By Joshua Bauer (Football Nation)
Having had time to digest that Buffalo went with a cornerback in the first round, I’ve started to pour over the remaining players looking to see if GM Buddy Nix was right about the depth still available in areas of need. I won’t lie, it was a little disappointing to see all those trades (New England traded up twice in the first round) and not hear the Bills involved in one of them. More disappointing was seeing Michael Floyd on the board and not seeing him wearing a Buffalo cap (multiple DUI’s be damned, he should have been paired with Stevie not Fitzgerald). However, in looking at the names remaining, there is still much help to be found in the second round, where Buffalo holds the #41 pick (the ninth of the day).
WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
This guy averaged 29.3 yards per catch in 2011, with a staggering 38.5 per reception away from home. In the option spread the Yellow Jackets ran, Hill was often covered by the premier corners of the NCAA, yet still managed 3 games over 100 yards receiving (181 against Western Carolina, 151 against North Carolina). He’s a long and heavy 6’4″, 206 lbs, has a 9 3/8″ arm length (top five at the position this year), yet is also a speed demon, posting a 4.36 second 40-yard dash at the Combine. In truth, his career 49 receptions, 1,248 yards, and 9 TDs at Georgia Tech weren’t as impressive as said Combine performance (though it was awesome to see him blow past corners and just out-jump them for the ball… think Randy Moss… or fellow Yellow Jacket alum Calvin Johnson), as he catapulted into the spotlight with impressive drills and route running. Though still weak in coverage reads, speed off the snap, and, occasionally, hands (kind of like Johnson), Hill is a great, big target for Fitzpatrick downfield and should be taken if still there (he’s my number one pick, even if he’s not the consensus best available player still there).
LT Jonathan Martin, Stanford
I agree with Buddy, there’s a lot of depth in the middle rounds for tackle, but Martin worked in a pro-style offense and did a fantastic job protecting Andrew Luck’s weak side (just 23 sacks in 3 seasons). He’s got a great wide stance, allowing him to take a wallop from some big defenders, combined with a natural athleticism and flexibility that made him a premier left tackle in the NCAA. He’s got speedy feet and great lateral movement as well, but there’s an ugly side to him. He’s really more impressive as a run blocker, though he was good at leading people to believe otherwise at Stanford. See, Martin isn’t a great pass protector, honestly lacking the strength to hold long after that first hit. Since the season ended, Martin has just continued to find ways disappoint, putting up only 20 225 lbs bench presses at his Pro Day and not showing the kind of footwork in his drills he so often showed during his three seasons. Even in some games protecting Luck, Martin would become mired in place, allowing defenders past him and finding himself reaching rather than blocking. However, his faults are nothing unfixable and he would still be a step up from current (and only) option, Chris Hairston.
OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Just because Mario Williams and Mark Anderson are joining Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus on the line doesn’t mean that Buffalo’s pass rush is automatically done being addressed. Upshaw’s a two-time National Champion, played in the NFL-ready hybrid defensive schemes of Alabama coach Nick Saban, and is truly one of the best players left on the board. At Alabama he was a stat lion, with 140 tackles (35.5 for loss), 16.5 sacks (for 97 yards), 6 forced fumbles, and an INT. Skilled at setting the edge against the run, great in the blitz (18 QB hits), and large (6’2″, 272 lbs) without sacrificing speed, Upshaw would serve to replace forever-injured Shawne Merriman, allowing Buffalo to cut ties with him.
However, Courtney’s dropped to the second round for a reason, with a less than impressive off-season, including tendonitis keeping him out of running much at the Combine and only managing 22 225 lbs lifts. Even in the limited Combine drills he ran, Upshaw looked tight in the hips and less explosive, though that, again, could have been due to the tendonitis. Regardless of his surprising fall from grace since his second National Championship win (when he snagged defensive MVP with 7 tackles and a sack), Upshaw has a great horizon of potential and would serve to solidify depth in the rebuilt Bills pass rush, joining fellow rookie Stephon Gilmore in keeping the defense as a whole sound for the future.
Snagging a cornerback in the first round may not have been what Bills fans wanted to see, but if they can land one of the above names in the second round, Buffalo is still well on their way to finally putting a whole team together. They have nine total picks remaining to them and have needs in areas where there are still good names left on the board, so things may very well be going according to plan. Even if all three of the above names are gone, there are still many more solutions to be found for 2012. If Hill is taken before Buffalo can get him, there’s still Alshon Jeffery (who played at South Carolina with Gilmore). The Bills could find Georgia’s Cordy Glenn an even better fit than Martin on the O-line. If Buddy thinks another OLB/DE is a waste for Buffalo, why not take Cal inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks to shore up the pass rush?
Face it nation, the Bills aren’t rebuilding any longer, they’re finally looking to find those last few pieces to compete again. However, no matter who is picked, here’s to hoping Buddy’s plan becoming more focused after the second round.