This is a special time for NFL fans. The 2011 NFL Draft signifies the first real chance for every team, whether it’s the Carolina Panthers holding the first overall selection or the Green Bay Packers who pick 32nd because they’re the Super Bowl champs, to begin the process of improving while taking the proper steps to ensure that 2011 will bring something more, something better than 2010.
Where the Buffalo Bills are concerned, they’ve morphed into a draft wild card regardless of where they’re selecting particularly in the first round. In these days leading up to the draft, I can’t help but wonder and agonize how they’re going to screw it up again. I can’t help but cringe moments before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is set to announce the Bills’ selection. I’m sorry, but I’m a pessimist.
Then again, can you blame me and fellow Bills fans alike who share the same sentiments?
I should warn you that the names I’m about to rattle off are not for the weak at heart and if there are small children in the room, I advise you to shield their eyes. So consider yourselves alerted, and now here’s the hitlist of Bills’ first round selections since the 2002 draft: Mike Williams, Willis McGahee, Lee Evans, J.P. Losman, Donte Whitner, John McCargo, Marshawn Lynch, Leodis McKelvin, Aaron Maybin, Eric Wood and C.J. Spiller.
So by now, you’ve probably pieced together a rather easy puzzle as to why the Bills have gone 11 seasons without a playoff appearance, why the Bills are working on six straight losing seasons, and why they’ve finished last in the AFC East in three consecutive seasons.
To further insult your intelligence, there’s clearly a direct link between the Bills’ blunders and busts and their lack of success on the field as far as their first round choices go. Four of those players (Williams, McGahee, Losman and Lynch) are either no longer with the team or out of the NFL. Whitner’s a question mark to return if and when there’s a free agency period. He’s been a productive player, but the Bills shocked everyone when they reached for the former Ohio State safety and he’s never been the dynamic defensive force you envision when you select a safety in the top 10. McCargo has started one game in five years, has 2.5 sacks in a Bills uniform and appeared in just one game last year. He’s got one foot out the door and one foot on a banana peel. Maybin can’t get on the field and the only worthy first round selections seem to have been Evans and Wood. As far as McKelvin and Spiller are concerned, the jury remains out as to whether or not they’ll live up to first-round billing. Buffalo’s selection of McGahee was a luxury selection, and Lynch was more successful getting into trouble with the law than he was scoring touchdowns.
Williams, Losman, McCargo and Maybin rank among the worst first round selections in Bills history and maybe even the NFL. I wasn’t around for the Walt Patulski and Tom Cousineau disasters, two players widely considered to be the worst picks in franchise history, but I’m confident in throwing McCargo, Maybin and Williams into that discussion.
So here I am almost one year later, about to write the same thing I’m pretty sure I wrote this time last year: it’s time for the Bills wise up and get it right. Buffalo needs to figure out a way to make the correct, impactful selection. It’s likely the Bills don’t envision themselves with the No.3 overall selection again in the 2012 draft, but should the Bills botch another top selection with a questionable reach, they could find themselves running in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
There’s no two ways around it. The Bills must smash their No.3 pick out of the park. I would argue if the Bills get this badly wrong again, Tom Modrak could pay for it with his job. He’s currently the Vice President of college scouting and he’s been with the Bills since 2001. Coaches have come and gone. General managers have changed. But Modrak has remained, overseeing many mistakes made by the Bills when it comes to their first round picks.
It’s not as though the Bills have been completely inept in the draft process. Admittedly, they’ve done a far better job in the middle rounds than they’ve done early on in the draft process. But in the NFL, winning is the bottom line and when you don’t win, your draft misses are magnified to a much greater extent. And when you’re not a good football team trying become a perennial playoff team, there’s very little margin for error when it comes to the draft process.
In Buffalo’s case, they’ve been as bad as they could possibly be, taking into consideration they’ve been selecting in the top 15 picks in past four or five drafts. Proper talent evaluation, drafting and coaching can either put you into the upper echelon of teams in the NFL or it can sink you directly to the bottom of the barrel. Look no further than the two teams in this year’s Super Bowl. Green Bay is littered with home grown talent they’ve acquire through the draft: Aaron Rodgers, Bryan Bulaga, Chad Clifton, Donald Driver, JerMichael Finley, Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and A.J. Hawk. Pittsburgh, who is widely regarded as one of the best drafting teams in the NFL, has their fair share of finding talent through the draft: Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Maurkice Pouncey, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, LaMarr Woodley, and James Harrison.
I apologize for again insulting your intelligence, but you have to believe almost by accident that at No.3, the Bills can find the right guy. Buddy Nix is now about to have his second draft beginning Thursday night. His first one has plenty of mixed results. Spiller didn’t warrant the No.9 overall selection and didn’t score a rushing touchdown. Torrell Troup and Alex Carrington are still raw and need to take promising steps in the offseason with their development. Arthur Moats may have been their best contributor, and not just because he’ll be remembered for a knockout hit on Brett Favre that led to Favre eventually and finally retiring.
The names have not changed out their in mock draft land. Buffalo has been a hot landing spot for Cam Newton should he be available. The concensus seems to be Texas A & M linebacker Von Miller would be a perfect choice. Ditto for Marcell Dareus and possibly Patrick Peterson. In typically pre-draft fashion, the Bills are playing their hand as if they’re in the World Series of Poker. Nix and company have sent mixed signals, stating that they’re comfortable with Ryan Fitzpatrick moving forward as the team’s starter, but saying that now is the perfect chance to draft a quarterback. Nix has also eluded to the fact that the defense needs dramatic improvement, so the best defensive player available at No.3 makes perfect sense.
Whoever the selection is, no matter the case or the circumstances, the Bills better get it right.
Hopefully, I won’t be writing that same sentence this time next year.
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