Since the Buffalo Bills are unlikely anytime soon to head out in free agency and ink impact players that can instantly turn a team’s fortunes around like Julius Peppers or Karlos Dansby, the lone road to redemption goes down the annual April draft. With the Dick Jauron regime terminated and Buddy Nix taking control of his first draft, hope if not flat-out optimism overflowed the minds of Bills fans ubiquitously.
Despite a glaringly visible need at quarterback or left tackle early in the draft, Nix jerked more than just a few heads when he selected C.J. Spiller. Even with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch already in tow, in an area most perceived as one of the lone team strengths, Nix couldn’t fight back the enticement of selecting a pure home run hitter. There were more immediate head scratching moments, most notably not taking an offensive tackle until the fifth round or a quarterback until the seventh.
Coincidentally, the fifth round tackle (Ed Wang) we selected has practiced exclusively at guard. The developmental quarterback (Levi Brown) was cut, not offered a spot on the practice squad and later in typical Bills fashion, and eventually signed again to the active roster.
We’re five games into the rookie season for the Class of 2010, and while it’s considerably premature to start throwing out grades, it’s been long enough to start gaining a little insight into what their respective roles on the team are.
C.J. Spiller: Chan Gailey warned critics that Spiller would be brought along slowly. He certainly wasn’t lying. Premature talk by media members throughout football circles said he’d be a strong candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but through five games the organization seems perfectly contempt to use him as a kick returner and change of pace running back. He has just 80 rushing and 48 receiving yards (with one touchdown). Let’s hope that dramatically changes after the bye, because the ninth overall pick in the draft is too critical to use on a part-time player. He should be helped along now that Lynch was traded to Seattle, but for the time being he’s firmly entrenched behind Jackson on the depth chart.
Torell Troup: The big nose guard began the season playing sparingly, but got the start in last week’s game against Jacksonville and saw significant playing time. The Bills know they’re weak against the run, in part because of their smallish size in the middle. Troup doesn’t lack girth, but he has lacked reps. That should change more as the season goes on. With Gailey seemingly recommitted to Jackson in the backfield, Troup has a chance to be this season’s most productive (drafted) rookie by the time 2010 is over.
Alex Carrington: Has been inactive for four of the first five games. He should be lined up to Dwan Edwards and Troup in the huddle, not standing next to Jerry Sullivan or Mark Gaughan in the press box. Marcus Stroud is getting old and probably won’t be around for this entire three-year rebuilding process Ralph Wilson spoke of this week. Spencer Johnson is a grinder, but nothing special, so why not give Carrington more playing time? At least he’s ahead of John McCargo, who’s buried on the depth chart and likely to soon see his Buffalo days come to an end. When you’re 0-5 and headed nowhere, it makes zero sense to not give guys like Carrington more playing time.
Marcus Easley: The Bills had a tough roster decision to make this summer when Easley injured his knee badly enough that he would miss significant time, but not the entire 2010 season. Faced with the burden of keeping a roster spot open for the rookie, Buffalo decided to place him on injured reserved and end his season before it started. Easley recovered from the injury amazingly fast, to the point he could’ve soon played, and surely had Buffalo known their 2010 prospects ahead of time they would’ve probably handled things differently, but what’s done is done and we’ll have to wait until 2011 to get any kind of read on Easley. It’s a shame because he could’ve gotten valuable half-season of experience.
Ed Wang: Has remained on the active roster but not seen the field in a game this season. He’s battled a leg injury since the start of summer, making him irrelevant to this point. Surprisingly, we learned that Wang has been practicing with the offense at guard, despite being playing tackle coming out of college. Maybe he turns out to be a solid NFL starter or reliable backup, but his rookie season is pretty much lost.
Danny Batten: Injured his shoulder in June and his season is already over.
Arthur Moats: One of the best surprises of training camp and the preseason, Moats earned his keep on the opening day roster. He began camp as an inside linebacker but his skill set and the Bills’ desperate need to generate a pass rush has seen the staff move him to the outside. The good news is he’s passed Aaron Maybin on the depth chart. The bad news is that’s not saying much anymore. Moats hurt his elbow against the New York Jets in week four but should be back in one to two more weeks.
Levi Brown: Nix drafted him to be a long-term developmental quarterback, but Gailey saw enough of him throughout the summer to conclude Brown wasn’t worth a roster spot. In fact, they didn’t even regard him practice squad worthy. But as the organization always seems to do, after Trent Edwards was released the club brought him back. To sum up quickly, he went from a pink slip without practice squad privileges to being on the active roster in a four week period.
Of course, this draft may go on to have great value down the road, even without the greatest production from actual draft picks. To the scouting department’s credit, three players went undrafted and then signed with Buffalo, made the 53-man roster and have already contributed, more so than the drafted players so far this season.
David Nelson: He was given little chance to make the roster, but flat-out outplayed James Hardy and Chad Jackson to earn his keep. He’s been a low key revelation for Buffalo, catching 10 passes for 120 yards in limited action. His role as the team’s fourth receiver is well-established and has a chance to see his role further increase.
Cordaro Howard: Undrafted out of Georgia Tech, he began the summer on the third string of the team’s depth chart. But solid if not spectacular play convinced Gailey to keep him over veteran Kirk Chambers, and has since performed better in than Jamon Meredith, who was recently released. With Howard’s reps increasing on Sunday and Cornell Green announced as injured this week, Howard will get his first career start after the bye and if he plays remotely well, could keep it for the remainder of his rookie season.
Antonio Coleman: He hasn’t had a chance to contribute much on game days, but like Moats is ahead of Maybin on the depth chart and the organization sees his future as bright enough to cut ties with former third round pick Chris Ellis.
It’s utterly absurd to evaluate a rookie class just give games into their careers. At the same time, it’s enormously pathetic that the undrafted rookies as a whole have outperformed the selected players. Whether you realize it or not, the trio of Nelson, Howard and Coleman has brought more to this team thus far than than Carrington, Troup and sans one electrifying kickoff return, Spiller.
Nix confessed upon his GM promotion that he was never the smartest man in the room, but he is highly regarded as a “football” guy. Let’s hope that holds true, because unless the plan all along has been to bring his drafted rookies along at a snail’s pace, this is looking very much like the type of class that has plagued this Bills team for several years running; supporting players at best and flat-out busts at worth.
It would be nice to see Spiller get a bigger share of the workload at running back, and it’s inexcusable given the overall anemic defensive play that Troup, Carrington and to a lesser degree, Moats don’t get every opportunity in the world to help turn things around.
Yeah, it’s early in the process and the team has a lot to sort out. But if the organizational head honchos don’t get that fan patience is wearing thin, they should revisit last Sunday and check out those empty seats that littered the stadium.
If the Bills are going to challenge for the league’s worst record this year, do it with the Class of 2010 on the field more often… a lot more often.
(Photo of CJ Spiller/Michael Thomas)