Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft philosophy.
The Bills drafted for the future last year as opposed to immediate needs, and who could blame them? They clearly were the worst team in the AFC East at the time and had little chance of challenging the Patriots or Jets. So the Bills drafted for long-range needs. They took running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall even though they already had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. They also collected a bunch of prospects from smaller schools, showing a willingness to mold players who weren't necessarily game-ready. The Bills were preparing more for 2012 than 2010. With the third and 34th picks this spring, they can obtain two starters if they choose -- or they can maintain last year's approach and draft with the horizon in mind. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton would fall into that category.
The Dolphins are in a tricky spot. They might be forced to reach in order to get a player they want. They're slotted 15th overall, putting them in a weird spot for some key positions of need. It's like no-man's land for a quarterback because Newton and Blaine Gabbert almost certainly will be off the board by then, but it's too soon for the next tier of prospects. Top receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Green also should be gone. No. 15 also seems too early for interior linemen or running backs. But if the Dolphins want to address a specific need, then they might be forced to reach. They don't have a second-round pick to fall back on. They traded it to the Denver Broncos in the deal for receiver Brandon Marshall. Lack of a second-rounder also limits their ability to trade up in the order.
As long as there's a lockout, draft picks are the only currency. In that regard, the Patriots are the NFL's wealthiest team. The Patriots have two picks in each of the first three rounds and three picks within the first 33 slots. That kind of affluence should make them major players when it comes to trades. Plus, the Patriots own the first selection of the second round. Several hours to think will tempt other teams to make a deal and move into that prime position to snag a player who slides unexpectedly. The Patriots have a history of trading back to collect picks, but with all of their assets and the likelihood of a rookie wage scale in the next collective bargaining agreement, this could be the year they trade up to get an impact player.
The Jets are in a similar position as the Dolphins -- only worse. Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum loves to trade up to acquire players the front office has identified as impactful. The Jets did so with cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris, running back Shonn Greene and quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Jets have been assigned the 30th pick because they made it to the AFC Championship Game, but good luck moving up this year. The Jets lost their second-round pick to the San Diego Chargers in the trade that brought cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Another method to moving up is packaging players. But the lockout prevents any such trades. Jets coach Rex Ryan has expressed resignation over being stuck at 30 and accepting whatever's left over.