This is not an exercise designed to assign any draft “grades” for this 2013 Buffalo Bills class. I learned a valuable lesson to never do that back in 2006, when 24 hours after the Bills completed their draft I marked them with an “A”, citing this class of Donte Whitner, John McCargo, Ashton Youboty and Ko Simpson would take their defense to heights they hadn’t seen in years. No one should ever assign a grade for a crop of prospects before they even take the field and since ’06 I haven’t either.
Instead I have a series of thoughts on this latest Buffalo draft I’d like to share. Overall I was pleased with this draft, thinking the team had a plan set in stone and stuck to it. A lot of Buffalo’s hope came to fruition because of the rise of Tavon Austin, who became a player the St. Louis Rams had to have. I saw two reports that said Austin was at the very top of the Bills draft board and maybe he was, but I don’t think Buffalo would’ve drafted him. Much to the credit of Buddy Nix the Bills were able to leverage the Rams interest in Austin and their fear the Jets would take him with the next pick to swing a deal and pick up an extra draft pick in the top half of the second round.
It continues to amaze me how forthcoming Nix is with the media during draft season. Nix may tell a little white lie here and there but once again, he was truthful with almost everything he said and there weren’t many secrets. Nix said the team needed to get a franchise quarterback and going by them taking the best on their board, maybe they did. He said the team needed wide receivers and they took two within the first three rounds.
Nix even said the team wasn’t likely to spend a high draft pick on a guard despite Andy Levitre leaving and not only did that happen, but the Bills didn’t take a guard at all.
If I was surprised by one thing it’s that E.J Manuel was their top quarterback. I heard and thought it was Matt Barkley but ultimately he was their number two. I think all the Ryan Nassib to Buffalo talk was mostly a media creation of connect the dots based on him playing for Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett at Syracuse. Geno Smith was never on their radar.
The selection of Manuel makes me appreciate the Kevin Kolb signing more, because I hate the move when it happened. My biggest fear was with Kolb on the team Buffalo would focus on finding a quarterback in the middle rounds to slowly develop. Now I’m glad Kolb is in tow for 2013 because although Manuel has huge upside, the biggest reason in my opinion the team drafted him, I’m not the least bit convinced he’ll be starting as a rookie. With Kolb on the roster, I’m fine with that.
Here’s my take on each of the Bills draft picks:
E.J. Manuel (first round): A lot of critics have sounded off that the Bills selected Manuel too high, especially considering that no other quarterback went in the first and only one (Geno Smith) went in the second round. I completely disagree with that logic. This pick becomes a directly accurate measuring stick to see how this organization evaluates quarterback. We’ll never have to know if the Bills really liked Smith, Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley or someone else better; because the Bills had their pick of any quarterback they wanted and chose Manuel. Granted, I don’t think Manuel is as “NFL ready” as some of these other guys, but that’s why the team signed Kevin Kolb. He affords Buffalo time to develop Manuel and in my opinion, the payoff is his upside is greater than anyone is at his position in the draft. Obviously Buffalo is thinking the same thing. I have no problem with the pick whatsoever. The Bills desperately needed a quarterback and they went out and got one, while trading down and picking up an extra second round pick. He was Buffalo’s top guy and if he happens to bust, the front office and scouting department has no one to blame but themselves.
Robert Woods (second round): I absolutely loved this pick. Too many people get caught up in size, 40-yard dash times, workouts and other measurables. This guy is flat-out a good football player and should start immediately as a rookie. Potentially he’s a Stevie Johnson clone with even better hands. I personally thought Woods would go earlier and in fact, had Woods to the Bills in the late first-round in my final mock draft last week. Some thought the size of Keenan Allen would be better served with the offense but Buddy Nix went with Woods, and I completely am on board with that. I’m excited to see him play.
Kiko Alonso (second round): The Bills used their extra second rounder acquired in their trade with the Rams to pick a linebacker. That didn’t completely surprise me, though I thought they would cornerback with the pick. The selection of Alonso, however, did momentarily shock me. If Buffalo was picking a linebacker I thought Arthur Brown would be their guy. Brown went to the Baltimore Ravens 11 picks later after Baltimore moved up to get and him, which knowing Ozzie Newsome means Brown will become a stud in the NFL. As I digested Alonso more the pick began to make more sense. Alonso is a versatile, aggressive linebacker that will fit Mike Pettine’s scheme well. Alonso has the speed and tenacity to make plays all over the field and I wouldn’t consider it an upset if he takes a starting spot from Kelvin Sheppard immediately. The Bills don’t often take risks on guys who aren’t regarded as high character and by now we all know about Alonso’s off-field checkered past, but if continues to mature and stay out of trouble he can make a significant impact early in his career. Both Alonso and Wood are likely to be starters in 2013, which is about as much as you can hope for in the second round.
On a side note, drafting Alonso this early almost certainly closes the door on signing free agent Karlos Dansby, who met with the team earlier in the week.
Marquis Goodwin (third round): I was slightly blown away by this pick at the time, wondering why we were taking another wide receiver so early and if we were, why the heck wasn’t it Da’Rick Rogers—more on that later. Goodwin is an absolute burner who ran a 4.27 at the Combine in February. Obviously the Bills wanted to get much faster at receiver and they certainly did with Goodwin, who may also return kicks. Still it makes me wonder what Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett really think of T.J. Graham. You know, he was the speedster we moved up for in the third round last April instead of taking Russell Wilson. What the Bills plan to do remains a mystery and clearly they have some packages in mind that will feature Goodwin and Graham at the same time. I don’t envision that being a lot of fun for defensive coordinators. Buffalo is now one of the faster teams in the NFL. I thought cornerback Ryan Logan (went to the Patriots four picks later) or guard Hugh Thorton (seven picks later to the Colts) would’ve been better picks, especially Thorton, who could’ve started immediately. Time will tell if Goodwin works out.
Duke Williams (fourth round): This was my lone “wow” moment of the draft for Buffalo. I would’ve bet my house the Bills would’ve taken Syracuse Shamarko Thomas is he were on the board this late (he was) but they went with Williams, who’s been in a lot of trouble off the field in college. Again, this is a new Bills era that seemingly is putting less emphasis on drafting the “good guys” and is more concerned about finding good football players, trusting they’ll stay out of trouble. Williams hits like a truck and I imagine he’ll get a legitimate chance to complete with Da’Norris Searcy for a starting job as a rookie. He’s also versatile enough to play slot in the nickel defense or even cornerback in certain schemes. In a related note, I’m beginning to wonder how much this staff likes Searcy. I find it peculiar they took a safety over a few other positions. As much as I hate using him as a comparison, Williams has a lot of Donte Whitner traits in him. He hits well and is a physical defender who lacked making big plays at Nevada.
Jonathan Meeks (fifth round): Like many of you the first thought in my head after the Bills took safeties in consecutive rounds was what the in the world is going on with Jairus Byrd. Does this selection indicate the Bills aren’t going to pay Byrd what he wants and lock him up long term? For some ungodly reason does this coaching staff undervalue Byrd’s importance? I still think both those scenarios are possible, but soon realized the Byrd situation is a completely separate entity and had nothing to do with this pick. Buffalo only carried three safeties active last season, which is a rarity around the league. Pettine may want one more safety and one less corner on his defense, which makes perfect sense. Having said that, I was surprised by the selection of Meeks. At least going by major college prospect websites Meeks wasn’t a top prospect. He was ranked only no. 20 among free safeties on the National Football Post and wasn’t ranked at all by CBS Sports. Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper said they didn’t forecast as getting drafted either. Of course, this was an annual reminder that analysts and mock draft “experts” don’t really know anything, myself included. I would’ve preferred UB defensive end Steven Means, who went to Tampa Bay four picks later get a shot here. I could be wrong but it may take Meeks unseating Aaron Williams to make the opening day roster.
Dustin Hopkins (sixth round): Does Buddy Nix have a son or daughter he’s trying to get into Florida State and have them on their good side? Hopkins is now the sixth player from Florida State on the Bills roster. Quips aside I believe Hopkins was excellent at this spot. He was the second (and last) kicker taken in the draft and has a solid leg. Hopkins converted on 78.6% of his field goals in college and connected on a career-high 56 yarder as a senior last season. He should be a legitimate competitor with Rian Lindell in training camp.
Chris Gragg (seventh round): I like what the Bills did here. Many, myself included thought Buffalo would address tight end within the first four rounds but didn’t. Gragg is an H-back type who made a name for himself at the Combine by running a 4.5/40 and had a vertical jump of 37.5 inches. That’s good for him because he wasn’t very productive at Arkansas, finishing his career there with just 72 catches for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s an intriguing late round prospect that will have an excellent chance to make the roster, especially if the Bills don’t sign any veterans between now and training camp.
Da’Rick Rogers (Undrafted): This is the absolute shock of the entire draft to me. I had Rogers in the second round of every mock draft I compiled and I saw him in the second or third round in literally every other one I read. Clearly Rogers didn’t get drafted because his character concerns and past troubles were far worse to teams than anyone imagined. Rogers was kicked out of Tennessee in 2011 after multiple failed drug tests. Talent-wise Rogers is NFL starting wide receiver caliber and ironically, I’ve heard him compared to former Buffalo great Eric Moulds more than once in terms of his game, including comments by a Bills scout just days before the draft. In a twist, Rogers has been working out with new teammate Robert Woods since January. I’ll be following Rogers as much as any of their draft picks as I think he can be a stud for this team if he’s able to keep himself clean.
Jeff Tuel (Undrafted): At 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds Teul has prototypical NFL size at quarterback and he possesses a quick release. The knock on him is that running a spread offense at Washington State has stunted his NFL preparation and he doesn’t have a very strong arm at all. He’s clearly a project who will have to beat out Aaron Corp to be the guy the team invests resources in developing as a project.
Other unconfirmed (Rogers and Tuel haven’t been confirmed by the team either) undrafted free agent signings include RB Drew Smith, WR Brandon Kaufman, G Zach Chibane and CB Nickell Robey. It’s worth noting that Chibane is from Syracuse and the coaching staff in Buffalo obviously knows him well.
My Final Takeaway: Coming into this draft I would’ve bet anything that the team drafted at least one guy from Syracuse, quite possibly Ryan Nassib and likely more. Whether it carried merit or not one of my biggest concerns was this team becoming the “Syracuse Bills.” We don’t know much pull in the draft Doug Marrone had when it came to pulling the trigger on these selections, but I like the direction they went with most these picks. It’s very obvious the team set out to get more athletic on offense and versatile on defense with the Alonso selection.
To me this is one of the most important draft classes in franchise history. If things work out in a few years they’ll have found their franchise quarterback while completely revamping their wide receiver corps.
If it doesn’t work out, we’ll be discussing a new quarterback in three years, who’ll very likely be under center playing for a new head coach and staff. I think we’re all pretty tired of that.