Mario "Game" Granata
Looking at the Bills roster, and especially the defense that the Bills are looking at going into the 2014 season with, you would be hard pressed to argue against the fact that they are trying to end the longest playoff drought currently in the NFL. The "Architect" Doug Whaley, who is heavily rooted on the defensive side of the ball, is bringing in the Blue Chip players that the Bills desperately need, many of which are 1st and 2nd round picks.
With all the focus, especially out of Seattle, of late round picks making a splash in the NFL, many times that is directly the result of the scheme that these players are put into, and scouts overlooking some players in the draft. Doug Whaley is not taking that route however. The Architect of the Buffalo Bills is taking the blueprint that he had with the Steelers from 2000-2009, where Pittsburgh won two titles, and went to three Super Bowls, and he is trying to bring that to the 716. We as Bills fans are witness to something that hasn't been here in nearly a decade and a half, and with the recent moves, anticipation is building toward the 2014 season. As far as the Bills Defense is concerned, if you aren't first, you're last.
Looking currently at the Bills projected starters for the upcoming season, many are of the highest caliber, as far as their draft position is concerned:
Defensive Line: There is still a question at who will play the other defensive end across from Mario Williams, if it is either Manny Lawson or Jerry Hughes, 3 out of the 4 lineman are former 1st round picks. Williams (1st overall), Marcel Dareus (3rd overall) and if they decide to go with Lawson (22nd overall) or Hughes (31st overall), the only 'outcast' is former Pro Bowler Kyle Williams who was taken in the 5th round. Having top caliber talent making up the front 4 of the Bills is something that Jim Schwartz is no stranger to, and something that his 4-3 defense needs, and with the players that the Whaley picked up last year, and this year, we will see if that 1st round talent translates to One Bills Drive come September.
Linebackers: Moving to the second level, the core of the 4-3 starts in the middle. Brandon Spikes, we hope, will be on a personal mission to prove that he is not only a 3 down player, but one that will get the Bills over the Patriots hump this year. Going into 2014, it looks like it will be Spikes (2nd round, 62nd overall) in the middle, with Kiko Alonso (2nd, 46th overall) playing weak side linebacker and Keith Rivers (9th overall) on the strong side, as the starters. Now depending on what the Bills do with their 2014 draft class, the front 7 of the Bills will be made of 6 players that are 1st or 2nd rounders, and a Pro Bowler. Schwartz's scheme is not as aggressive as Mike Pettine, so the play making ability, especially out of the front 7, has to be stellar, and with the move of Alonso to the outside, he won't get caught in the 'wash' as much, and the run stopping ability of Spikes, that leaves the wild card of Rivers. If he can play like a 9th overall pick, the Bills are going to make some noise this year.
Secondary: The 'elephant in the room' being the void at Free Safety that was left by Jairus Byrd's flight to New Orleans, the Bills are still pretty solid in the secondary. Covering the islands on the outside are Stephon Gilmore (10th overall) and Leodis McKelvin (11th overall) who had some success last year, but with the change in schemes, and more pressure being placed on the corners, time will tell if they are able to repeat their successful 2013 campaigns. The recently signed Aaron Williams (2nd round, 34th overall) was taken just out of the 1st round, and having played both corner and safety will give Schwartz the flexibility to stay in base packages if Williams has to drop down on a slot receiver. The recently added Corey Graham joins Kyle Williams as the former 5th round selections, but when you pick off Peyton Manning en route to a Super Bowl winning season, the Bills faithful will take a playmaker like that.
So, if you were adding up the numbers, as of right now, the defensive starters for the Buffalo Bills going into the 2014 off-season have 9 players that were drafted in the 1st or 2nd rounds. (6 in Round 1, 3 in Round 2). Will this collection of high draft picks, prove to be the combination needed for the Buffalo Bills to make some noise in 2014...as always, time will tell.