For too long the Buffalo Bills have been stuck in NFL purgatory; since 1999 they have not made a single trip to the playoffs while at the same time never being bad enough to hit the trough and net some top draft picks. After revamping their running game last year by jettisoning Marshawn Lynch and drafting running back CJ Spiller seventh overall, the Bills are still in need of serious week and finally find themselves out of NFL purgatory and permanent residents of the NFL cellar. Two years ago the Bills finished 6-10, and last year regressed all the way to 4-12. Only time will tell if 2010 was rock bottom or not, but since the team seems to be going through a thorough rebuilding, it will most likely get worse before it gets better. With the third overall pick, however, the Bills have exactly what they need to set their franchise in the right direction. Before a mock draft, here are the team's three biggest areas of need:
Last year, the Bills' front seven gave up just under 170 rushing yards per game, which was by far the worst figure in the league. To make matters worse, Buffalo lost 10-year veteran Marcus Stroud to the New England Patriots in free agency. While some coaches had noticed Stroud slowing down and his effectiveness was diminished entirely amid Buffalo's transition to a 3-4 base defense, the Bills lost a starter and three-time Pro Bowler in Stroud, and it's never easy to watch a player of that caliber go on to become depth for one of your division rivals. In rounds 2 and 3 of the 2010 draft, the Bills took defensive linemen Torell Troup and Alex Carrington, and both will compete for playing time this year. Still, the Bills need better than a rag-tag defense if they are to return to prominence. With their defensive front seven a shambles, Buffalo needs to acquire elite talent at this position to ensure opponents have less rushing room in the trenches.
For a team amid a rebuild with a pedestrian offensive line, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a fine quarterback. He plays well enough to keep the team in the game, but the consensus is he'll never lead a team on a deep playoff run. While this may be true, the Bills aren't likely to have a chance at selecting Auburn star Cam Newton, and at this moment there don't appear to be any quarterback prospects worthy of going in the top 5. If Buffalo does have the chance to take Cam Newton at the third pick, I am absolutely convinced that he's their guy. But since I feel Carolina will take him with the first pick, the Bills will have to patiently wait to get somebody else. They may grab somebody later in this draft, but like I said, this team isn't going anywhere anytime soon. They might as well fill up their bigger holes and see what they can get from Fitzpatrick.
Along with having one of the league's worst defenses on the ground last year, the Bills were not very capable of defending the aerial attack either. Their 192 passing yards per game allowed— third lowest in the league— proved misleading. This mostly had to do with the fact that teams passed less on them to exploit their weak defense against the run. Through the air, the Bills gave up a sixth-worst 28 passing touchdowns, and a hideous first-down-percentage just under 38%. 30 year-old Terrence McGee is injury prone and likely past his prime, and Drayton Florence's contract is up. Assuming Cam Newton isn't available, the Bills will have a very hard time deciding what to use their number three pick on. Fill the defensive line need with Marcell Dareus or Nick Fairley, or fill the cornerback need with Patrick Peterson? Assuming all three of these guys pan out, there's no wrong choice here, but that doesn't mean it's an easy one.