After months of never-ending speculation, rumors and more mock drafts than one cares to remember, the 2011 NFL draft has come to its conclusion. The Buffalo Bills unmistakably took a sensible, if not elegant approach to their incoming rookie class. While most thought it was a matter of who and when, not if Buddy Nix would tab a quarterback to groom under Ryan Fitzpatrick, his staff judiciously committed themselves to refurbishing a defense worst in the entire NFL at stopping the run.
It’s not like Buffalo didn’t have ample opportunity to land their quarterback of the future. They flat-out passed on Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker in the first round, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick in the second, Ryan Mallet in round three and Ricky Stanzi in the fifth. Whether it was a case of not being sold on as many quarterback prospects as most, being higher on Fitzpatrick everyone else being unable to form a consensus on one specific guy, Nix literally ignored the position for the duration of the draft.
Drafting heavy for defense isn’t always sexy but with the makeup of this current roster, it was the wise thing to do.
Here are six things we categorically learned about the Buffalo Bills over the past three days.
1. The Bills stayed 100% true to their board throughout the entire process. While almost everyone is praising the draft as a whole, nitpickers are mystified the team didn’t draft a quarterback. Bottom line—- Buffalo stuck to their draft grades and in every round they graded a non-quarterback higher. As I reported via a source on Saturday, Cam Newton was the top player on the Bills’ draft board. When he was gone, they went to their next guy in Marcell Dareus. In round two Buffalo took defensive back Aaron Williams over Dalton and Kaepernick because Williams had the higher grade. Ditto for the third round with Kelvin Sheppard over Mallet (n fact, I’ve heard Mallet wasn’t even on the Bills draft board).
2. Clearly the Bills are rolling the dice at quarterback. By not taking one, the team effectively is counting on Fitzpatrick to continue his development. Buffalo will sign a free agent, possibly Tyler Thigpen, who has played under Gailey to back Fitzpatrick up. Buddy Nix later indicated he’d sign an undrafted free agent to have four bodies in camp along with Levi Brown. As for the gambling part, Fitzpatrick is entering the final year of his three-year contract. If for some reason they can’t re-sign him long term or his play falls off in 2011, the Bills are going have to start over again at the position come next season, which will hinder the overall team development. I’m sure the Bills don’t plan on drafting third overall again in 2012, so a five or six win season would likely prohibit them from drafting Andrew Luck or one of the top quarterbacks next year. Take make a long story relatively short, in some ways the Bills are stuck with Fitzpatrick, which could give him solid leverage come contract time if he plays well. Who’s to say he wouldn’t draw interest around the league?
3. It couldn’t be more obvious the Bills are entirely dedicated to building a much bigger, physical defense. Marcell Dareus and Kelvin Sheppard may not be the most athletically gifted athletes at their respective positions, but are thumpers that will bring a brawny element of physicality to the defense. It’s quite apparent the attitude at One Bills Drive is one tired of seeing the defense getting pushed around. Both defensive back selections within the first four rounds (Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy) are over 200 pounds.
4. Though Chan Gailey simply said tguys they were considering never matched up to where they were drafting, Buffalo continues to hold little, if any regard to drafting tight ends. Despite abysmal play from the position again last season, the team failed to draft any tight ends. Buffalo has now drafted just three tight ends (Shawn Nelson, Tim Euhus, Kevin Everett) over the last decade and none came before the 86th pick. I assume \ Nix will address the position when free agency eventually starts, though it’s an extremely thin crop beyond Zach Miller and Kevin Boss. No inside information here; I just find it hard to believe they’re comfortable with the combination of Jonathan Stupar, Nelson and Scott Chandler, even if tight end isn’t a critical part of a Gailey-coached offense.
5. There’s going to be incumbents leaving the secondary next year and it starts with Donte Whitner, who via his Twitter continued to show what a classless individual he is. Among some of his tweets following Buffalo picks of Williams and Searcy were “I’m gone…. And happy “, “writing has been on. The wall. And I wrote it!” and “Congrats Buffalo. On ur. Draft picks… lol“. From there he spent plenty of time bantering back and forth with fed up Bills fans, using the classic “your mother” line at one point in response to a negative comment.
The most ironic thing about this guy is it’s a near certainty he’ll be contractually obligated to Buffalo for 2011. He was tendered by the team before the deadline and = if free agency begins anytime soon the league will probably revert back to 2010 rules. That would mean with Whitner a five-year vet instead of six he would be restricted and not automatically free to sign with another team. In fact, if a team signed him they’d have cough up draft compensation. I’m going out on a limb and predict the Bills won’t match any offer Whitner receives. Furthermore, I’m willing to bet they’ll trade or release him before he plays another down in Buffalo. There’s no way the front office will let the public relations nightmare Whitner has come continue in Buffalo. At this point he’d get booed off his own field.
This is probably also the end of the road for Drayton Florence, who like Whitner acknowledged via Twitter his days were over, but thanked fans and said they were the best.
6. This means absolutely nothing on the football field, but the Bills draft has drawn rave reviews from most expert analysts. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News gave the Bills an A+ grade, the only team to earn a perfect grade. ESPN’s Todd McShay liked the Bills draft and called fifth-round running back Johnny White “the most underrated running back in the entire draft.” Mel Kiper graded Buffalo’s draft a solid “B”. CBS Sports among many others labeled Buffalo as “draft winners.”
I remain wary heaving praise or criticism immediately following the draft. I remember back to 2006, Marv Levy’s first draft with the Bills when I led the cheerleading brigade, immediately calling it potentially the best Bills draft in team history. That class of course featured Whitner, John McCargo, Ashton Youboty and Ko Simpson as the first four picks. At least Levy did nail Kyle Williams in the fifth round.
Without question, this crop of talent coming to Orchard Park has to leave even the most skeptic of fans cautiously optimistic. If guys, led by Dareus pan out, the days of the Bills’ defense beating regarded as Swiss cheese will soon come to an end.