Needs filled in draft
Shawn Nelson (Getty Images)
Shawn Nelson (Getty Images)

Posted Apr 29, 2009


Buffalo wasn't able to replace Jason Peters, but still managed to fill many needs in last weekend's draft. Getting Shawn Nelson (left) late was a steal, among other good finds...

To their credit, the Bills didn't pretend to be something they aren't: a Super Bowl contender that could tweak its roster with the proverbial "best players available."

Having missed the playoffs nine consecutive seasons and coming off three consecutive 7-9 finishes, the team had a handful of needs to address -- defensive end, offensive line, tight end, safety and linebacker -- and it filled every one during the draft.

"We've addressed our needs, no doubt about that, and we did it by staying true to our (draft) board," coach Dick Jauron said.

The Bills voiced confidence that they didn't reach to make any selection, with the only debate on that front involving guard/tackle Andy Levitre of Oregon State. The Bills traded third- and fourth-round picks to move up 24 spots back into the second round to take Levitre after sensing a run on tackles could ensue.

Jettisoning their third-rounder left Buffalo without a pick when a run on tight ends began. But they were able to get real value out of the tight end they eventually wound up with, Southern Mississippi's Shawn Nelson, selected in the fourth round and 121st overall. Nelson had second-round grades by most scouting services.

Waiting for a player like Nelson is a lot smarter than overvaluing candidates like J.P. Losman and John McCargo, players the Bills selected by giving up picks to get back into round one. Those moves did not produce as initially hoped.

In defensive end Aaron Maybin, center/guard Eric Wood, cornerback/safety Jairus Byrd and Nelson, the Bills have four players with the potential to start or contribute as rookies. It will take some work by the coaching staff, though.

Maybin has raw pass-rushing skills and is a freakish athlete in the Jevon Kearse mold. But he started only one season in college at Penn State and needs to bulk up more without losing speed.

Meanwhile, Wood, Byrd and Levitre, even fifth-round pick Nic Harris, a safety/linebacker from Oklahoma, are players projected to play different positions in the NFL than the ones they played in college. Making those transitions is never a guarantee and the Bills have bitten off four projects.

Even Maybin could wind up as an outside linebacker if he gets shoved around by giant tackles and can't get to the quarterback.

"We really like him," Jauron said. "If he gets near the quarterback, we think he's got the ability to turn the edge, turn that thing towards the quarterback and he can reach and get the ball. He's got reach to the ball and ball carriers. He works at it and he's young."

Wood, on the other hand, was a four-year starter at Louisville. At 6-4, 304, he may be a tad tall for center, but ideal for guard. And his nasty demeanor is something the Bills can use a dose of up front. The Bills have tagged free agent Geoff Hangartner to play center. Wood and Levitre add options that include veteran Langston Walker moving from right to left tackle.

The Bills have been weak up the middle for years.

"We've talked about getting tougher up front," COO/GM Russ Brandon said. "He (Wood) is a highly intelligent player and when we add Geoff in at center, you put Eric in the mix at guard with Brad Butler and it gives us the opportunity to be much tougher up front and versatile and smart."

BEST PICK: Louisville OL Eric Wood could play center or guard. The Bills needed a stud tackle to replace Jason Peters, but a team can never go wrong strengthening itself up the middle. Wood, a throwback player who has been compared to Pittsburgh great Mike Webster, was taken with the extra first-round pick (No. 28) obtained in the Peters-to-Philadelphia trade. He's known for his nasty temperament and for attacking defenders and finishing blocks -- something new for this Bills' line. The Bills envision him at left guard where there is a need after the release of Derrick Dockery, who played too soft. In time, Wood could play center. He has the potential to be a 10-year starter, even if he's not a sexy draft pick to fans. But 7-9 teams can't afford to be sexy.

COULD SURPRISE:TE Shawn Nelson is considered great value in the Bills' building. The Southern Miss star with a top-50 grade was chosen 121st overall. To their credit, the Bills gave up mandating that their tight end prospects have to be better blockers than pass catchers. Nelson isn't a polished blocker and he needs to add some bulk to withstand the rigors of the NFL trenches. But he's a polished receiver and route runner who has the ability to make an immediate impact on Buffalo's 22nd-ranked passing game after veteran Robert Royal wasn't re-signed. He could even run from the slot in combination with Lee Evans and Terrell Owens, giving quarterback Trent Edwards some juicy matchup advantages.



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