The 2014 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, May 8, and every team will look to infuse youth and talent into their rosters. This is the latest primer in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit.
PICK NO. 9: BUFFALO BILLS
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2013 record: 6-10
Key offseason acquisitions: MLB Brandon Spikes, OLB Keith Rivers, CB Corey Graham, WR Mike Williams.
Key offseason departures: FS Jairus Byrd, DE Alex Carrington, FS Jim Leonhard.
Biggest holes: Tackle, linebacker, safety.
The Bills are slowly getting back on track.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was OK when he saw the field in 2013 (1,972 yards, 11 touchdowns, nine INTs in 10 starts). The problem was keeping him there. He had three separate knee injuries in 2013, two of which required surgery. The Bills need Manuel to take the leap to the next level in 2014, but they also need to protect him and continue to build his supporting cast.
To help solve that first part, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews would be an ideal pick. Matthews - the son of Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews - isn't the strongest lineman in the draft, but he's a very balanced technician who uses his footwork, tenacity and length to keep defenders at bay. He played left tackle as a senior but also has experience on the right side.
If Matthews is off the board by the ninth overall pick, Michigan's Taylor Lewan could be an option. The 6-7, 309-pound Lewan plays with a mean streak, yet is surprisingly athletic for a big guy. He keeps his feet moving on kick-slides in pass protection and is strong enough to dominate his defender in the run game. Off-field legal issues are a concern with Lewan, though -- he was charged in March with three misdemeanors in connection with an alleged assault of two Ohio State fans last December in Ann Arbor. Lewan has denied that he assaulted anyone and said he was trying to break up a fight.
The Bills have some quality wide receivers in Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Mike Williams. But, they could still use a big target for Manuel. That's where Eric Ebron would come in handy. The UNC tight end is the definition of a matchup nightmare - he checks in at 6-4 and 250 pounds, runs a 4.60 40-yard dash and has a very wide catch radius. He'll have concentration-related drops at times, but he runs clean routes and is tough to bring down after the catch.
The Bills could also upgrade on the defensive side of the ball. In particular, they could target a replacement for Jairus Byrd, who bolted for New Orleans. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be the best first-round fit. The Alabama free safety is rangy, instinctive and takes good angles to the ballcarrier. His hands are strong enough to make the interception, and he's a good tackler.
The Bills could also use another playmaking linebacker next to Kiko Alonso and free-agent signee Brandon Spikes. UCLA's Anthony Barr could be the choice if so. Barr is an edge player who uses his great speed (4.66-second 40) and acceleration (6.82-second three-cone drill) to blow past blockers and get into the backfield. Once he's there, he combines that speed with his 6-5, 255-pound frame to deliver huge hits. He's still raw, however, and needs time to develop into a complete player. The Bills could rotate him in on passing situations and let him get after the quarterback.
Possible mid- and late-round options for the Bills include Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Tennessee OT JaWuan James, Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler, Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas and Colorado State TE Crockett Gillmore.