With the tenth pick in the 2012 BGN Community Mock Draft, NJEagle selects...
Dre Kirkpatrick: CB, Alabama
The Buffalo Bills had a season of very highs and very lows in 2011. They beat Tom Brady and the Pats, Ryan Fitzpatrick got a sweet deal after having an unthinkably good first half of the season and Stevie Johnson set a franchise record for back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. The problem is that they lost eight of their last nine games, lost Fred Jackson for half the year and missed the playoffs, even after the aforementioned great start.
Some may say the offense became predictable at midseason or that Fred Jackson was the only reason the season was a success up until his injury. To both, I say nay.
The Bills were ranked near the bottom in a majority of defensive statistics making it almost impossible to hold a lead. The team was ranked 26th in total defense giving up a staggering 371 yards per game. Quarterbacks had a rating 90.4 against the Bills, which ranked 25th in the league. The defense allowed 27.1 points a game which was the third worst in the NFL. They also gave up 30 passing touchdowns and 19 rushing touchdowns, respectively the 30th and 31st in those categories.
More after the jump...
The defense wasn't a complete waste as they were very good at causing turnovers. They were tied for ninth in force fumbles and tied for sixth in interceptions. Only problem is they ranked 26th in opponent first down percentage (38.7%) and only sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times (which was also their ranking in that category). To put that into perspective, the Eagles sacked opposing quarterbacks 50 times, almost double the Bills numbers and the Arizona Cardinals allowed first down just 30.1 percent of the time.
This offseason, the Bills finally decided to open their wallets to improve their team. Perhaps the biggest defense signing in free agency was defensive end Mario Williams joining the Bills. The team also signed underrated pass rusher Mark Anderson to a long term deal. The team is switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 under former Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Panthers head coach, Dave Wannstedt. That moves last year's first round pick, Marcel Dareus, inside to defensive tackle and gives two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Kyle Williams a little more help up the middle. The signings and scheme transitions give the Bills one of the scariest defensive lines in the league.
With added help up the gut, the linebackers should be less exposed. The projected starters as of now, are Kirk Morrison at SAM, Nick Barnett at WILL and second-year player, Kelvin Sheppard as the MIKE. Morrison and Barnett have been starters in this league for years but are also getting up there in age. Sheppard, who played surprisingly well after being taken in the 3rd round last year, may be better fit to play on the weakside, which could make this a perfect fit for a guy like Luke Kuechly. The only issue is the Bills have a pretty inconsistent cornerback unit.
The secondary overall isn't awful, but outside of Jairus Byrd, no one really scares you. George Wilson and Bryan Scott are reliable players but struggle with the lack of talent at corner, giving them way too many coverage opportunities (not a strength for either). Perennial starter, Terence McGee, has only played a full season once in his career (playing in only 26 games over the past three years) and is no spring chicken at 31. Other starter, Drayton Florence is also 31and gave up the second worst QB rating for cornerbacks (103.3). The third member of the band, former first round pick Leodis McKelvin, has been all but mediocre. In four seasons, McKelvin has only five career interceptions and has only started 20 games in the last two seasons, despite playing all 16 games in both (remember McGee missed plenty of games over the last two seasons, so the Bills used other options over McKelvin).
Dre Kirkpatrick is left on the board...problem solved. Kirkpatrick likes long walks on the field, defending passes, and smoking weed. While that last interest is discouraging, Kirkpatrick can thrive in either zone or man defense due to his unmatched size (6'2") and decent speed (4.51 in the 40 yard dash). Kirkpatrick size is extremely intriguing as you can put him in the slot to cover tight ends and not worry about his losing the size battle (remember: the Bills play the Pats twice a year).
Kirkpatrick has a great pedigree as a two-time BCS National Champion and a 2011 second team All-American (AP). He was also a star in high school and was recruited by college football heavyweights, Florida and Texas along with Alabama.
There are negatives to Kirkpatrick as well. There is the whole "reefer" thing just a MONTH before the Combine (who does that?) and the fact that he only has three career interceptions in college (zero last season, but that could be because QBs didn't throw against him much). For a guy his size, he only weighs roughly 186 pounds. To put that in perspective, I am 6'2" and weigh 192 pounds and am of relatively average size. His meager weight could be a turnoff, but also could keep teams from moving him to safety if he struggles at corner, which takes away any form of versatility.
Another issue could be that the Bills think the upgraded pass rush will make their secondary better. That is a fair argument but the Vikings tied for the league lead in sacks and still allowed the most passing touchdowns in league (34). It's great to say the pass rush helps the secondary but as proven above, it doesn't always work out that way when your cornerbacks are injury-prone or Drayton Florence.
There is also the issue of other needs. The Bills have lacked a steady presence at left tackle since Jason Peters was traded (for essentially Eric Wood, which is pretty comical). Jonathan Martin of Stanford and Riley Reiff of Iowa are still on the board and are likely the best options at this point. Unlike some of my colleagues here at BGN, I don't feel like anyone outside of Matt Kalil deserves to be drafted in the top twenty at offensive tackle. So pass on that.
The Bills could use Kuechly here but I think they have a ton of faith in Sheppard who is also a cheaper option at linebacker. While Kuechly can play SAM, the Bills aren't likely to spend a top ten on an outside linebacker who can't rush the passer (and is possibly out of position).
Other corners could interest Buffalo. Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina has shot up draft boards like gangbusters but is likely a later pick in the first. Janoris Jenkins screams character issues but has great talent and potential. I think the Bills pass on him because of the former which may heavily out weigh the latter (there are at least a few teams I'd think that would have him completely off their board already).
With all the evidence, I believe Kirkpatrick is the guy. He is a much better cover man at this point than Drayton Florence is or McKelvin ever was. Dre can start from day one and allow McGee to rehab, McKelvin to focus on kick returns (he does that well), and Florence to twiddle his thumbs.
Next on the clock will be TheRealMcCoy with the Kansas City Chiefs.