- Doug Kretz, Scouts Inc.
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As the NFL draft approaches, "SportsCenter" is putting every NFL team with a first-round pick "On the Clock," and Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.
The Bills have overachieved the past two seasons under head coach Dick Jauron. Despite losing some of their top free agents, especially on defense, and suffering an injury to top 2007 top defensive pick LB Paul Posluszny, Jauron somehow guided the Bills to back-to-back 7-9 records. Last season, after an 0-3 start, the Bills were one of the league's hottest teams, winning seven of 10 games before fading with a three-game losing streak to end the season. Bills general manager Marv Levy retired after the season, but Buffalo distributed his duties among those already in the organization and things should continue to run smoothly. The Bills are excited about second-year RB Marshawn Lynch and if the uncertainty at quarterback becomes stabilized under second-year QB Trent Edwards, there is reason to be excited about the future in Buffalo.
The Bills made a decent splash in the free-agent market with the signing of LB Kawika Mitchell from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, as well as the signing of cornerback William James from Philadelphia. Mitchell gives them a presence off the edge as both a pass-rusher as well as someone who can stop the run. James is a big corner who can match up with most bigger receivers and be physical with them, jamming them at the line of scrimmage and competing for the pass. However, the biggest improvement comes from the March trade that brought in DT Marcus Stroud from Jacksonville in return for third- and fifth-round picks in this year's draft. Stroud is a huge presence who can anchor the interior of the line and not only improve the Bills' run defense, but also pressure the pocket on passing downs. He will team with fellow first-year Bill Spencer Johnson, whom Buffalo signed from Minnesota. These four defensive changes will definitely make Buffalo's defense more formidable.
Buffalo lost one starter from 2007 -- TE Michael Gaines, who caught 25 passes and shared time with Robert Royal, who also had 25 catches last season and will be the starter this year. The Bills lost backups who were role players: WR Sam Aiken, LBs Leon Joe and Josh Stamer and CB Jason Webster. All signed elsewhere and won't be missed.
Staying healthy would be a major plus, and so will getting back Posluszny. Lynch should take his game to another level in his second year, and Buffalo's offensive line will look better if the quarterback situation is settled. Edwards, who showed plenty of flashes in his rookie year, should be the man. The top two positions Buffalo must address in the draft are cornerback and wide receiver. A big wideout who would be a threat in the red zone would definitely help their scoring. The Bills were 30th in scoring last season, averaging 15.8 points. If TE Courtney Anderson comes through with a big year, that would help, but it's tough to depend on him because he's been extremely inconsistent throughout his career. As much as a wide receiver is a need, cornerback might be an even more pressing one as the Bills only have one proven corner on the roster.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
5hEric D. Williams