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Receiver vs. cornerback should give Bills plenty to debate with top pick

Who wouldn't want the Buffalo Bills to go wide receiver with the 10th overall choice of the NFL Draft?

That's the fun pick, the one that excites and entertains.

Of course, you're rooting for the Bills to grab Clemson's Mike Williams or Western Michigan's Corey Davis to fill the opening created when Robert Woods bolted to the Los Angeles Rams in free agency. You want wins, but you're also craving those big plays in the passing game.

Then there's the equally valid -- though relatively boring by comparison -- alternative. Remember the big hole Stephon Gilmore left at cornerback when he signed with the New England Patriots? Remember the defense that ranked 19th in the league the past two years? Remember those big plays the Bills repeatedly gave up?

So either Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore (if he falls that far) or fellow Buckeye Gareon Conley (if his being named in a police report regarding a recent allegation of sexual assault doesn't make him radioactive) or maybe Alabama's Marlon Humphrey becomes the practical pick.

Marlon Humphrey (26) and Anthony Averett of the Alabama Crimson Tide react to a play. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Given that there's little in the way of a consensus about projections beyond Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett being the No. 1 overall selection, staying true to the best-available-player philosophy looks to be more challenging for the Bills and other teams choosing outside of the top five.

Maybe even the top three.

"It looks to me like at 10, you're drafting not the best player but for need," said Gil Brandt, a former long-time personnel chief for the Dallas Cowboys and current analyst for and SiriusXM NFL Radio.

"And if you have two players at positions of need, who's the best player?" former Bills general manager, Hall-of-Famer, and current ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian said. "And if everything is plus-plus and it's a tie, then who's the most likely to succeed. But I don't think at 10 you get there. At 10, even in this draft, where there's a lot of ifs, that's a guy most likely to succeed."

It would seem to make sense for new coach Sean McDermott, whose background is rooted in defense and is expected to have the largest say in who the Bills pick, to prefer a corner over a receiver.

There are other ways to go, of course. Quarterback, tight end, safety, and linebacker have all been part of the conversation.

Yet, receiver and cornerback are widely considered to have the most talented players. Therefore, the odds of finding a truly legitimate first-round prospect theoretically are greater at one of those spots than anywhere else.

"It's a strong corner class, but at the same time, it's a strong receiver class," said Pro Football Weekly draft analyst Greg Gabriel, former director of college scouting for the Chicago Bears and a Buffalo native. "You're going to be getting good receivers into the second and third round. Same with corner."

That makes it especially tricky to predict what the Bills will do … assuming they don't trade out of the pick.

So does the fact this draft, while viewed as strong at several positions, has generated a wide range of opinions from expert observers around the league. If there's agreement on anything, it's that enough questions can be raised about individual prospects that figuring out where they'll be selected can be downright mind-boggling, even for the most experienced eyes.

"I've never seen a draft like this where there's so many different opinions on players," Brandt said. "If I were making the pick (for the Bills), the first thing I would do is go and say, 'Where do I have a better chance of getting a better player at wide receiver or at corner in the second round? Where do I have a better chance of getting a better player in the first round?'"

"It's kind of a what-if board," ESPN NFL analyst and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik said. "What if this guy plays well? What if this guy doesn't fail a drug test? What if this guy keeps his head straight? What if this guy really maximizes his potential? You look at the Buffalo Bills and you say they have a hard decision, but I think I'd rather be where they sit than even where San Francisco sits at No. 2, because I don't think there's going to be a lot of action to trade up or trade down. I think there's going to be limited movement early on in the first round because I think people sit there and say it's a hard board to digest."

Pass the Pepto-Bismol.

Dominik, for one, is all-in when it comes to arguably the best receiver in the draft.

"I love Mike Williams," he said. "I think he's a fantastic football player. I feel like he's a top-five player. I think the Tennessee Titans will have a hard time passing him up at five. If they do, I understand. Look, he didn't run the fastest 40 time (he was clocked at 4.50 seconds at Clemson's Pro Day). He didn't run 4.44. But No. 1 receiver? I think he's that kind of player. He's the guy that I would rest my hat on from a Buffalo Bills' standpoint. Give me a chance to see what Tyrod Taylor can be if he has a No. 1 receiver (in addition to Sammy Watkins).

"I think that's critical for them this year."

Brandt sees it differently.

"My feeling is there's not a wide receiver in the top 10, but teams are all over the board (on how they rank them)," he said. For instance, one NFC South team is known to have East Carolina's Zay Jones as its top-rated receiver, while other clubs list him as a second- or third-rounder.

Brandt is more impressed with this year's cornerback class than he is with the receivers. "I wouldn't doubt if seven corners go in the first round," he said.

Said Gabriel, "If the Bills were to choose receiver where they're drafting now, they'd get the pick of the litter. So whoever they think is the best receiver in the class may be theirs for the wanting. With corner, you're probably second or third corner at that point of the draft (after Lattimore and/or Conley). But your third corner could be better than your first receiver."

If the Bills do go with a receiver, it would mark the second time within four years they've have taken one in the top 10. The previous time was in 2014, when they traded up to get Watkins at No. 4.

It has been 10 years since an NFL team last invested top-10 picks in receivers in that span. The Detroit Lions chose Calvin Johnson second overall in 2007 after making Mike Williams the 10th overall pick in 2005 and Roy Williams the seventh overall pick in 2004. In fact, the Lions began a run of three consecutive years of choosing receivers in the top 10 when they grabbed Charles Rogers at No. 2 in 2003.

Receivers have been top-10 picks in 12 of the last 17 NFL drafts.

How do the Bills find themselves in a position where taking one in the top 10 for only the fourth time in franchise history is a distinct possibility?

The simple answer is that they gave up on a pair of receivers they picked in the second and third rounds in 2013 -- Woods and Marquise Goodwin, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent. Woods wasn't spectacular and might never elevate above second-receiver status, but he was solid. Goodwin has world-class speed, but can't stay healthy.

The Bills spent modestly on receivers in free agency, creating an underwhelming field to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Watkins.

But durability questions with Watkins are also what might push the Bills toward a receiver in the first round. He has missed 11 games in the past two seasons and is recovering from a second foot surgery and third operation since his rookie year. The Bills are still contemplating whether to pick up the fifth-year option of his rookie contract by the May 2 deadline.

Still, at least one analyst doesn't think it would be sound for McDermott to make a receiver the cornerstone pick of his coaching regime.

"I am always of the belief you've got to build your teams inside-out," Gabriel said. "I would think that receiver might be the final piece of the puzzle, not the first piece."

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