By the time they announced their seventh round pick, you almost didn't care that the Buffalo Bills took a kicker. See, Buddy Nix had a script for the 2012 Draft, one that included things like depth and value, one that laid out their needs and their dedication to addressing them. Offensive line depth, pass rush, cornerback, wide receiver; these were the perceived needs for the 2012 Draft, those last few pieces that would complete a Bills' rebuilding process that had gone on for far too long, and by Saturday's end, they truly seemed to have addressed these needs one by one.
Top to bottom, this was one of the best Buffalo drafts in years, with unbelievable steals in almost every round just falling into Buddy's lap. He was right, offensive line was deep this year, and he was even able to find a prospective starter in the fifth round when Florida State's Zebrie Sanders fell much further than expected. In the end, six out of the nine picks are honestly prospective starters in the near future, perhaps three or four as early as this season, so even if you scratch your head at the move to grab Graham or the picking of a place kicker at the end, you've got to admire what the Bills did. Again, they had a plan and they stuck to it, avoiding flash in favor of smart, durable, adaptable, experienced players that were the best available for Buffalo's needs at each spot.
Grade them for you? Give you a brief description of each? Well, why not...
Round 7-#251: K John Potter, Western Michigan
Why? I know the kicking game fell apart when Lindell went down last season, but it was a shoulder injury and this Potter guy would have been there in free agency, or at least someone like him. Nix stated that they'd use him primarily as a kick off specialist, noting that Potter had the power to just blast the ball through the uprights, but there should have been someone else they wanted. Kellen Moore would have been a great backup QB choice, they still needed another tight end, but I guess the contract for Lindell signed in the offseason stipulated that he wouldn't have to kickoff anymore, otherwise I can't explain using a pick on a kicker. I know it was the seventh round, but...
D+ (... a kicker? It was a shoulder injury and Rian seemed fine kicking off...)
Round 6-#178: G Mark Asper, Oregon
Projected to be trained as a backup for center Eric Wood, Asper is a mature 27 years old (he left school for two years to do missionary work), leading many to wonder whether that equates to experience or being past his prime. He's an athletic lineman who has spent time at both right guard and tackle with equal success, Asper played in 47 total games, largely in the spread option at Oregon where he worked well in space and took blocks cleanly to the whistle. A wall-off blocker that also has the quickness to both keep his man in front of him and move fluidly to the second level, he's more a practice player to begin, but should Old Man Asper hold up, he's "confident in his ability" and will look to prove himself in games before too long.
C+ (part of that depth Buffalo needed on the line, but too early to tell if he'll make it to games)
Round 5-#147: ILB Tank Carder, TCU
A great name for football, Tank is another experienced choice with 50 games under his belt and a Rose Bowl MVP to boot (had 3 tackles for loss against Wisconsin, broke up their 2 point conversion to secure the win at the end). Seemingly always in the right place at the right time on the field, Tank relies more on instinct than overwhelming athletic ability, using solid tackling, a great ability to read offensive schemes, and great angle running to make up for a lack of linear speed and size issues (6'2", 236 lbs). One of several Bills draftees to have NO COLLEGE INJURIES, the former Mountain West Player of the year had an impressive Combine and looks to be a reckless wrecking ball of a tackler, whether on special teams to start, or later as either a strong side, or even center backup. Needs to bulk up first, though.
B- (great name, decent player with a solid ethic, durable)
Round 5-#144: OT Zebrie Sanders, Florida State
One of those players that fell much farther than expected, this was more of that depth and adaptability the Bills so richly needed on the line, and flat out steal to boot. Quick for his size (6'5", 320 lbs), Sanders is rarely caught out of position on the field, and uses great hands in combination with his girth to stand up to heavy contact. Hardly ever beaten off the snap, he may not pack a punch, but he can sure take and handle one without resorting to penalties (only 8 flags on him in 2011, 136 knockdown blocks on his career). He's also another very healthy choice, with an ACC and Seminoles high 49 starts, a streak of 35 consecutive at one point, and has work at both right and left tackle (he filled in at LT flawlessly and allowed only 2 sacks). A starter all the way that shows relentless dedication to improving each year, he should have been taken much, much higher, but Bills fans sure should be glad he wasn't.
A- (experience and talent, great find late with starting potential)
Round 4-#124: CB Ron Brooks, LSU
It's easy to miss a guy who played behind Morris Claiborne (and Patrick Peterson), but Buddy said he wanted two corners in this Draft and Brooks is a great project with a great potential to start in the future. Brooks' speed isn't a question, as he ran a 4.37 40 at the Combine (faster than Stephon Gilmore), nor is his durability, as he's another player with a lot of games played (53), but ZERO COLLEGE INJURIES (I can't stress how happy I am with that after 2011's wounded season in Western New York). A gunner if he's on special teams, a jammer if lined up on defense, Brooks doesn't shy away from contact and is, according to Nix, an "impact player", someone who just seems to get better the more playing time he gets, using both a great talent and work ethic to show constant improvement. 90 tackles in limited use, 12.5 for loss, and a career 3 INTs (all returned for TDs), he's an underrated cover corner who's tougher than his size indicates.
B (should be ready to step and contribute now)
Round 4-#104: LB Nigel Bradham, Florida State
You gotta love the story of a kid who grew up with a single mother and a brother who was in and out of jail, yet managed to use that as motivation to succeed on the field. A team captain by the time he left the Seminoles, Bradham led the team the last three years in tackles (305 career, 21.5 for loss, 9 sacks) and is yet another player who managed to stay INJRUY FREE after playing in all four years (he even started in one game as a True Freshman). Cornerback hands, safety speed, and a fearless, vicious tackler as a linebacker, Bradham is in the same mold as the Bills' Byron Scott, but also looks good lining up as a 4-3 defensive end. Whether as a backup/challenger for Kirk Morrison or on special teams coverage, Bradham shows great talent in wherever he's put on the field and should evolve into a 3-down linebacker before too long.
B (A solid fill for a solid depth need)
Round 3-#69: WR T.J. Graham, NC State
Bit of a wonder why Buffalo thought they had to trade up for Graham, but I can see how they'll utilize this speedy receiver: as the new Roscoe Parrish. T.J. is a former track star who found himself adapting to become a potential receiving star for the Wolfpack, leading the team with both 46 receptions and 757 yards, scoring 7 TDs. A shifty slot receiver in school, he may be a bit undersized (182 lbs, 5'11"), but he can always pack on the pounds. In the short term, he'll be another kickoff option (he had 4 return TDS in 4 years at NC State and is the All-time ACC leader in kick returns, averaging 22.4/return in 2011), but Coach Gailey stated that he'd be trained up as an outside, deep threat (no the slot option he was, as he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash the Bills just love... think Lofton if he can be trained correctly).Perhaps a bit sketchy in his route running, his speed and ability to adjust on the fly make him a competitor in a thick receiver corps for Buffalo in 2012 (quite a change from last year).
B- (mostly because he would have been there at #71)
Round 2-#41: OL Cordy Glenn, Georgia
Perhaps THE steal of the whole damn Draft, this was a monster pick for a team looking for depth at protection and talent on the weak side (now that Bell is gone). Glenn is the whole package, a dominating mountain of a lineman (6'5", 345 lbs), he also has great speed (5.15 40-yard dash, 5th among linemen at the Combine), making him that rare combination of length (35 3/4" arm length), size as well as speed, and just flat out athletic ability (he has a very instinctual knack at the position, too). Buffalo has been enamored with this guy since his visit to Western New York earlier this offseason and were just floored to find him still there at pick #41 (he was a top 20 pick). He brings experience (4 years starting against SEC defenses), versatility (played both guard and tackle), and durability (50 starts, tied for first among Georgia linemen); he also plays both the run and pass equally well, fluid getting back in coverage and quick moving up field/laterally. Though not a perfect player (little heavy, could be more physical at line), he's a starter right now and should be more than competition for Hairston come training camp.
A (find me a better deal in the second round)
Round 1-#10- CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
I've had time to digest this pick and have raised my opinion after it's had time to settle in. Nix said he wanted a difference maker, a playmaker, a guy who was the best available for their needs in each round and I believe he found it in lockdown corner Stephon Gilmore. Another speed demon on the defense for 2012 (a 4.4 40), Gilmore brings a deep understanding of the position, with speed off the corner and the type of physicality you see in a linebacker. You can't teach experience like he got playing in all 40 of his games at SC (3 years as a starter) working as a cog in a stifling SEC defensive scheme, and though he may have seemed a little withdrawn and even shy at the Draft (he wasn't all smiles and back swatting hugs), his play on the field is anything but. Gilmore has 173 tackles, 7 sacks, and 8 INTs in college and could replace McKelvin when his contract runs out next year, or even Florence or McGee should they remain unimpressive and injury prone (in that order). A great pick that adds speed and tenacity to their defense.
B+ (a safe, solid first pick who loves to hit, great athlete, starting potential as an NFL corner)
Overall, Buddy and the boys continued to deliver on the promises they began in free agency this offseason, drafting needs and finding value at every pick. Say what you will about the ghosts of the past, the Bills are now focused on the future, stockpiling talent and patching holes in preparation for a long season that seems more and more likely to be capped off by playoff tail. It wasn't a flash Draft in 2012, but the players taken were solid, durable, experience choices with the kind of dedication and football love to make them contributors no matter where they end up playing on the field.
Good job, Buffalo. Nice to see you aren't slowing down just because you signed some free agents.
Final Grade : B+ (found the players you wanted, filled the needs you had, made the team better in each round... almost... Did we really need a kicker?)