Buffalo still intends to offer Fred Jackson a deal before his contract expires next year (probably before training camp this year) and CJ Spiller remains wrapped up for another three years, so it falls to Coach Chan Gailey to find a way for the two-headed monster to co-exist. Both Jackson and Spiller showed they could be a starter on any squad in 2012, but what we don't know is how they'll work in tandem next year (remember, Spiller didn't show any spark until Jackson went down). As far as news, the Bills re-signed 2010 free agent steal Tashard Choice, who played under Gailey at Georgia Tech. After spending his first three (and a half) seasons in Dallas, Choice bounced to Washington for one game last season, then ended up finishing his season in Buffalo (signed after Jackson's injury). Choice is a welcome talent who seems genuinely happy to be staying here (he tweeted a thanks to God when he was brought back), solid both in the backfield (1216 yds, 9 TDs on the ground for his career) and in the receiving game (72 receptions, 550 yds in four seasons). Bringing him back into the fold should free the Bills from worrying about any needs in the Draft, though they may spend one of their 10 picks on a runner like Florida's Chris Rainey or USC's Mark Tyler should they still be there in the sixth or seventh.
Examining the Bills Part 2: The Quarterback (click HERE for the original):
Fitzpatrick is their guy, Tyler Thigpen is the back up, and Brad Smith is still the unofficial Wildcat quarterback, so not much change here either. In truth, the biggest question mark isn't so much how Fitz will do as the franchise arm of the Bills in 2012 (though that is still a point of concern for many fans), but where Smith fits in to the whole scheme. Still officially listed as a receiver on the roster, Smith has only thrown one pass since coming to Buffalo and it was for an interception, so he may continue just catching balls and running back kicks, though it seems like an awful waste of his athleticism and talents. As with the running game, you may see Buffalo snatch a late round QB if they see the right guy hanging around, but this shouldn't be too big a concern until Fitzpatrick has the chance to succeed or fail in 2012 (I'm hoping for the former).
Examining the Bills Part 3: The Wide Receivers/Tight Ends (click HERE for the original):
Much ado here, as Buffalo not only locked up Johnson for the next five years, but brought back Scott Chandler, Ruvell Martin, and Derek Hagan as well. Bringing back so many free agents was surprising enough to fans, but the Bills also actively pursued some of the best of the available talent, taking shots at both Robert Meachem and Mario Manningham. Though they couldn't tempt either one to join the party Buffalo's throwing in 2012, it was that failure, coupled with some big name fixes to their pass rush, which has catapulted wide receiver to the tippy top of their Draft Day needs. With the #10 pick, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd may still be available and could very well be the number two receiving threat Buffalo sought to find all last year (if Donald Jones wants the job, he better speak up quick). If they aren't willing to pick a receiver that high (they do have ten on the team already), the second round could still have Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill available, and Marvin Jones from California would be a steal if he dropped to the third round.
As for tight ends, former Bills stand out Pete Metzellars has taken over as coach and should be looking to bring the same fire he had playing all those years in Buffalo to the big boys of the receiving corps. He already thinks Chandler's the right guy for the main job, as we saw last year, but adding another athletic tight end who can both block and catch could be vital to a late season push or a close win. A Draft desire more than a need, one of the ten picks will probably go to a tight end as the rest of the AFC East will likely try to imitate what the Patriots did with their two talents last season.
Examining the Bills Part 4: The Offensive Line (click HERE for the original):
Now tied with receiver as the Bills top Draft need, the loss of left tackle Demetrius Bell (okay, maybe "loss" is too strong a word) to the Eagles creates a true void on Fitzpatrick's blind side. Chris Hairston just hasn't been convincing enough for Buffalo to say he's the guy, so you can bet the farm that they'll be taking an offensive linemen in their first two picks (again, thanks to Williams and Anderson). Many are looking at Riley Reiff out of Iowa and though he is indeed talented, he stands to have more success as a guard in the NFL (he's got shorter arms than are desired for a tackle). Stanford's Jonathan Martin would be the more likely fit, but he hasn't been as impressive in his post-season workouts as he was during the season, so many are starting to consider Georgia's massive Cordy Glenn. Though he might be a reach at #10 and played largely at the guard position, he looked good at tackle last year and is a first round projection at either position, mainly owing to his work blocking against SEC defenses. Buffalo had him in for a workout last month and though he may not be a top ten pick, he'd be hard to pass up if he's still on the board come round two.
Examining the Bills Part 5: The Defensive Line (click HERE for the original):
This was posted March 7th and a week later, Mario Williams was signed. A week after that, Mark Anderson joined him and all the research on which OLB/DE the Bills should take with their first pick was flushed right down the toilet. Ingram, Coples, Upshaw; three players who I was starting to know inside and out are now not even blips on Buffalo's Draft radar and though they'll still likely take a young defender to groom as a back up (Oklahoma State's Jamie Blatnick would be an amazing fourth round DE), that top level talent is now just unnecessary to consider. With Mario at one end and Anderson at the other, book ending returning veteran Kyle Williams and rising star Marcell Dareus in the middle, what more really needs to be discussed? Buffalo now has (on paper) one of the most fearsome pass rushes in the NFL (they're coming for you Brady) and should certainly be able to remedy that woeful 27th ranking in sacks and 28th ranking in rushing yards allowed. What remains to be seen is who among the other defensive lineman will still be on the roster come the 2012 season, as Shawne Merriman is among the 10+ backups still taking up room on the Bills' payroll. Though Chris Kelsay and Dwan Edwards should be safe, Merriman leads the names of people Buffalo should just be done with, as he's only played a total of five games in two seasons with the Bills (meaning he's being paid for nothing).
Examining the Bills Part 6: The Linebackers (click HERE for the original):
Not too much to add to this one, other than the signing of DE Mark Anderson and the improvement of the pass rush. I still believe the Bills need more depth at linebacker, still think their three starters are set (Morrison, Sheppard, and Barnett), and have no new developments to further muddy the waters. They'll definitely use a pick or two in the Draft, it just remains to be seen how many and how high they're willing to put their need for more bodies (they've got about four backups for all three spots). Buffalo did re-sign safety Byron Scott, who may be called on to switch to linebacker should need dictate, but the article I wrote is largely unaltered by the off-season.
Examining the Bills Part 7: Corners and Safeties (click HERE for the original):
Again, no real changes here as the Bills' flurry of signings have died down in the last month leading to the Draft. They need an infusion of youth and passion at cornerback, maybe some depth at safety, but nothing has happened in the time since that piece's publication that would vastly change my predictions and thoughts. When you have the most interceptions in all of the NFL for 2011 and barely managed one a game the last twelve games, you know injuries had some role to play in it and a healthy Bills defensive backfield could yield similar results as it stands. Adding a second or third round DB could make it even better.
Examining the Bills Part 8: Special Teams (click HERE for the original):
...I just published this... What could I possibly need to add a week later?
So there, now we're all caught up and ready for the Draft, leaving us ready to speculate which need Buffalo will address first with pick #10. Wide receiver? Offensive lineman? An unnecessary running back? If the off season has taught Bills fans anything this year, it's that even when you think you know your team backwards and forwards, there's still the chance they could surprise you.
Here's hoping the thrills don't stop until the Super Bowl.