2013 Bills draft needs: A new QB is important but Buffalo's priority is bolstering its defense

John Harris
Special to Yahoo! Sports

LAST SEASON Rush Offense - 138.6 ypg (6th)
Pass Offense - 204.3 ypg (25th)
Total Offense - 342.9 ypg (19th)
Scoring Offense - 21.5 ppg (21st)
Rush Defense - 145.8 ypg (31st)
Pass Defense - 217.1 ypg (10th)
Total Defense - 362.9 ypg (22nd)
Scoring Defense - 27.2 ppg (26th) MOST PRESSING NEEDS Offense: Quarterback and re-signing G Andy LeVitre
Defense: Inside/outside linebacker and defensive front playing up to its billing

Quarterback The Draft Board

1st round 1st - Geno Smith, West Virginia (6-3, 214)
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (6-2, 220)
Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (6-2, 229) 2nd round 2nd - Mike Glennon, NC State (6-6, 232)
EJ Manuel, Florida State (6-5, 234) 3rd round 3rd - Tyler Bray, Tennessee (6-6, 210) 4th round 4th - Zac Dysert, Miami, OH (6-3, 224)

It hasn't happened yet, but it will. The Ryan Fitzpatrick era should, and more than likely will, end sometime soon. The financial impact of cutting Fitzpatrick will sting (approximately a $10 million cap hit in 2013), but for new coach Doug Marrone's Bills to move upward and onward, it's time. Oh, yeah, lest I forget, Tarvaris Jackson and Tyler Thigpen are unrestricted free agents, so the position is due for a makeover. Considering how much the cap hit will be if, and when, Fitzpatrick is cut, it makes sense that the Bills would forsake attempting to pay big money to a free agent and find their future QB in the draft. Last year, the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill at No. 8 and signed him to a four-year, $12.7 million deal. Free agent QB Matt Flynn signed a three year, $24M deal to sit the bench. You can do the math.

With Kansas City and Arizona, potential quarterback destinations, in front of Buffalo, it might take a small miracle for Smith to fall into the Bills' laps at No. 8. There are scenarios in which both teams pass on quarterbacks and allow GM Buddy Nix to take his pick of signal callers. There are scenarios in which a couple of quarterbacks are taken before the Bills are on the clock, leaving Nix and company with limited options. Smith lit up most defenses he faced at the college level, but ironically, the one defense that gave Smith a ton of issues, this year and last, was Marrone's at Syracuse. If Smith is indeed off the board, I'm coming around on Wilson at No. 8. Tennessee selected Jake Locker at No. 8 a couple of years ago and Wilson is miles ahead of him as an NFL-style quarterback. That said, Wilson has struggled at times with his decision-making, but he's one of the toughest gunslingers in this, or any other, draft. Marrone, obviously, knows Nassib well and that intimate knowledge could propel him past Wilson. Nassib is a tad more athletic than Wilson, but Wilson is a more astute passer. The X-factor is Manuel. He had a brilliant Senior Bowl week. The problem is he was all over the place at Florida State, equal parts dynamic play with his arm and legs, average play in big games and hideously poor decision making at key moments. Of all of the quarterbacks here, Manuel has the highest ceiling, but he's also got the lowest floor. In other words, he's as boom-or-bust as it gets.

Running Back

Fred and CJ. CJ and Fred. When both are 100 percent healthy, this could, arguably, be the best running back duo in the league. Last year, Fred Jackson missed six games and is still in recovering from an MCL sprain. He's 31 but he doesn't have a ton of mileage on him, so to speak. Whether CJ Spiller takes over as the No. 1 weapon or not, Jackson will, and should, still have a role on this team. Even with a new staff in charge, more opportunities should arise for the explosive Spiller. He's coming off of a 1,200-yard season in which he averaged 6.0 yards per carry. It's time for Spiller to step forward and be the Man, allowing Jackson to settle in as a complementary back, not the other way around. Anticipating healthy seasons for both Jackson and Spiller – and facing glaring defensive needs – running back shouldn't be a priority for the Bills.

Wide Receiver The Draft Board

1st round 1st - WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (6-3, 205) 2nd round 2nd - WR Quinton Patton, La. Tech (6-2, 209) 3rd round 3rd - WR Markus Wheaton, Oregon St. (5-11, 183) 4th round 4th - WR Marquise Goodwin, Texas (5-9, 179)
WR Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (6-0, 190)

It's hard to put a finger on the receiving corps. There's young talent, shifty and explosive, yet the top three receivers accounted for only 11 touchdowns. Stevie Johnson is the bona fide No. 1 receiver for the Bills, but the remainder of the group could use a sprucing up. Nix drafted T.J Graham in the third round last year and he caught 31 passes and scored only one touchdown. Donald Jones had his best season as a Bill, catching 41 passes in just 12 games. Yet, this group was 24th in receiving yards per attempt and were significantly behind the majority of receiving corps in generating big plays down the field. Graham was drafted to be that dynamic downfield threat, but his inconsistency will force the Bills to look around. Sure, Fitzpatrick's struggles attributed to the issues stretching the field, but no matter who is under center, the team needs another dynamic threat.

The consistent theme of the receivers on this board: speed. A lot of speed. Patterson doesn't catch the ball exceptionally well and Tennessee struggled at times to get him the ball. But when he did make catches … wow. Patton is the most complete receiver on this board and the more I watch him, the more I'm convinced he may be gone by the second round. Wheaton is a track guy and one heck of a football player. Goodwin, an Olympic long jumper, left his quarterback issues in the past and is moving up draft boards after a stellar Senior Bowl. Stills had moments of brilliance in Norman and then times when he disappeared for stretches. But, in the fourth round, he would be well worth the selection to see if his speed could put defenses in peril deep down the field.

Tight End

Scott Chandler was the team's second leading receiver and seemingly has found a permanent home in Buffalo. He had 10 catches of 20-plus yards, just two fewer than Johnson, the team's top receiver. The Bills' issues in the passing game are more about quarterback and perimeter receiving threats than at tight end. This shouldn't be a priority, as long as Chandler remains healthy.

Offensive line The Draft Board

3rd round G Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 341)
T Oday Aboushi, Virginia (65, 310)
G/T Brian Winters, Kent St. (6-3, 310)
G/T Justin Pugh, Syracuse (6-5, 301)
G/T Menelik Watson, Florida State (6-5, 320) 4th round G Alvin Bailey, Arkansas (6-5, 315)
T Brennan Williams, North Carolina (6-7, 315) 6th round G Jeff Baca, UCLA (6-3, 305)
G Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech (6-3, 302)

First and foremost, the Bills want to re-sign left guard Andy LeVitre. Although signing a guard in the offseason is sort of like having a salad for lunch (not sexy, but really good for you), the Bills may have trouble keeping LeVitre. The Bills' offensive line only gave up 30 sacks last year and that was with a rookie (Cordy Glenn) at left tackle. LeVitre is a major reason why. He's durable and hasn't missed a game since he took over as a starter in 2009. Other than backup guard Chad Rinehart, another unrestricted free agent, the remaining offensive linemen are under contract. If the Bills re-sign LeVitre, then they would likely go for depth by drafting a lineman in the later rounds on Day Three. Lose LeVitre and the Bills may need to look at guard options starting in the third round.

Warford is a hammer and he's the opposite of LeVitre from that standpoint. LeVitre has tremendous feet and wins with technique and positioning, whereas the Kentucky product will drive guys on their backsides. Florida's Sharrif Floyd is expected to be one of the top defensive tackles off the board in this draft, and Warford stoned him much of the day when the two met. Aboushi is a prototype right tackle who could push Erik Pears during training camp, but is probably a full season away from being a starting tackle. Watson is the most intriguing of the bunch. The former Marist basketball player has only played a few years of American football and continues to soak up the game. Still, he's raw and the Bills don't need raw. But if he's available in the third or even the fourth round, he'll be worth discussion in the draft room. If LeVitre stays, a guy like Uzzi makes sense in the sixth round. He's a decorated ACC guard who is more of a finesse guy than a road grader like Warford. However, in the sixth round, he'd be sensational value to back up LeVitre, in the event that Rinehart departs.

Defensive line The Draft Board

4th round DE William Gholston, Michigan St. (6-6, 278)
DE Lavar Edwards, LSU (6-3, 272) 6th round DT/DE Spencer Nealy, Texas A&M (6-3, 275)
DE Joe Kruger, Utah (6-6, 280)

Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been hired to jump-start the Bills' defense and it has to start up front. Considering that Pettine wishes to be multiple with his fronts – some standard 3-4 front, some over/under 4-3 fronts – the question is whether the Bills have what they need to adapt. The short answer is it depends on Mario Williams. He didn't want to be a 3-4 defensive end in Houston, but perhaps his former teammate, J.J. Watt, showed him the possibilities. The Bills are paying him to change games, not finish with a sack here or there. This has been an underachieving group with the exception of Kyle Williams. Maybe the addition of Pettine to the staff will be the motivation this group needs. Marcell Dareus may be the biggest benefactor of Buffalo's multiple fronts, but he must raise his game to help improve the 31st-ranked rush defense in the league. Behind the starting front, depth is an issue.

Mario Williams and Dareus are the key to anything the Bills want to do up front, so bolstering the depth is key. Many have compared Gholston to Mario Williams, and he'd be an upgrade to play opposite of him against the run. He's not a great pass-rusher and would likely be only a two-down player. However, finding a physical specimen of that caliber in the fourth round would be an excellent selection. Nealy gave Alabama All-America center Barrett Jones all kinds of trouble when A&M beat Alabama in November and is a more athletic version (yet smaller) of Kyle Williams.

Linebackers The Draft Board

1st round OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia (6-2, 243)
OLB/ILB Alec Ogletree, Georgia (6-4, 234) 2nd round ILB Kevin Minter, LSU (6-2, 245)
ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame (6-2, 247) 3rd round OLB Chase Thomas, Stanford (6-3, 241)
OLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6-1, 231)
DE/OLB John Simon, Ohio St. (6-2, 256)
DE/OLB Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (6-3, 260) 4th round ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama (6-2, 249)
OLB Gerald Hodges, Penn St. (6-1, 239)
ILB/OLB Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 242)
ILB/OLB Sio Moore, U Conn (6-2, 240) 5th round DE/OLB Lerentee McCray, Florida (6-2, 249)
ILB/OLB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (6-2, 246)

Nick Barnett led the Bills with 112 tackles last year but was cut due in large part to a failed physical. So Nigel Bradham, a second-year player, and Kelvin Sheppard, a third-year player, are left as the two options at linebacker. Can they play inside next to one another in a 3-4? Can one play inside and one transition to an outside spot to give the team's scheme different options? Sheppard is, at best, a two-down linebacker who stays inside, while Bradham's future should be outside. Regardless, the Bills may be forced to look at acquiring inside and outside linebackers with versatility. Well, that and any former Jets who still have something left to prove (Bart Scott, perhaps?). This group still lacks a pressure player off the edge. In a perfect world, Mario Williams would move to a 5-tech and play with his hand on the ground, not standing up at OLB as Houston planned in 2011. Versatility will play a huge role for Nix in this draft.

Jones is the quintessential 3-4 OLB, yet he probably isn't best served playing away from the line of scrimmage as a read-and-react outside linebacker in any 4-3 alignments. That said, he can rush the quarterback, but consistency can wane, especially against stellar competition. Ogletree seems like the right fit for the Bills. He played inside linebacker in a 3-4 for former NFL defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at Georgia after converting from safety early in his career. But, he's probably best suited to play outside in either a 4-3 or 3-4. Nix loves players from the South. If there's anything that can derail Ogletree's draft standing, it's the issues he's had off the field. However, Ogletree is a flexible, versatile player who can move around and maximize production. Other teams may shy away from Ogletree because he's doesn't fit perfectly at either ILB or OLB, but that might be an asset for the Bills. The other selections in this group of linebackers epitomize versatility. Thomas can play with his hand on the ground or standing up, while Porter has played OLB in both a 3-4 and 4-3 in his college years. Simon mainly played down, but he's a relentless edge player who could adapt to playing outside linebacker standing up. If the team locks into an inside linebacker in the early second round, LSU's Minter would be a gem at that spot. He could line up next to Sheppard inside, while Bradham could move outside and make more plays in space, better utilizing his quickness and speed.

Secondary The Draft Board

4th round S D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina (5-11, 210)
S Shawn Williams, Georgia (6-0, 211)
S Robert Lester, Alabama (6-1, 212)
S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse (5-9, 209) 5th round S J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern (5-11, 214)

On the same day the Bills cut Nick Barnett, they also jettisoned safety George Wilson. He was second on the team with 102 tackles in 2012, so it's imperative the team re-sign free agent Jairus Byrd to keep some sort of continuity. Last year's coaching staff liked the look of Da'Norris Searcy at strong safety, but will Pettine look at his former club for Wilson's replacement? CB Stephon Gilmore will be a star before long, while a number of former early round draft picks are fighting for the spot opposite Gilmore. Regardless of whether Pettine raids the Jets' free agent kitchen, the Bills might be well served to find physical safety options in the middle rounds that can excel on special teams.

There's a lot to like in the group of late Day Two/Day Three safeties. Swearinger is more free than strong, but he hits like a truck. His tackling leaves a bit to be desired. However, he'd push either of the safeties for playing time early. Williams is all over the place. He's reckless. He's emotional. He'll be out of position. He's undisciplined. But, when he's right, he's a physical and imposing force in the middle. Thomas is intriguing because he plays a lot like former Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders. He lights up ball carriers and plays with ferocity. But he often ducks his head and misses tackles. All in all, though, getting a Syracuse grad in the fourth round at that position would be solid value. Before the season, Lester projected to be one of the top safeties in the nation, but was exposed at Alabama and had an extremely difficult year, despite great team success.

John Harris hosts The John Harris Show for Yahoo! Sports Radio.

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