A rule of thumb when assessing any NFL draft is to let things simmer for three full seasons before serving up any grades. Fortunately for the Buffalo Bills, remaining loyal to that formula makes the 2011 class look plenty more appealing than if you jumped the gun.
The Bills 2011 draft appeared disastrous if you rendered a verdict one year ago, especially considering the team had two of the first 34 picks. One NFL campaign later that Buddy Nix-orchestrated train wreck is more pleasant on the eyes when reviewing the list, as the first two picks became important pieces to a defense that emerged among the league’s best in several significant categories.
The Bills finished second in the NFL with a franchise-best 57 sacks and also finishing second in the league with 23 interceptions. It was a significant ascent from the 36 sacks and 12 interception totals the Bills accumulated in 2012.
Marcell Dareus and Aaron Williams, the Bills first two picks in 2011 deserve a lot of credit for the rising.
But as a whole, how was that Bills draft class? Most would say it’s ranged from by and large pedestrian to downright inadequate, especially when you see how agonizingly close future NFL superstars came off the board just moments after several Bills selections.
Let’s take a closer look and hand out a final grade:
Marcell Dareus (First Round/ No. 3 overall): Dareus as the third overall pick surely appears more attractive now than around six months ago. Dareus finally lived up to a formidable chunk of his potential in 2013; racking up a career-best 7.5 sacks and injury replacement or not earning and his first Pro Bowl berth (and had two sacks in that game.) He was one of just five defenders in the league with at least seven sacks and 70 tackles. The primary knock on Dareus prior to last season is not performing like an impact player for such a high d selection. The reality is since entering the league only Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins has more sacks among defensive tackles. Sure, the next three picks after Dareus in (A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones) have all been studs, but Dareus is no slouch himself. He got in trouble for violating team rules near the end of last season and hopefully it was a setback that doesn’t linger into 2014. I still consider the jury out on him, but like what I saw last year.
Aaron Williams (Second Round/No. 34 overall): Unfortunately in Buffalo he may be forever known as the guy who went precisely one pick before Andy Dalton and two ahead of Colin Kaepernick, and through Williams’ first few seasons he had every cause to be doubted. To be frank, Williams was appalling in two years at cornerback, and his second-round status was an advertisement for every faux pas this organization routinely makes.. However, Williams converted to safety last offseason and transformed into one of the better playmakers on the team. He set career-highs with four interceptions and 82 tackles despite missing the final two games of the season. While he regrettably displayed a propensity for perpetrating seemingly weekly boneheaded penalties, on the whole Williams upped his game to the point he’s visibly now an asset to the organization. If Jairus Byrd ends up leaving, Williams will become even more essential to the defense.
Kelvin Sheppard (Third Round/No. 68 overall): Drafted with the hopes Sheppard would be the team’s go-to run stuffing linebacker, things never panned out. He sat behind Nick Barnett his rookie season and with an amplified opportunity in 2012 Sheppard never took advantage. To their credit, the Bills were able to trade Sheppard last spring to Indianapolis for Jerry Hughes, and Hughes grinded out a double-digit sack campaign. Perhaps that comfort to Bills fans who didn’t realize Kansas City’s Justin Houston came off the board a mere two picks following Sheppard.
Da’Norris Searcy (Fourth Round/No. 100 overall) : He’s been a recurring contributor and irregular starter for the Bills over the past three seasons, which realistically is as good as you can hope for in the middle rounds of a draft. He’s had two interceptions in three seasons, including a 32-yard return for a touchdown in 2013. Searcy has been serviceable but not much during his Bills tenure, showing plenty of potency in run support but often overmatched in pass coverage. In retrospect the Bills probably wish they had taken Jordan Cameron instead. The tight end went two picks later to Cleveland. Noticing a theme of stars going just one or two slots after Buffalo selections?
Chris Hairston (Fourth Round/No. 122 overall): Hairston was an extra fourth-rounder the Bills took as a result of trading Marshawn Lynch to Seattle. He got off to a promising beginning early in his career; starting 15 games his first two seasons and was expected to battle Erik Pears for the full-time starting right tackle job at last summer’s training camp. Unfortunately Hairston injured his leg and hasn’t played since December 2012. The Bills are likely to address right tackle this offseason, which at best would leave him as a swing tackle off the bench. Of course, Hairston seizing the moment and becoming a solid right tackle would solidify this draft class. One player whose already become a star went in this vicinity—-tight end Julius Thomas, who went to Denver seven picks after Hairston.
Johnny White (Fifth Round/ No. 133 overall): Selected to be the third guy behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, White’s career flamed out early as he touched the ball just 13 times his rookie season and soon lost his roster spot to Tashard Choice. White spent time briefly in Green Bay but was out of the league in 2013. While to be fair it should be noted more than half the league (20 to be exact) did the same as Buffalo did in this round, the Bills could’ve had cornerback Richard Sherman here.
Chris White (Sixth Round/ No. 169 overall): Was basically nothing but a solid special teamer for two years in Buffalo. The Bills did manage a decent backup quarterback out of White’s selection as they moved him to Detroit for Thad Lewis this past summer.
Justin Rogers (Seventh Round/ No. 206 overall): Please, I’m trying real hard to not remember Justin Rogers started games for Buffalo in 2013.
Michael Jasper (Seventh Round/ No. 245 overall): A super pleasant guy who just couldn’t cut it in the league, either as a guard or defensive lineman.
FINAL GRADE/THOUGHTS: C
This mark would have been a massive, juicy “F” had this report card been done one year ago, when Dareus closely resembled a dime-a-dozen tackle and Williams got torched every time he took the field. The rise of both, Sheppard theoretically making Hughes’ addition possible and Searcy’s usefulness brings the overall draft grade up to average.
Still, it’s difficult to not think what could’ve been regarding this draft, far more than others. Sure, every team in the league each year unsuspectingly passes on future superstars, but the Bills do so more often than most. In a span of just seven total selections through four rounds, the Bills incredibly could be employing A.J. Green, Colin Kapernick, Justin Houston and Jordan Cameron today. Hindsight or not, that’s pretty damn disappointing.