Bills can't afford a first-pick QB

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:33 PM ET

“We’ve got to hit it on the nose. There’s no way around it. We’ve got to hit those picks hard.” That was Tom Modrak, the Buffalo Bills’ vice-president of college scouting as he and GM Buddy Nix addressed the media at their pre-draft luncheon last week. According to Nix, the Bills will finalize their draft board on Wednesday, the day before the NFL draft’s first round is selected. Picking at No. 3, the Bills have a huge advantage over the bulk of the league. In a draft that is full of question marks, the Bills can choose to avoid any pitfalls and go with a safe pick. Safe pick, of course, is a term few in the NFL would be willing to use at any time, but particularly days before the draft. What if they are wrong? What if the safe pick turns out to be a bust? It could be a career-ender. However, for a guy writing about the draft and offering his opinion, there is no such fear. If we declared in this very space that Baylor offensive tackle Danny Watkins should be the first overall pick and could make a reasonable argument for it, that would be enough. We’ve got a soft spot for Watkins, the top-ranked Canadian in the draft and a possible first-rounder. But since we don’t believe there’s any chance Watkins could go No. 1, we wouldn’t write it. What we do believe is that there are a minimum of four safe picks at the top of the draft and, if we could give the Bills any advice, it would be to limit themselves to one of these with their first pick. Cornerback Patrick Peterson out of LSU, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and Georgia Bulldogs wideout A.J. Green are those four. Notice the lack of quarterbacks on that list. As tough as it might be to back away from the Cam Newtons or Blaine Gabberts of this draft class, the Bills, by their own mandate of hitting it “on the nose,” must do that. One or both of Newton or Gabbert may indeed turn out to be a franchise quarterback, but at this point it’s a coin flip for Newton and a less than 50% chance with Gabbert that either of them do. There are just too many questions. Neither has worked in a traditional NFL offence. The learning curve is going to be huge for both. Maybe they adapt, maybe they don’t, but why not go for the sure thing? Why risk it when there is all-Pro talent and more certainty elsewhere? Peterson may not fit the traditional bill at No. 3 — cornerbacks just aren’t considered good value at that spot — but that is old-school thinking. The NFL, more than ever before, is a passing league, so if the guys throwing the ball are at a premium, shouldn’t the guys in closest proximity to those passes be close to that? The LSU corner is a ready-made NFL prospect who can step right into the lineup and help any team in the league. That’s the definition of safe pick. And if you’re still worried about value, consider that he could also answer many teams’ questions about their return game. Peterson is widely considered the best returner in the draft. Miller, the cream of the linebacking crop in this draft, is another player widely considered NFL-ready. He is a heat-seeking quarterback destroyer and by no means a reach at No. 3. In a draft full of defensive linemen that can help out, Dareus is both the best pick and the head of the class. He can play just about anywhere you need him on the line and produce. The only offensive safe bet in this draft is Green. He was upstaged by Julio Jones at the combines but, on the football field in the heat of the battle, Green catches everything while Jones can be hit with a bout of the dropsies. Green is the Calvin Johnson of the draft class and another guy who will produce now and into the future. The Bills have the 34th pick and with Nix calling this “probably a perfect time to take a guy” when discussing quarterbacks in the draft, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him use that pick on a signal-caller. Nix’s comments were taken out of context a little when that statement was used by some to declare the Bills in the quarterback hunt with their first picks. For clarification purposes only, what Nix actually said was: “If you can do it the way we did with Drew Brees it makes it easier. If you can take a guy and sit him a year or two until he’s a knowledgeable and ready to play, his success rate is going to be pretty high.” Brees went to the Chargers with the first pick in the second round, or one pick higher than the Bills will be drafting on Friday (second and third rounds are selected Friday). So, if Buddy and the Bills want to risk that pick on a Christian Ponder who Chan Gailey is apparently so fond of, so be it. Gailey has worked wonders with young quarterbacks in the past and Ponder, assuming he’s not off the board, is as good a bet as any of that second tier to eventually succeed. Reach there, if you must, just don’t reach with the No. 3 pick when there is so much more certainty available.

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