It's been a quarter century since the Bills sat this high in the draft order. Armed with the third overall pick, Buffalo's needs are widespread as is normally the case for teams at the top of the draft board. Entering year two of building the Bills back into a contender GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey know they have to get this one right.
The decision with the third pick goes much deeper than positional need. With the third overall pick you should have the rare choice of an instant impact player that provides difference making results on the field immediately or a potential franchise player that in a year or two can lead your team to the promise land.
Reaching that decision is going to take the Bills decision makers every day between now and April 28th when Buffalo is on the clock.
"It's almost 24 hours a day that we're trying to make sure we know everything there is to know," said Nix. "People talk about how important the third pick is, but they don't realize that you may, and I hope not, never pick that high again. So you need to make it count."
The pre-draft process this particular year for Buffalo takes on enormous significance. It could very well be a watershed moment that defines the level of success the franchise has for the better part of the next decade. That's why Nix and Gailey are proceeding in a very thorough and painstaking fashion with their scouting department to cover every possible scenario that the third overall pick could present.
"Very carefully is how you work your way through that decision," Gailey told Buffalobills.com. "This whole thing is about evaluation. You put worth on someone's ability both the tangible ability and the intangible ability of a person.
"We will take into consideration the short term benefit that a draft choice would bring to the team and the long term benefit that a guy would bring to the team. You always want to continue to improve short term and have a plan for the long term so we're caught. The third pick gives you some choices. If you're down a lot further it's decided for you a lot of times. We've got some homework to do."
That homework began last fall with Buffalo's scouting staff handling the grunt work. It continued with the postseason all-star games where the Bills coaching staff was fortunate to be involved coaching the South Team roster at the Senior Bowl. The combine was the next piece of the evaluation puzzle with pro days and pre-draft visits being the final step in March and April.
Most outside observers believe that Buffalo has to land a franchise quarterback with the third pick. With only two top 10 finishes in total offense since Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season, the absence of a franchise quarterback has been debilitating. The question however, isn't do the Bills need a long term answer at quarterback, but rather is there a franchise quarterback in this year's draft class?
"I understand there probably is, but it's hard to figure out which one," said Nix. "Most of the time there's one there. We just have to keep digging. We've got two months and we'll just keep digging until we figure out who it is."
Nix describes a franchise quarterback as a guy that can win for you "for years."
"You get a lot of guys that will play well for you for a year or two," he said. "But it's somebody that can be a 10-year guy where you don't have to worry about that position anymore."
If the Bills do come to the conclusion that there is one in this year's draft class over the course of the next two months, and that prospect is available when Buffalo is on the clock, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock sees it as an easy decision for the Bills.
"To me it's pretty simple," Mayock said. "If you believe there's a franchise quarterback at three, and I don't care if it's Gabbert, Newton, Locker, whoever. If the Buffalo Bills believe that, that need trumps everything else. Ryan Fitzpatrick is okay, but you need a franchise quarterback. If your belief is such then you have to draft him. If not and you have any doubts whatsoever then you look to the defensive side."
The Bills are fortunate in that if they determine there isn't a franchise quarterback in this class there will be a plethora of defensive talent to choose from with the third pick.
"I think Von Miller makes a lot of sense for Buffalo on the defensive side, the rush linebacker from A&M," said Mayock. "I think a cornerback makes a lot of sense. Patrick Peterson could go that high. If you're sitting there with Buffalo and you don't go quarterback, there's an awful lot of playmaking defensive players to pick from whether it's (Nick) Fairley, Marcell Dareus, but I think Von Miller or Patrick Peterson make a ton of sense."
Any one of those players would provide immediate play making ability for a defense that sorely needs reinforcements after finishing last season 27th in sacks, 28th in interceptions, 28th in points allowed and last in the league in run defense.
In addition to doing all the homework on the prospects worthy of taking at third overall is a Bills roster of players with whom Gailey and Nix now have a firm working knowledge. They feel it will enhance their ability to put together a priority list for filling holes.
"We're a lot further along," said Gailey. "Last year there were a ton of questions. I didn't know any answers. This year we have a lot of questions, but I've got a lot more answers about where we are at some positions and where we're headed at some positions."
That includes quarterback where Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starter in 2011, something that reduces the urgency to add a franchise signal caller.
"I do think it's a factor, yeah I do because we really like Ryan Fitzpatrick," Nix said. "He's tough, he's smart, he's proved he can win for us. We're not in a position where we've got to have a quarterback. There are teams in the draft that do have to have one. There are some areas that we're looking at very strong that's not quarterback."
So although quarterback as a long term positional need for the Bills will be a focal point for outside observers, Buffalo's brass is intent on examining and filtering out the entire draft pool to make the best decision possible when they're on the clock with the third pick.
"I think you have to look at all scenarios," said Gailey. "You're trying to take care of immediate needs and at the same time take care of the long term franchise good. As you look at it you have to consider all scenarios in that situation."