With the 2012 Draft wrapped up and rookie minicamp beginning in ten days, the Bills have rounded out their 90-man roster with nine draft picks and ten undrafted free agents.
Looking at the entire rookie class, it would appear as if the Bills took another step forward in solidifying the deficiencies they have had over the past few seasons. Buddy Nix has taken a clear path towards shoring up a porous defense and has been doing a fine job. A vast majority of his three draft classes have been defensive players and 2012 was no exception. Considering the 2010 draftees haven’t even reached full potential, it is difficult to say whether this is truly an adequate draft class or not. On the surface, it would seem like a win for the Bills.
While the Stephon Gilmore pick appears to have been made out of necessity rather than choice, Gilmore should be a fine starter for the Bills in no time. There is some fear surrounding him because he rose on many draft boards late in the process – all things being equal, there is probably just as much mystery surrounding late risers as there is for those who drop to later rounds. Regardless, the Bills were approaching critical mass with some of their corners, Gilmore immediately wipes cornerback out as a position with questionable depth.
The later rounds were far more friendly in terms of manageable depth and talent at multiple positions. Cordy Glenn meets the immediate need of a solid left tackle and is likely penciled in as the week one starter at this point. A one-time first round prospect, Glenn will have a battle with Chris Hairston on the left side, but should provide the Bills stability at tackle that has been lacking since Jason Peters departed.
Nix further solidified his tackle depth in the fifth round by taking Zebrie Sanders out of Florida State. This may turn out to be a better value pick than Glenn simply because of where the Bills got Sanders. Most draftniks pegged him as a right tackle who would go between the second or third rounds, but Buffalo managed to steal him in the fifth. Obviously there is some questions as to why he fell, but Buddy Nix answered those with Chris Brown recently.
Looking at Glenn as a left tackle and Sanders as a swing guy, the Bills tackle depth was immediately bolstered between Friday and Saturday. The two rookies join Hairston, Erik Pears and Sam Young as Buffalo’s bookends.
Nix also brought in some depth for the interior line in the later rounds and free agency. Perhaps the most interesting player was a UDFA out of Texas, David Snow. He is a center or guard prospect who made double digit starts at guard and center late in his collegiate career in the Big 12. Even though he went undrafted, his versatility and experience in a physical conference bodes well for his development.
Mark Asper (sixth round) and Paul Madsen (UDFA) strictly translate as depth players for the Bills’ offensive interior. Without having much previous knowledge of the three interior linemen, there could probably be a solid argument made for taking Snow over Asper in the sixth round. Obviously Asper has a few more intangibles that make him worthy of a pick, but there is probably some traction there.
The most intriguing thing about these three players – even Glenn and Sanders, for that matter – is the commitment to the interior. There are so many terrific quotes and opinions on the necessity of building a team from the inside out, not the outside in. This commitment shows that Nix not only subscribes to that theory, but embraces it.
T.J. Graham was the only offensive skill player taken during the draft and the Bills only signed two offensive skill players as free agents (QB Aaron Corp and RB Chris Douglas). Graham has tons of speed, which is exactly what the Bills need. Hopefully he can translate as the deep threat Buffalo didn’t have last season and provide the means to stretch opposing defenses.
Douglas isn’t likely to make it beyond training camp and appears to be nothing more than an extra body for reps during training camp. Corp, however, could be an interesting case. He was a highly touted recruit before leaving USC because of injury. His numbers at Richmond weren’t extraordinary, but he has the credentials of someone who might have some game. Now it will be up to the Bills to develop him. Probably nothing more than an emergency QB or practice squad player this season, he still has an intriguing skill set that could be interesting to follow.
Of course, the defensive side of the ball is where Nix made the biggest splash at the draft. Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder are a pair of active linebackers who racked up a ton of tackles during their collegiate careers.
Bradham is more than capable of playing outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense and could potentially follow a similar trajectory that Kelvin Sheppard did last season if his work ethic is right. While he certainly isn’t an opening day starter, he could supplant Kirk Morrison on the outside before week ten. Again, that is a big unknown, but his skillset certainly lends itself well to the NFL.
Carder would be more of a developmental project at this point, but was a tackling machine for a terrific defense at TCU. In fact, expect him to be an immediate force on special teams. Just be patient with the waiting game as a defensive player.
Garrick Williams was signed as a UDFA and will be a serious long shot considering the other players who will be in camp for the Bills. Add in the fact that he is projecting as an inside backer and things aren’t looking up.
Ron Brooks isn’t a very exciting draft pick, but provides further depth at corner. He may become more important if Ledois McKelvin is let go thanks to the pick of Gilmore. Buffalo’s undrafted corner, Chris Hill, didn’t even see much time with Virginia Tech in school. It seems doubtful that he will be a factor for a roster spot.
Delano Howell, on the other hand, caught a few eyes as a signing. Apparently he has a little more upside and could potentially compete for a roster spot. As will all undrafted players, his special teams skills will be the most important factor in making the team. The fact that he can play a little defense just helps his cause.
Nick Sukay (despite being All-Big 10) and Ian Wild are rather underwhelming as depth safety signings. Wild appears to be a safe gamble for the Bills. If he develops, it is a great move. If he doesn’t progress, just cut him. Sukay is underwhelming because he comes from more of a power than speed conference. Skill players from the Big 10 are always a risk because there isn’t the speed and skill seen in the Big 12, SEC and even the ACC. Maybe Sukay will be a surprise, but it is unlikely.
The Bills also grabbed a pair of specialists which will be explored elsewhere, because their acquisitions are rather curious for a couple reasons.
On the whole, the Bills plugged a number of holes with players that appear more than capable of succeeding in the NFL. There are a few who may actually have projected higher than where they were selected and a few who simply fit in well with the apparent direction the organization is heading.
While there is still some time before this draft class will show their true colors, don’t be surprised if four or five end up playing a large role this season.