Bills 2009 Draft – 10 Things I Think

Estimated reading time: 9 minute(s)

Alrighty, then. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Keep adding talent.

1. The draft is much more about not making mistakes than it is about getting the very best player. Sooner or later you need some of the very best, but what you really can’t afford is to blow a high pick completely. Mike Williams hurt a lot more than taking Whitner over Ngata.

So the big question after the first day was whether Aaron Maybin will be a quality starter in the NFL. The DEs were the biggest questionmarks at the top of the draft. But the Bills needed someone on the front four who can get consistent pressure from the edge. The Bills had to get in the DE lottery and take their shot. If Maybin brings quality pressure from the edge, this draft looks like a home run. If he doesn’t, well, it can’t be a good draft if you strike out at #11.

2. The Maybin pick, and the absence of any real effort to get a linebacker, means the Bills still intend to generate pressure on the quarterback from the front four, not the front seven. They’re staying true to the Tampa 2 philosophy. It’s up to Schobel, Williams, Stroud, Maybin, Kelsay and Denney to get the job done.

3. I really like the Wood/Levitre picks. I don’t know how good these guys are; I’m not a talent evaluator, I don’t follow college ball, and I don’t know the intricacies of offensive line play. What I like is the Bills understanding that they MUST pay attention to the offensive line. It’s stating the obvious, but coming into the draft I was worried that the Bills would chase after DEs, linebackers and who knows what. Fortunately, the Bills get it. They couldn’t get the best tackles, so they got the best center/guards.

4. The Wood/Levitre picks tell us some very interesting things about the Bills.

a. The Bills really do think they can solve the tackle problem with the guys they have. They didn’t trade up to get one of the top three tackles, and the they didn’t trade up from 28 to get Oher. They didn’t manage the second round to get one of the remaining decent tackles. That means they think Chambers can do it (so do I). Or it may mean that they think Bell can do it this year – maybe Bell moves into the spot during the bye week. It may also mean that Butler is moving back to his college position. Whatever the plan is, the Bills think it’s good enough not to chase after a tackle.

b. Listen to the first-day press conference with Brandon, Modrak and Jauron. They described these guys with the same words – gym rat, hard working, football IQ, etc. But one word stood out. They kept saying it over and over. The word was TOUGH. They said it with an edge. “He’s a TOUGH kid.” That’s why they like Butler, too – his toughness. He really wants to mix it up.

Why is that so interesting? I think what the Bills leadership didn’t say over the past couple of months was that Dockery decidedly was NOT tough enough. He wasn’t. He was a passive offensive lineman. Big, but mechanical. Preston was the same. Frankly, I’ve had the same thought about Peters, and I suspect that contributed to the Bills decision not to pay what Peters wanted. Peters made some great plays, but I rarely saw him play with the grit and determination that the really good players show.

The Bills are making a statement – if you aren’t nasty, don’t apply. If their evaluation of these two rookies is correct, the Bills’ offensive line will look decidedly different this season.

5. Byrd? I think you have to keep drafting DBs. It’s hard to find good ones. Their careers are short; they get hurt or they slow down. You lose them in free agency. You need about eight or ten every year, between corners, nickels and safeties. I thought the Bills would take a DB sometime on the second day.

Clearly, the Bills rated Byrd so high that they didn’t want to pass him up, much the way they took Edwards in the third round a couple of years ago. I’d guess the Bills figured Byrd wouldn’t be there and were plannning to go for Levitre. When he was there, the Bills probably got on the phone to see if they could trade for another second round pick. When they discovered they could, they pulled the trigger on Byrd.

Byrd apparently has outstanding ball skills, something none of the current DBs has (McKelvin closes well, he just doesn’t catch it so well). Byrd’s also a really smart player. I think he’s probably a Jim Leonhard with better raw physical talent. Still, I worry about guys that short. I worry about his speed, although free safeties typically aren’t the fastest guys on the team.

I wonder what it means about the present safety tandem. What we’ve heard is that Whitner was to be the free and Scott the strong. So when Byrd is ready, does Whitner move back? If you’re moving Whitner to free, why didn’t the Bills look for a replacement for Scott? There are a lot of questions about the pick, but I suppose they’re all answered simply by saying the Bills really liked Byrd.

One thing it probably means is that the George Wilson experiment is over. Possibly Wendling, but more likely Wilson.

I’m not even close to thinking Byrd was a mistake. The guy has Ball Burglar written all over him. Get out your checkbooks, fans.

6. The tight end fans got their wish, sort of. I have to admit that even I, the guy who says tight end is the least important player on the offense, was warming to the idea of Pettigrew if he fell to the right spot for the Bills. The Bills had other more important needs, however, and Pettigrew fell to others. Then the Bills traded their third round pick to get Levitre, another good move, so they had to wait until the fourth to shop for a TE. I thought that meant the search for a TE would go on for another year.

What the Bills found in the fourth round, surprisingly, was a wideout. Have you watched the video of Nelson? The guy’s a big wideout. He can run, he has great hands, and he likes to fight for the ball. Really impressive. Watch the video of him.

I didn’t think the Bills needed another big offensive threat at tight end – the Bills already have an outstanding receiving corps – two #1 wideouts, a good slot man, promising youngsters and three running backs who can catch and know what to do after they catch it. Now the Bills, at least in some situations, are going to put a tight end on the field who is going to be an enormous challenge for the defense. How is anyone going to defend Lee, TO, Josh, someone out of the backfield and a 6’5″ kid who can run, jump and catch? Good luck.

The Bills need a blocker first, receiver second. The Bills say Nelson can bulk up to be the guy they need as a full-time tight end, but that’s probably 2010, not 2009. Nelson says he can block, and maybe with the Bills’ new stout offensive line, he’ll be enough. I don’t think he’s an immediate starter, but he should be a situational player this year.

I’m sure there’s a reason this guy fell to the fourth round; I just don’t know what it is. If Nelson bulks up and becomes an effective blocker, watch out. It’s easy to see him being Tony Gonzalez. Seriously. Watch the video.

The Bills have had an interesting progression in the draft at tight end. Think about it: The Bills hoped Kevin Everett would be what they now hope Nelson will be – the tight end who can stretch the field. Then Schouman – the H-back, second tight end-type, clearly not the everyday player at the position. Then Fine, more the prototypical tight end, but probably not big enough. Now Nelson.

I still think the Bills will sign Wrighster. If they do, Schouman’s days as a Bill are over; Fine will hang on to play special teams and fill-in duty at tight end, but that’s about it.

7. Nic Harris is a very interesting pick. Again, it confirms that the Bills are sticking with their Tampa 2 philosophy. Nic Harris is another Ellison; I hope he’s better. The guy apparently has a high football IQ, great anticipation, and loves to hit. He probably has the mobility to play the game the Bills want, and he may be a better attacker than Ellison.

In fact, the first three defensive picks have one thing in common – they are playmakers. The Bills are lacking in playmakers – I think the Bills actually have them but don’t turn them loose. These three picks suggest to me that the Bills decided that they need some guys who will be more than solid, guys who will attack the ball and the ball carrier. Maybin’s pass-rush specialist. Byrd’s a pick master; he finds the ball. Harris is a playmaker.

Harris may not make it, but he could turn out to be a big surprise. Can you say Ball Burglar?

8. I think every draft breaks down this way: In the first, second and (maybe) third rounds, you must get players who WILL play, maybe not as rookies, but who will be starters eventually. First round you hope for rookie starters. In the fourth and fifth rounds you should get players who SHOULD play, but who aren’t sure things. In the sixth and seventh rounds you should get players who MIGHT play. So I don’t get too excited about the 6th and 7th round picks.

Why DBs? I don’t know; I suspect it’s simply that those guys were the best value on the Bills’ board. They’re trying to find guys who, despite the odds, will make it. At 6, there’s no point in taking a tackle you don’t think will make it over a DB who you think might. I would have liked to see OT or OLB or DT next to the names the Bills picked at 6 and 7, but it simply didn’t fall that way. I didn’t go into the draft thinking the Bills were going to get a game-changer at 6 or 7, so I’m not going to get upset that the non-game-changers the Bills took were at a position where there seems to be little need.

9. I’m always the same the day after the draft. No matter how hard I try, I envision every guy taken from the first through the fifth rounds a starter for the Bills – an immediate starter. It never happens, of course. One through five rarely all make the team, let alone start. Somehow, this feels different. The Bills took two of the best interior linemen in the country, and I think they’re pretty safe bets. The Bills must think Byrd is a starter within two years or they wouldn’t have gone after him aggressively like that. Maybin is the wildcard – is he Dwight Freeney or is he another quick college defensive end who’s going to get handled by the best offensive linemen in the world? Nelson will make the team; if Harris does too, this was a heckuva draft. If Maybin gets sacks and Nelson and Harris play significant downs, my oh my.

10. The Bills have been building and building for four years now. There have been a few notable missteps along the way – Dockery’s bust, losing Peters (although they got picks for him). Some decisions that haven’t worked out – Dockery, Fowler, Kelsay. But there has been serious, steady building. Butler, Walker, Edwards, Lynch, Hardy, Johnson, Williams, Stroud, Poz, Mitchell, McKelvin, Whitner, Scott, Youboty, Corner. Add Hangartner, Owens, Rhodes and now this draft class. That’s a lot of new – and good – talent. It’s too much talent not to win. It’s the same defense, with Schobel back, Poz having learned the ropes, and a new pass rusher on board. It’s the same offense with a remade offensive line that should be as good as last year, plus Terrell Owens and a big new target at tight end.

As I’ve been saying for months now, the spotlight is on and will stay on Jauron, his staff and Trent Edwards. When you’re the Lions, you have an excuse for not winning. The Bills have no excuses now.