick reactionary movement that is needed to take on rushers immediately after the snap. He relies far too much on his handwork and ability to hold off defenders, and outside of the right-side anchor, that won’t bode well in the NFL. He has very good hand placement when engaging and has solid technique, avoiding wasted movements to keep himself ready for the next of many challenges during a play. If he can get himself used to moving laterally and getting low, his run blocking will improve and he could be a starter at right tackle down the line.

5 (133) – Johnny White, HB North Carolina [5’10” – 209 lbs.]

In the short-term, White will absolutely see the field on special teams and could be an emergency utility player, seeing time at safety, corner, and wideout before settling in at runningback late in his college career. As time goes on, he could easily figure into the team’s replacement plan for current starter Fred Jackson, who recently turned thirty. White doesn’t have ideal speed, but he is a terror between the tackles and runs powerfully on the inside – so much so that he has injured himself to make a play or push through a tackle. While not fast, he is still a solid, capable target out of the backfield, though once he hits the edge it’s hit or miss what he’ll be able to do once a defender assuredly catches up with him. Depending on how he performs in workouts, camp, and preseason, White may be able to beat out Quinton Ganther for the team’s 3rd ‘change of pace’ back role.

6 (169) – Chris White, LB Mississippi State [6’3″ – 240 lbs.]

White’s biggest knock, right off the bat, is that he is not a three-down linebacker and likely never will be. He has good size and is a reliable tackler, but he is terrible in coverage due to his stiff hips and lack of ideal speed and explosiveness. A lot like new teammate Chris Kelsay (at the present point in his career) in these athletic regards. He’s also versatile, having played weakside linebacker in JUCO Mississippi Gulf Coast CC in ’07 and ’08, as well as ’09 with Mississippi State before moving inside for his senior season – where he led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks en route to being named the best collegiate football player in the state of Mississippi in 2010. His six sacks as a senior are a testament to his powerful rush moves and strong hand use, which could keep him on the field on third downs as a role-player to rush the passer. Should fit in nicely as a depth player to play at least two of our four linebacking positions in Buffalo, but I’d imagine him starting his career out as a situational pass rusher from the weakside.

7 (206) – Justin Rogers, DB Richmond [5’11” – 180 lbs.]

At just 180 pounds, it seems that the Bills front office was looking at a project here in the 7th with Rogers, the corner from Richmond university out of the FCS. His excellent showings as the top cornerback with the Spiders have brought many to label him as a ‘shutdown’ corner – but do keep in mind that he wasn’t playing anywhere near top competition and coaches do have concerns about his ability to pick up a scheme, excelling in zone coverage but severely lacking in man. He is also an accomplished return man, which may be where he sees his on-field opportunities early after turning in a 4.40 40 yard dash at the scouting combine this spring. It would be nice to be able to count on Rogers to step in early as a reserve corner, but in all actuality, the team will want him to bulk up quite a bit before even considering putting him on the field against NFL receivers and he’ll have to work with defensive backs coach George Catavolos to learn a more diverse sense of coverages and duties.

7 (245) – Michael Jasper, DL Bethel [6’4″ – 385 lbs.]

Jasper is HUGE at 6’4″ and (at draft time) over 400 pounds. He played both nose tackle and offensive guard while at small Bethel University and is very athletic for his size. Unfortunately for the members of Bills Nation who are excited about him, he seems to be nothing more than a camp body, as it’ll be hard for him to move ahead of any of the three nose tackles or numerous guards currently on the roster. Not much is known about his play, strengths, or weaknesses. One would have to imagine, however, to be someone at such a small, off-the-map school such as Bethel and not having a solid position that he can’t be groundbreaking. Still, he was good enough to be drafted into the NFL, which surely counts for something. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s handled throughout the summer.

Altogether, I like how the team attacked the draft this year. It was the definition of a meat-and-potatoes draft, going after the building blocks and filling basic needs. It was just a wonderful coincidence that they landed four kids with immediate starting potential (Dareus, Williams, Sheppard, Hairston) – and the early experience for the young talent should go a long way in developing them as the core of this team moving forward.
With the new uniforms being unveiled in less than a week, new turf being installed in the next month, and the new CBA rumored to be coming down any day now you can surely look for activity here soon. Once free agency kicks off, you’re guaranteed to get plenty out of me – until next time, keep on rubbing that rabbit’s foot and praying with me for football to be back soon. We all need it dearly.

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