For a team that has mastered going 6-10, the Buffalo Bills have actually done a pretty good job at plugging holes on their roster this offseason. ¶ The recent acquisition of Buffalo native Mike Williams via trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is another example of the Bills giving themselves flexibility heading into next month’s NFL Draft. ¶ While a wide receiver with the ninth overall pick remains a possibility, it’s not a necessity. ¶ The same is true of other positions on the roster. The Bills added two potential starters at linebacker in Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes, a dependable veteran cornerback in Buffalo native Corey Graham and a likely starter at left guard in Chris Williams. The re-signing of tight end Scott Chandler also gives them flexibility at that position, as well. ¶ If you take General Manager Doug Whaley at his word – a risky proposition this time of year – the only position out of the running at No. 9 overall is quarterback. ¶ Figuring out a way to help the 28th-ranked passing offense figures to remain the top priority. It’s just a question of how that is best done. ¶ With the majority of difference-making free agents having found new homes, it’s time for The News’ third look at how the first round may play out May 8 at Radio City Music Hall.
1.Houston Texans. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. The rumors about the Texans being interested in moving down – possibly with the Bills coming up – says to me they’re not enamored with a quarterback at No. 1. If that’s the case, they’re best served grabbing a potential All-Pro.
2.Oakland Raiders (projected trade with St. Louis). Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The Raiders pay a big price – their 2015 first-round pick – to grab their franchise quarterback, the draft’s most exciting player. Side note: If the Bills were intent on moving up, the Rams would be a more likely trade partner – depending on whom the Texans take at first overall.
3.Jacksonville Jaguars. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo. Mack, increasingly thought to be 1A to Clowney’s 1 among the draft’s pass rushers, gets to return to his home state. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is a former defensive coordinator.
4.Cleveland Browns. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. Reportedly showed better footwork at his pro day. Count on Mike Pettine giving the defense a boost.
5.St. Louis Rams (projected trade with Oakland). Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. Rams seem committed to quarterback Sam Bradford – a mistake in my opinion, but I haven’t been consulted – so it makes sense to get him some more protection.
6. Atlanta Falcons. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. A “safe” pick if there is such a thing. Matthews should step right into the Falcons’ starting lineup. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times last season.
7.Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. The Bucs would seemingly be thrilled to be able to replace Williams with the most explosive offensive player in the draft.
8.Minnesota Vikings. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. When the depth chart reads Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, it’s time to take a quarterback. Bridgewater’s pro day was reportedly so bad, some scouts have said he played himself into the second round. That seems like a stretch.
9.Buffalo Bills. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The acquisition of Williams allows the Bills to try to improve their passing game in another way. With the top two offensive tackles off the board, the Bills wait to address that position later in the draft and opt to go for a player who has drawn comparisons to San Francisco’s Vernon Davis.
10.Detroit Lions. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. The third Aggies player off the board in the top 10, Evans would team with Calvin Johnson to create huge matchup problems for defenses.
11.Tennessee Titans. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA. The Titans are moving to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton, and need a quality edge rusher. Barr – who has played defense for only two seasons after converting from running back – has untapped potential.
12.New York Giants. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. Lewan’s draft status is clouded by the fact he’s facing three misdemeanor charges relating to an alleged assault that happened last December.
13.St. Louis Rams. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. Clinton-Dix has the athleticism to play in a single-high safety scheme and is a perfect fit in the Rams’ backfield. This pick represents a good match of need and value.
14.Chicago Bears. Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald is explosive – he ran the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 1.59 seconds, a time equal to that of Mack. He is a quality interior pass rusher on the defensive line – a rare commodity in the NFL.
15.Pittsburgh Steelers. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Steelers would likely be thrilled to find the top-rated cornerback in the class still on the board in the middle of the first round. Gilbert ran a blazing 4.37-second 40 at the combine.
16.Dallas Cowboys. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn. Might be considered a “reach” here, but Ford was a first-team All-SEC pick in 2013 after finishing with 10.5 sacks. The Cowboys need to find a replacement for DeMarcus Ware off the edge.
17.Baltimore Ravens. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame. The Ravens lost Michael Oher in free agency and are slated to start Ricky Wagner at right tackle. Martin could step right into the starting lineup.
18.New York Jets. Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California. Despite signing Eric Decker in free agency, the Jets still need to upgrade their skill positions. With Ebron gone to the Bills, they opt for Lee, a proven performer with a major team program who struggled with injuries in 2013. He provides the deep threat that 2012 second-round pick Stephen Hill has been unable to provide.
19.Miami Dolphins. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. A right tackle is needed, but one should be there in the second round. The Dolphins would be much better off taking Mosley and plugging him in at middle linebacker.
20.Arizona Cardinals. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. Ealy has what’s become an increasingly valuable commodity in the NFL – position flexibility. He can play on the D-line as an eventual replacement for Darnell Dockett, or rush the passer from the outside linebacker position.
21.Green Bay Packers. Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. Pryor is increasingly being thought of as Clinton-Dix’s equal at safety, and may even be some teams’ top-rated safety. Pryor can play single high, but also comes down into the box and is a willing, tough hitter.
22.Philadelphia Eagles. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. Eagles coach Chip Kelly is certainly familiar with Cooks from their time in the Pacific Northwest. Blazing 4.33 speed makes Cooks a logical replacement for DeSean Jackson.
23.Kansas City Chiefs. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU. Beckham, who set a single-season Tigers record with 2,315 all-purpose yards in 2013, has been a steady riser in the pre-draft process.
24.Cincinnati Bengals. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. Roby was torched against Wisconsin in 2013, but has the speed and attitude to be a No. 1 corner. He has some off-field concerns, but that has never scared away the Bengals.
25.San Diego Chargers. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. Dennard’s stock has seemingly slipped some in the pre-draft process, but he’s a first-team All-America winner and the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s best defensive back.
26.Cleveland Browns. Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia. The Browns need to protect Bortles, and Moses would start on the right side opposite Joe Thomas. With center Alex Mack re-signed, that’s a solid foundation.
27.New Orleans Saints. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State. A bit undersized at 237 pounds, but a highly productive player (39.5 tackles for loss the last two seasons) who ran a reported 4.36 40 at the Buckeyes’ Pro Day. Can play all three downs.
28.Carolina Panthers. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. You, yes you, might be in the Panthers’ starting lineup at receiver at the moment. No offense, but they need an upgrade.
29.New England Patriots. Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame. One of the few picks that has stayed consistent through three versions of The News’ mock. Nix learns from and eventually replaces Vince Wilfork.
30.San Francisco 49ers. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Smallish cornerback shut down several of the Big 12’s top receivers and fills one of the few needs on the 49ers’ roster.
31.Denver Broncos. Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA. Experienced player with 40 career starts is starting his NFL career a couple of years late after going on a two-year Mormon mission. Should replace Zane Beadles in the starting lineup.
32.Seattle Seahawks. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. A tight end in name only, Amaro will be utilized as a slot receiver in the NFL. He’d provide a needed receiving weapon for Russell Wilson and the Super Bowl champions.
41. Buffalo Bills (second round). Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt. The Bills continue to add weapons for EJ Manuel. In the process, they begin preparing for the future if they decide to move on from either Stevie Johnson or Williams after this season.