From the very beginning there was no questioning Buffalo's need for a shot in the arm when it came to their pass rush. So defensive end has always been mentioned prominently by the draft "experts" when it comes to the Bills top pick at 11. But Buffalo's situation has changed now in the wake of the Jason Peters' trade. The Bills are still likely to go big early, but on which side of the line?
On the defensive side of the ball there are a few prospects considered possibilities for Buffalo at the 11th spot overall. The names have been mentioned time and again. Florida State's Everette Brown, Penn State's Aaron Maybin and Texas' Brian Orakpo are widely considered first round caliber.
Orakpo has the best measurables in terms of height and weight for a 4-3 end, and went against some of the best competition in the Big 12. But is he what Buffalo is looking for?
"His best strengths are his explosion and speed and playmaking ability off the edge," said Bills scout Shawn Heinlen. "He can play stout at the point. He's not as consistent in the run game as he should be at this point. You'd like him to be a little more consistent and be able to stop the run, but he has the ability to do it and shows it in flashes."
Not bringing his best on every play could hurt Orakpo in the eyes of a lot of NFL teams, where taking plays off is not looked upon favorably.
Brown is one of the most productive pass rushers over the past two seasons, matching Orakpo's sack total (23) while surpassing him in tackles for loss with 33 over his last two years at Tallahassee. Size is the issue that Brown must convince talent evaluators he can overcome.
"He's an extreme athlete for the position," said Heinlen. "Explosive off the edge. A little undersized. It's just going to depend on projecting how big he's going to get. Being an underclassmen coming out early he's still got some physical development coming as he gets older. So you try to project how heavy he's going to get to be able to be that stout run defender also as you move forward in the next couple of years. But he gives you that edge pass rush right away from day one."
Knowing the doubters are out there, Brown warns that you should not bet against him.
"I feel that I'm the best pass rusher in the draft," said Brown. "I feel that my skills, my knowledge coming off the edge the way I utilize my speed against opposing tackles, running backs and tight ends... whatever schemes teams may draw up to stop me to try to block me, I feel I am the best pass rusher to use my speed, quickness and strength to get to the quarterback and create constant pressure all game."
Should some of the top pass rushing talents be off the board when Buffalo is on the clock, or if they simply have some of the top offensive tackles rated higher than the pass rushers, filling the void left by Jason Peters could become the top priority.
However, three of the top tackles in Baylor's Jason Smith, Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Alabama's Andre Smith are predominantly forecast to be top 10 selections. The one prospect remaining that would seem to be an appropriate value for Buffalo at 11, should those three be off the board is Ole Miss' Michael Oher.
"He's athletic enough at the left tackle spot that he would be able to hold up and be a guy that you can play with and win with at that position," said Heinlen. "But he's strong enough physically to play on the right side. I know he hasn't tested out well and he's still getting stronger, but he has functional playing strength where he could play that right tackle spot and be a mauling run blocker. He's still really, really raw. He's still learning every single year and he keeps getting better and better. He's made great strides from last year."
Oher might be the most athletic offensive tackle in the draft, but his depth of knowledge for the position is still developing. He makes up for some of those shortcomings already with his athleticism, and most scouts feel once he fine tunes his anticipation skills he'll be a dominant player.
"You like the fact that he's continued to get better," Heinlen said. "It's just a matter of hoping he can keep progressing and keep him on that path where he continues to get better. He's got such a high ceiling that you just hope he can get to that point."
If Alabama's Andre Smith happens to slide a bit due to his decision to leave the combine prematurely or for his suspension from the Crimson Tide's bowl game due to contact with an agent, it appears he too would be a consideration for Buffalo.
"Fantastic football player," said Heinlen. "He might be one of the best run blocking tackles that I've seen in the past couple of years. He's able to just dominate the man lined up across from him. At any point in the game he can take over."
It doesn't sound as if the Bills are overly concerned with Smith's questionable decisions since his final college season ended.
"The stuff that happened at the combine from all the people we've spoken to and there are former coaches from the Bills staff (at Alabama) like Joe Pendry, everyone says great things about the kid," Heinlen said. "He's a young kid coming out, he's a little immature. He doesn't have experience in the social settings that he's been placed in now. He didn't handle it all as well as everyone would have hoped. But it's not a huge deterrent as far as the kid's character and those types of things. He just needs a little help to mature."
Though Smith is remarkably athletic for a man his size, Heinlen believes Smith may have to start his career as a right tackle and further develop his pass protection techniques since Alabama was primarily a run-oriented offense.
The positional needs are clear, but Buffalo has proven many times in the recent past that they will go with the value of their board over need (See: 2007 Trent Edwards). Ultimately, the odds are good that the Bills address one side of their line with their top overall pick come Saturday.