ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — So who will the Buffalo Bills take in tonight’s first round of the 79th National Football League Draft?
Though the lottery is seven rounds over three days, as usual, the focus is on the opening round, to be televised on both ESPN and the NFL Network starting at 8 o’clock.
Rounds 2 and 3 will be on those stations Friday at 7 p.m. with rounds 4-7 set for Saturday with the broadcasts beginning at noon.
Buffalo has only six selections as the Bills sent their sixth-round pick to Tampa Bay for wide receiver Mike Williams last month.
Based on their 6-10 record and strength of schedule, the Bills own the No. 9 overall pick and have been the subject of all manner of speculation.
And though their perceived needs were at least partially answered in free agency (related story this page), offensive tackle, the right side spot currently occupied by journeyman Erik Pears, was not.
And, not so coincidentally, that’s a position of strength at the top of this year’s lottery with as many as five with first-round grades, three of them projected to go as early as the Top 10 picks.
Should the Bills stay put at No. 9 — and it’s speculated they could trade up to take Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins or UB linebacking star Khalil Mack — it’s likely Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, the top-rated tackle in the draft will be gone.
But they might have a shot at Auburn’s Greg Robinson and several mock drafts have Buffalo taking Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, ranked No. 4 at the position, will likely go later in the round.
And though they acquired Williams and picked Robert Woods (second round) and Marquise Goodwin (third) early in last year’s lottery, there’s still a perception the Bills need a big-body No. 1 receiver ... that incumbent Stevie Johnson is really a No. 2.
That’s why Buffalo’s personnel department seems intrigued with Watkins, only 6-foot-1 but who plays bigger, but also might be tempted by 6-foot-5 Mike Evans from Texas A&M.
However, another seeming position of need for the Bills is tight end where other mock drafts have them taking North Carolina’s Eric Ebron who, at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds with excellent speed, could become a playmaker in the mold of San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and actually be the quasi wideout of size that Buffalo seeks.
And if the free agent signings of Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers didn’t satisfy the Bills’ linebacker concerns, and Mack is gone, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, projected to go a bit lower than Buffalo’s spot, are a possibility.
One factor that could affect the Bills’ pick is a position in which they profess to have no interest ... quarterback.
Starting with the divergent opinions on Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel to the uncertainty about Blake Bortles (Central Florida), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) and Derek Carr (Fresno State) as many as four could go in Round 1 and one mock draft predicts three of the first four picks will be QBs.
And, as Bills’ general m anager Doug Whaley has noted, only “I hope, before us, four of them go. This is one of the years that the QB position is so up in the air about when they will go. If four of them go we’ll be ready, if none of them go we’ll be ready.”
As for taking an offensive tackle at No. 9, Whaley added, “If he can play and we forget about (that position) for 10 years? Why wouldn’t you? You’d have two bookend tackles (with 2012 second rounder Cordy Glenn on the left side).”
The one certainty is this ... no matter who the Bills choose tonight, there are no guarantees.
Since 2000, the first draft after Buffalo last made the playoffs, there have been 16 first-round draft choices.
The Bills had two in 2004 (Lee Evans and J.P. Losman), none in ’05 having dealt it to Dallas to take Losman, two in ’06 (Donte Whitner and John McCargo, via trade with Chicago) and two in ’09 (Aaron Maybin and Eric Wood, from Philadelphia in the Jason Peters trade).
How did Buffalo do with those 16 picks?
Three, cornerback Nate Clements (’01) and running backs Marshawn Lynch (’07) and C.J. Spiller (’10) were all named to the Pro Bowl as Bills and center Eric Wood (’09) has played at that level, but has yet to be picked.
Five were certified busts: defensive end Erik Flowers (’00), tackle Mike Williams (’02), Losman, McCargo and Maybin.
It’s a bit too soon to fairly assess quarterback EJ Manuel (’13), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (’12) and nose tackle Marcell Dareus (’11).
However, the latter two clearly aren’t busts and could be stars, though Dareus’ Monday night arrest on felony charges of possessing a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia could subject him to a four-game suspension.
Meanwhile, the Bills other four first-round picks since 2000 — running back Willis McGahee, wide receiver Lee Evans, safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Leodis McKelvin — have been serviceable, if not spectacular.
Keep those numbers in mind as Buffalo’s first round pick unfolds at about 9:30 tonight.