AFC East: Christian Ponder

Bills defense: Trick or treat?

August, 17, 2013
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On the surface, Friday night's preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings looked like an impressive showing by the Buffalo Bills defense.

After all, they held the Vikings to just three points through the first three quarters. The Bills had four sacks, forced a fumble, and limited Minnesota to just 41 first-half rushing yards. They even added a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

This part is true: the Bills defense kept the Vikings on their heels, especially early in the game. Never did Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel look comfortable under center.

But before anyone gets carried away with the success of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's pressure schemes, let's remember one thing: Ponder and Cassel were two of the NFL's worst quarterbacks last season.

The Vikings held their best player, running back Adrian Peterson, out of action on Friday night, but beyond that, Minnesota did not seem to anticipate the aggression of the Bills defense in the teams' second preseason contest.

"Everybody has their way of approaching the preseason, and that’s their choice," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. "They did some good things. It’s preseason. They have the option to do whatever they want to do. We didn’t spend a lot of time preparing to play Buffalo."

"Just their whole defense was pretty exotic. They had some exotic personnel and different schemes, it was a little different and sometimes it was a little hard for us to identify," Ponder added.

Was the Vikings not being ready for Pettine's defense the Bills' problem? Not at all. And come the regular season, when teams do prepare for it, Pettine still has ways of keeping defenses off balance.

After the New York Jets were routed 45-3 by the New England Patriots in Dec. 2010, the Pettine-coached Jets defense turned to a coverage-heavy, extra defensive back- scheme in the teams' ensuing playoff game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, expecting blitzes and pressure looks, was stymied, and the Patriots fell to the Jets, 28-21.

It's that unpredictable element that the Bills hope Pettine will bring to the defensive philosophy this season. It won't always be about pressure and sacks.

But for right now, the performance of the Bills defense on Friday night shouldn't be made into anything more than a step in the right direction. It was encouraging, but not excellent.
The Miami Dolphins are 0-4 and their starting quarterback -- Chad Henne -- is done for the year with a shoulder injury.

Enter Andrew Luck in 2012? It's very possible.

But if you look deeper, Miami's biggest competition may not be competition at all. Miami is one of four winless teams. The other three have some level of stability at quarterback.

Count the St Louis Rams (0-4) out of the "Luck Sweepstakes." The Rams just drafted franchise quarterback Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. St. Louis signed Bradford to a contract worth a maximum of $86 million and is sticking with him, regardless if it lands the top pick.

The Indianapolis Colts (0-4) are in the race because of the neck injury to Peyton Manning. But the Colts expect Manning to return. Otherwise, they would not have reached a five-year extension reportedly worth up to $90 million. Yes, Indianapolis could draft Luck No. 1 overall. But it wouldn't be a wise use of resources. Luck could rot on the bench behind Manning for the next 3-4 years once Manning is healthy.

The Minnesota Vikings (0-4) are the trickiest of the group. Minnesota signed struggling veteran Donovan McNabb in the offseason. He probably won't be on the team next year. But the Vikings also are high on 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder. Many felt Minnesota reached on Ponder by taking him No. 12 overall. The Vikings disagree. But that theory could be tested if they're eligible to draft Luck, who is viewed as one of the top quarterback prospects in years. Would Minnesota draft first-round quarterbacks in back-to-back years? Or would they stick with Ponder over Luck?

This all opens the door for the Dolphins. Other one-win teams like Seattle (1-3), Denver (1-3) and Kansas City (1-3) are competition, as well. But Miami has the inside track. The Dolphins are playing the rest of the year with a backup quarterback (Matt Moore) and a coach (Tony Sparano) on the hot seat.

Video: Kiper on how Pryor projects in NFL

June, 9, 2011
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ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper explains why Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor will be hurt by not going through the usual draft process of playing in the Senior Bowl, going to the combine and holding pro days.

Kiper says Pryor will be no better than a third- or fourth-round draft choice in the supplemental draft. Kiper calls Pryor's athletic ability "top notch," but adds he "throws some bad balls, makes some bad reads, some bad decisions. ... The pure passing skills you need are not there yet."

Should teams consider Pryor a WR?

June, 3, 2011
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A couple days ago, we took a gander at whether an AFC East club would be interested in grabbing besieged Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.

Chances would be slim anybody would want him at quarterback.

But ESPN analyst Todd McShay offered another perspective: What about as a wide receiver?

McShay isn't convinced Pryor could develop NFL-level passing accuracy or interpretive skills despite tremendous speed and elusiveness. We saw how far that combination took Pat White.

But Pryor is 6-foot-6 and 233 pounds and is athletic enough to become a decent target.

McShay wrote for ESPN Insider:
Because of his size, I still think Pryor is a better prospect at wide receiver than quarterback at this point, and he would have been the No. 8 quarterback on my board -- behind Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick -- had he chosen to enter the 2011 draft.

Pryor carried a third-round grade following last season (and remains in that area now) based mostly on his potential to move to receiver if he does not make significant progress as a quarterback early in his NFL career, and the odds are stacked heavily against him doing so.

As a couple readers mentioned, maybe Pryor could evolve into the type of player Brad Smith was for the New York Jets, a versatile player who can take snaps out of a pistol formation, return kicks or line up at receiver.

Lockout impact on Mallett, other rookie QBs

June, 1, 2011
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ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi discussed the importance of informal lockout practices for getting rookie quarterbacks ready to play in 2011.

Bruschi said New England Patriots rookie Ryan Mallett is in the best situation because he won't need to be ready to play on opening day and has time to learn the system from Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

"Mallett is going to have the best chance to succeed because he is going to get to sit, he's going to get to watch and he is going to get to learn," Bruschi said. "He's not going to have a lot of pressure on him. So he will just develop slowly, which I believe is what every quarterback should have."

"SportsCenter" host Linda Cohn compared Mallett's situation to that of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who watched for three years in New England before starting one season and striking it rich.

"You can’t underestimate the value of these young quarterbacks, to be able to sit there and look at a professional like a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady, to see how they approach their craft," Bruschi said. "They learn. They process it all up here. And when their chance comes, that's when they can cash it all in."

AFC East reader mock pretty much a failure

May, 2, 2011
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For six weeks leading into the draft, I compiled your votes for an AFC East reader mock that would be measured against ESPN experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

We got crushed.

Mightily.

AFC East readers correctly predicted only three selections: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton first to the Carolina Panthers, Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson fifth to the Arizona Cardinals and USC tackle Tyron Smith ninth to the Dallas Cowboys.

That's right. Shut out in the division.

Kiper delivered nine picks in the correct slots, although three of them went to wrong teams because of trades. McShay got eight slots right with two going to the wrong team.

Therefore, Kiper and McShay each had six bull's-eyes.

Procedural circumstances hurt the AFC East reader mock draft a little. We started back in March, choosing a player every weekday until we were done. Once a selection was made, it was locked in.

Kiper and McShay, meanwhile, had the ability to constantly tweak. At one point, each predicted Alabama running back Mark Ingram to the Miami Dolphins at No. 15 -- just like readers of the AFC East blog. But Kiper and McShay eventually switched to the winning pick, Florida center Mike Pouncey.

But the competition was so one-sided, I doubt tweaking would've helped much.

I came up with this scoring system to give credit for picks that were close and to account for trades:
  • 5 points: bull's-eye (player and team)
  • 4 points: player to right team/different slot or player in right slot/different team
  • 3 points: player taken within one slot of projected pick
  • 2 points: player taken within two slots of projected pick
  • 1 point: player taken within three slots of projected pick

That gave the AFC East blog 26 points with three bull's-eyes, two players within a slot, two players within two slots and one player within three slots.

Of the 24 remaining guesses, six of them weren't taken in the first round at all. The good news is that Kiper and McShay also whiffed on four of the same ones: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.

Kiper racked up 48 points, powered by having the first six picks slotted correctly.

McShay accumulated 50 points with my system. He couldn't match Kiper's hot start, but caught him in the second half. McShay nailed the Cameron Heyward to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 31st pick.

When considering the worst miss, AFC East blog readers had Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder going to the Buffalo Bills at No. 34 (we allowed two bonus predictions because AFC East teams had the first two picks of the second round). Ponder went 12th to the Minnesota Vikings. The 22-spot differential was the largest of any player in the three mocks.

Readers also failed to include Washington quarterback Jake Locker in the first round, and he went eighth overall to the Tennessee Titans.

Buffalo's QB option didn't materialize

April, 30, 2011
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix said "there were some shockers" when it came to first-round quarterbacks.

Those surprises, however, didn't take Buffalo off the quarterback scent.

The chance to take Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus with the third pick played a bigger role in their decision not to get a quarterback within the first two rounds.

"We didn't think Marcell would be there," Nix said Friday night, minutes after taking Texas cornerback Aaron Williams. "Now, the whole thing, leading up to it until the last day or two, we thought he'd be gone. But when [Auburn quarterback Cam] Newton was gone and [Dareus] was there, it was an easy pick."

Whispers around One Bills Drive were that the Bills would look hard at a quarterback at No. 3 or go with a defender there and then try to get a quarterback at No. 34.

The latter option became less likely when Washington quarterback Jake Locker went eighth to the Tennessee Titans, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert went 10th to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder went 12th to the Minnesota Vikings.

It was the first time three quarterbacks went within the first 10 picks since 1999 and only the third time it ever happened in NFL history.

"We're to the point -- and I think I said this a lot of times -- with the first pick, we wanted a franchise guy," Nix said. "If he wasn't there, then we were going to get better on defense and work on needs if the right guy was there."

Nix conceded the Bills still have to address quarterback at some point. They have only two -- incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and sophomore project Levi Brown -- under contract.

"We are still going to go to camp with probably four quarterbacks," Nix said. "So that's not to say we won't take one in the draft, but it's also not to say we wouldn't go after a veteran to be a backup for us and then take another arm to camp. It might be a college free agent."

'Mallett 6' script waiting to be written

April, 30, 2011
4/30/11
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Ryan MallettChris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe New England Patriots were willing to take a risk on Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.
We'll find out what Ryan Mallett is all about.

No setting would have provided a truer test than New England, where the coach runs a tight operation and the quarterback provides the perfect template for a youngster to follow.

Team after team saw Mallett's name on the draft board and ignored it. Seventy-three picks were made, including four by the New England Patriots, before they finally added the quarterback many analysts called the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year's class.

"When I got that call," Mallett said, "it was a great feeling just to know that somebody wanted me."

Mallett's humiliation couldn't have cut as deeply as what Tom Brady felt 11 years ago, when the future Hall of Famer squirmed through five-plus rounds of rejection.

Memories of that day recently made Brady cry. The anger and bitterness and appreciation for his parents' support bubbled over during an interview for "The Brady 6," an ESPN documentary about the quarterbacks taken before him.

Perhaps "The Mallett 6" already is playing on a loop inside the rookie's head.

If not, you can imagine Brady whispering constant reminders in Mallett's ear about being driven to prove all the doubters wrong and to show the world he's better than Cam Newton and Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick.

Mallett can do that in New England.

If he wants it badly enough.

"It's an opportunity for me to learn from him and further my knowledge under that coaching staff," Mallett said of Brady late Friday night. "It was something I'm really excited about when I got the call. I can't wait to get started."

When the Patriots make a selection such as this one, it's perceived as brilliant. Bill Belichick earned that presumption with three Super Bowl rings and a steady stream of AFC East championships.

Had the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals or San Francisco 49ers drafted Mallett, we would be ridiculing them right now.

Mallett, in the eyes of most, would be dooooooomed to failure.

After all, Mallett clearly was more toxic than asbestos and ready to contaminate all he came into contact with. The passing skills he demonstrated in Arkansas' pro-style offense were undeniable. And although his mobility resembles that of a drowsy turtle, the damning issues were away from the field. Vague drug accusations hovered, and while still not detailed in public, teams apparently were convinced he wasn't worth the risk.

"Obviously, we're comfortable with him," Belichick said. "We took him."

Now AFC East opponents dread the prospect of Mallett emerging as a well-tutored prodigy with a cannon arm and a Dante Scarnecchia-coached offensive line to keep harassing defenders away.

But Mallett's real advantage in this scenario is Brady.

Mallett won't need to play right away -- not this year or next and probably not the year after that. He can learn from one of the supreme overachievers of NFL history.

That's the type of competitor Mallett will be exposed to in Foxborough. Every day, he'll get to observe, extract, probe and scrutinize the actions of a genuine winner.

"He's definitely a football guy," Belichick said of Mallett. "He is a great kid to talk to. He's very into football. You can't wear him out. If you want to talk about it, he'll be there. However many hours it is, he's ready to go watch the next film. He'll talk about a new technique or a route or a read, whatever.

"His father is a football coach. He's grown up in a football family, which I can definitely relate to that. Either you get sick of it or you marry into it and love it. It's one of the two. I think he's very much of a football person.

"He's a kid that's eager to learn and has a great thirst for knowledge for his position, which there's a lot going on there. He'll certainly get an opportunity to receive a lot of knowledge at that position around here."

On the surface, the payoff for New England seems minimal. Brady should have five more good years in him. He will turn 34 in September but is at the top of his game. He's the reigning MVP and a unanimous All-Pro selection, guiding the Patriots to a 14-2 record last season and posting phenomenal efficiency numbers.

Brady is signed through 2014. Mallett might flame out before then, but even if he doesn't, he could become a free agent before Brady is ready to yield the job.

What then?

If the Patriots' highly favorable atmospheric conditions allow Mallett to grow into a young star, the Patriots will have the ability to convert him into more future assets -- a groom-and-trade exercise similar to what they pulled off with Matt Cassel.

In the meantime, Mallett would provide backup services. Brady has gotten banged up over the past few years. An insurance policy is wise.

There's always a chance disaster will strike. Another season-ending injury could befall Brady. In between serenity and panic, a broken bone could sideline Brady for a couple of games.

Then Mallett would get his chance to show everybody what he's all about.

He might very well fall flat on his facemask. But it's much easier to picture him pulling it off in a Patriots jersey, isn't it?

Bills, Dolphins make safe picks, avoid QBs

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
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Mike Pouncey and Marcell DareusGetty ImagesThe Dolphins and Bills chose linemen -- center Mike Pouncey and D-lineman Marcell Dareus, respectively -- over quarterbacks in the first round.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As expected, a famous quarterback was the first pick in Thursday night's NFL draft.

Then things got a little strange. Another quarterback didn't go off the board until No. 8, and it wasn't the prospect anybody expected. Then -- boom, boom -- two more went.

Four quarterbacks were off the board inside the first dozen picks, a third of the selections. Quarterbacks were a hot commodity.

Yet the two AFC East clubs that went into the draft with quarterback curiosity steered clear of the frenzy. The Buffalo Bills certainly did so by choice, the Miami Dolphins perhaps by circumstance.

Either way, they made safer plays.

Will they regret their decisions?

The NFL is driven by quarterbacks. Neither club has one. Neither club drafted a prospect Friday night.

The Bills had their chance to add any quarterback other than Auburn star Cam Newton with the third pick. The Bills could've snapped up Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, but took Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus instead.

"I don't think there's any such thing as a safe pick," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "But I think [Dareus] is about as close as it gets."

Buffalo made the decision, knowing it still had the option of drafting a quarterback with the 34th selection Friday, but then the draft broke in such a way that made that scenario seem less likely -- for a bit.

Three more quarterbacks were gone in a hurry.

As expected, Gabbert was off the board, although he surprisingly slid to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 10. The Tennessee Titans plucked Washington quarterback Jake Locker with the eighth pick, and the Minnesota Vikings took Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder 12th.

When the Dolphins were on the clock with the 15th pick, the value of quarterbacks had skyrocketed. Yet despite their uneasiness in Chad Henne and minus a second-round draft choice, the Dolphins avoided any temptation of reaching.

Arkansas lightning rod Ryan Mallett was available. So was Texas Christian quarterback Andy Dalton.

Like the Bills, the Dolphins played it safe and addressed a need in the trenches. They filled a need on their interior offensive line with Florida center Mike Pouncey.

Henne certainly appreciated that selection. Not only did his protection get that much better, but he also avoided competing with a high draft choice in training camp.

Even so, the Dolphins might have the chance to add a veteran soon enough. The NFL can't delay free-agent signings or trades forever. Those kinds of transactions could be permissible as soon as this weekend, allowing the Dolphins to pursue Carson Palmer or Kyle Orton or Kevin Kolb or Vince Young or whomever.

Buffalo still has options if it wants a quarterback Friday.

Four quarterbacks inside the first 12 picks indicated a couple more might come off the board before the first round concluded, but none did.

Mallett and Dalton still are around. Buffalo could have a decision to make on at least one of them Friday.

Nix didn't sound like he was going to be in that hunt. Nix declared he could "get another starter" with the No. 34 pick. Ryan Fitzpatrick still would project as the leading man over any quarterback left.

So all the AFC East quarterback situations look the same now as they did 24 hours ago because the Bills and Dolphins played the percentages. Other teams gambled a bit and snagged quarterbacks they hope will lead them into the future.

Let the speculation begin.

It is possible to be safe and sorry.

One last look at AFC East mocks

April, 28, 2011
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With the start of the NFL draft hours away, let's take a final glance at AFC East projections.

The last roundup includes ESPN experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks, the National Football Post's Wes Bunting, Dallas Morning News writer Rick Gosselin, CBSSports.com senior writer Clark Judge and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock and Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly.

No. 3 Buffalo Bills
  • Kiper's pick: Marcell Dareus, Alabama defensive tackle
  • McShay's pick: Marcell Dareus, Alabama defensive tackle
  • Banks' pick: Blaine Gabbert, Missouri quarterback
  • Bunting's pick: Marcell Dareus, Alabama defensive tackle
  • Gosselin's pick: Marcell Dareus, Alabama defensive tackle
  • Judge's pick: Marcell Dareus, Alabama defensive tackle
  • Mayock's pick: Marcell Dareus, Alabama defensive tackle
  • Nawrocki's pick: Marcell Dareus, Alabama defensive tackle
No. 15 Miami Dolphins
  • Kiper's pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
  • McShay's pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
  • Banks' pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
  • Bunting's pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
  • Gosselin's pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
  • Judge's pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
  • Mayock's pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
  • Nawrocki's pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida center
No. 17 New England Patriots (from Oakland Raiders)
  • Kiper's pick: Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple defensive lineman
  • McShay's pick: Cameron Jordan, California defensive end
  • Banks' pick: Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson defensive end
  • Bunting's pick: Cameron Jordan, California defensive end
  • Gosselin's pick: Cameron Jordan, California defensive end
  • Judge's pick: Mark Ingram, Alabama running back
  • Mayock's pick: Cameron Jordan, California defensive end
  • Nawrocki's pick: Christian Ponder, Florida State quarterback
No. 28 New England Patriots
  • Kiper's pick: Mark Ingram, Alabama running back
  • McShay's pick: Brooks Reed, Arizona defensive end
  • Banks' pick: Mark Ingram, Alabama running back
  • Bunting's pick: Mark Ingram, Alabama running back
  • Gosselin's pick: Danny Watkins, Baylor guard
  • Judge's pick: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin tackle
  • Mayock's pick: Jake Locker, Washington quarterback
  • Nawrocki's pick: Danny Watkins, Baylor guard
No. 30 New York Jets
  • Kiper's pick: Phil Taylor, Baylor nose tackle
  • McShay's pick: Akeem Ayers, UCLA outside linebacker
  • Banks' pick: Phil Taylor, Baylor nose tackle
  • Bunting's pick: Phil Taylor, Baylor nose tackle
  • Gosselin's pick: Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State tackle
  • Judge's pick: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa defensive end
  • Mayock's pick: Akeem Ayers, UCLA outside linebacker
  • Nawrocki's pick: Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple defensive lineman

Mock plus: Houston to Pats, Ponder to Bills

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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AFC East reader mock overtime has concluded.

Houston
Houston
After six weeks, we made it through our first round Tuesday morning. Iconic ESPN analyst Mel Kiper was kind enough to give his opinion on it.

But because the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills own the first two selections of the second round, voters suggested we extend our mock draft to include those predictions.

Readers tacked on Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston for the Patriots and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder for the Bills.

Ponder
Ponder
Based on the comments, readers mostly predicted the Patriots would trade No. 33. Other teams hot for a certain player still on the board -- especially a quarterback -- will be motivated to move into that spot and have several hours to get a deal done.

But for mock purposes, Houston was the overwhelming selection ahead of Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.

Buffalo's list of nominations at No. 34 was interesting.

Of the nine players mentioned, five of them were quarterbacks, including the top three vote-getters: Ponder, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett.

That response is tied in with Buffalo's mock domino at No. 3, choosing Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller there instead of a quarterback.

Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph was the most popular non-QB with a grand total of three votes.

The end.

Next, we get to break down how well we did.

Video: Kiper shares latest QB draft buzz

April, 25, 2011
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ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper predicts four quarterbacks will be selected Thursday in the first round, including Missouri's Blaine Gabbert possibly to the Buffalo Bills with the third overall pick.

In addition to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton early, Kiper considers Washington's Jake Locker, Texas Christian's Andy Dalton and Florida State's Christian Ponder legitimate first-round possibilities. Kiper says Ponder talk is "hot" at the moment and weighs in with his thoughts on Arkansas lighting rod Ryan Mallett.

Did Andre Reed tip Bills' hand on Ponder?

April, 21, 2011
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A few months back, Andre Reed got into the culinary business with his "Over the Middle" sauce.

Did he branch out Thursday by spilling the beans?

Reed has been chosen to represent the Buffalo Bills next week at the NFL draft in Radio City Music Hall. All 32 clubs will have a former star in attendance to announce the second-round picks.

The New England Patriots will have Hall of Fame outside linebacker Andre Tippett there. The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets don't own second-round picks, but cornerback Sam Madison and defensive lineman Marty Lyons will be in the rotation.

Reed tweeted a potential preview message to Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder:
@cponder7 Lookin forward to calling your name Draft Day!!!!!!!!!Bills brash like ur style.

Reed deleted the note and quickly posted another tweet that toned down the excitement.
@cponder7 Lookin forward to the possibility of calling your name Draft Day!!!!!!!!!Bills brash like ur style.

The Bills own the third and 34th picks in the draft. Mock draftniks project Ponder to be available early in the second round, but waiting might not the safest approach to getting a quarterback.

Some analysts wonder if there will be run on quarterbacks late in the first round. The Patriots hold the 33rd choice and will be fielding calls for it in the hours between the end of the first round and the start of the second round.

"It could be a record number," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said Tuesday about first-round quarterbacks. "There's so much need for a quarterback."

Draft Watch: AFC East

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: dream scenario/Plan B.

Buffalo Bills

Dream scenario: The Bills went 4-12 last year and haven't made the playoffs in 11 years. They're entering their second season under general manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey. They're still laying an organizational foundation. As such, there are holes all over the place. So many, in fact, the Bills can go almost any direction and not make a misguided pick. Their dream player would be Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, but his availability at No. 3 isn't within their control. I believe if Newton is there, the Bills will pounce.

Plan B: If Newton's gone, then Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert almost certainly will be on the board for them. At least two of the top three defensive players -- Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller and Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson -- would be there, too.

Miami Dolphins

Dream scenario: The Dolphins' dream scenario would be to get a draft-day phone call from another team desperate to move into the middle of the first round. The Dolphins own the 15th pick, and none of their most pressing needs matches up favorably with that spot. The top two -- maybe three -- quarterbacks will be gone. The Dolphins also need interior line and backfield help, but No. 15 seems too early for those top prospects: Florida center Mike Pouncey and Alabama running back Mark Ingram. But the Dolphins cannot afford to pass on a player they really like and hope he falls to them in the second round because they don't have a second-rounder. They traded it to the Denver Broncos in the Brandon Marshall deal. So the Dolphins would love to trade back in the order a little, snag Pouncey or Ingram or a quarterback such as Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton or Jake Locker and collect another draft choice in the process.

Plan B: If they can't trade back, then they'll be stuck with reaching a little for a player they identify as the best fit for their team.

New England Patriots

Dream scenario: The Patriots hold three of the top 32 picks and two selections in each of the first three rounds. They'll gladly listen to every trade offer and definitely will field some calls. Bill Belichick's dream scenario is to have maximized value when they've made their final selection. If that means collecting more picks and still landing players they like, then so be it. If that means moving up in the order for a specific player and not having to give up much to do so, then so be it. If that means standing pat and making the best pick off their in-house draft board, then so be it.

Plan B: The Patriots have so many picks that they have more than a Plan B. However the draft shakes out, they'll have a Plan Z, Article XXXIV, Section 16, Subsection vii -- and an appendix with 23 more sets of instructions. No other front office enters the draft process with such flexibility.

New York Jets

Dream scenario: The Jets don't seem to be worried much about a dream scenario. Head coach Rex Ryan has laughed and shrugged when discussing the No. 30 slot. They don't have much control over who will be available. Their trade options are severely limited. The Jets don't have a second-round pick to dangle because they lost it in the trade for cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The NFL lockout allows clubs to trade draft choices only, preventing the Jets from packaging players like they did to move up and draft quarterback Mark Sanchez fifth overall in 2009. The Jets probably will be forced to await their turn and hope another team wants to jump in at the end of the first round. Maybe then they can turn their 30th pick into multiple picks.

Plan B: If no one wants their 30th pick, then they'll check out players such as Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor or UCLA safety Rahim Moore.

Mallett on Bills' board and other draft talk

April, 19, 2011
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix and vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak held a draft media luncheon Tuesday at the team's facility.

Some of the highlights:

Nix reiterated the Bills don't want to trade out of the No. 3 pick.

"I wouldn't rule out anything, but there'll be a guy there we really want, I think," Nix said. "Probably wouldn't move down. It would have to be a rare situation, I think."

The Bills love Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

One of them should still be on the board when the Bills pick. Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have praised Newton for the past couple months, but the front office talked up Gabbert a little Tuesday.

Nix said Gabbert didn't shoot up the Bills' draft board after the season -- as he did in many mocks -- because Modrak had Gabbert rated highly since a few games into last season.

"His stock hasn't risen with us," Nix said. "It's always been high."

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett still is on their draft board.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Dale Zanine/US PresswireThe Buffalo Bills are still considering selecting Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett with their second round draft pick.
The Bills own the 34th pick, territory where Mallett could be taken. They claimed they aren't (totally) scared off by Mallett's vague off-field concerns.

"There are issues that we've talked about," Modrak said. "They're there. We interviewed him at the combine. We've done our due diligence. We know [the issues] are there. Are they a deal-breaker? Not necessarily. It's not cut and dry, where 'You're outta here.' But it is a part that we've talked about.

"We'll see how we feel about it. We're reasonably OK with it, but that's as vague as I can think of. ... But I don't know if it's a game-changer."

Said Nix: "We think we know some people there [at Arkansas], like everywhere else when you've done it this long. We think we got pretty good information on him."

The Bills didn't bring Mallett to One Bills Drive for a visit like they did Newton, Gabbert and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.

Nix offered another version of his quote about drafting a quarterback when you already have one.

The Bills consider quarterback a priority even with incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster. Nix was in the San Diego Chargers front office when they acquired Philip Rivers even though they already had Drew Brees.

"We think we're in a good position," Nix said. "Actually, as hard as it is to say that when you got other needs, it's probably a perfect time to take a guy.

"I go back to San Diego, and I have to draw from that. But if you can do it that way, with the way we did it, with Drew Brees ... That makes it easier if you got Drew Brees, now. But if you can take a guy and sit him a year or two until he's hungry and knowledgeable and ready to play, the success rate is going to be pretty high."

Nix indicated stopping the run was more important than rushing the passer.

They need help in both areas. Only three teams recorded fewer sacks than the Bills last year, but they also ranked dead last in run defense.

"The highest-paid guys are the ones that rush the passer," Nix said. "But with us, it's more important probably to stop the run. I don't think you're going to get where you want to be unless you stop the run. Then you rush the passer."

Nix dismissed the notion the Bills won't draft an outside linebacker at No. 3 because of money.

The Bills already have invested a lot of dollars in the position, giving Chris Kelsay a new deal last season, Shawne Merriman an extension and, of course, Aaron Maybin his lucrative rookie contract.

Nix said there was "no merit" to speculating they would steer away from using a premium pick on another outside linebacker. Texas A&M's Von Miller perhaps?

"You can't have too many good players," Nix said. "If you go into a year -- and I've had this happen a lot of times -- where you think 'This is a strong position. We don't need anybody here.' And you wind up with two or three injuries and you're always glad you got the guy."

Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams' position isn't set.

I asked Nix and Modrak where they envision Williams and how it will affect what other D-line positions to focus on in the draft. The answer was ambiguous.

"No matter how many [defensive linemen] we get, Kyle will find a place," Nix said. "He's a good football player for us, and he was every Sunday. He'll be in the 3-technique. He'll be shaded on the nose sometimes. He'll be in there on nickel. He won't get out much.

"If the best player was a defensive end or a guy that could play first or second down at defensive end and then you move him inside on nickel on third down, he'd be one and Kyle would be the other."

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