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Field Goals: Drafting a Question

The playoffs are no longer something for the Bills to aspire to this season. Much like the previous 11 years of playoff futility, this year was marred by questionable play calling, failures at certain positions and a lack for winning close contests.

Since any hope of the postseason has been extinguished, the focus of Bills fans now reverts to the NHL lockout and the NFL draft. Since the NHL is, well, locked out, the draft strategy for the Bills will get plenty of scrutiny. One player whom the Bills will play this weekend sits at the center of recent Bills draft controversy.

Marshawn Lynch will roll into Rodgers Centre this Sunday with 1,266 yards and nine touchdowns under his belt through 13 games this season. Lynch actually has two more carries (261) than Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller to this point in the season. However, the Bills two-headed monster has just gained over 100 yards more than Beast Mode thus far. The Bills duo has proven to be far more effective in the passing game as well. Spiller alone has doubled Lynch’s output as a receiver and the pair of Jackson and Spiller has nearly tripled Lynch’s output out of the backfield.

Due to Jackson’s injury, Sunday will be a showdown between the back the Bills took ninth overall in 2010 and the player who was shown out the door. At the time, Spiller was a luxury selection for a team that could ill afford to spend on anything but necessities. It created a three-headed backfield that took a full season to iron out. In fact, the Bills are still wrestling with how to divide carries between the two men left on the roster after Lynch was dealt.

Since arriving in Seattle, Lynch has a pair of 1,000 yard seasons and has played in two more playoff games than the entire Bills organization has this millennium. Now that Spiller has shaken the stigma fans had attached to him, the questions that previously surrounded his draft status have largely disappeared.

However questions still remain about what could have been when considering a number of draft choices made by the Bills since Buddy Nix took on a larger role in the drafting process. Spiller serves as an excellent example for a team drafting a skill player when so many additional needs existed. Additional choices that were made with Pro Bowl players lurking just a few picks later has fueled the fire (see Gronkowski, Rob).

The Lynch vs. Spiller matchup will be interesting to track simply because Lynch had proven to be a valuable commodity in the NFL. Not only that, he has shown to be a capable workhorse in a league that is trending towards platoon backfields. Spiller probably could be that player if the playcalling allowed for it, but that does remain a mystery at this point. Come Sunday, don’t take the Spiller vs. Lynch battle as an indication of which player the Bills should have kept, look at it as what could have been.

Perhaps the Bills had Russell Okung or Rolando McClain targeted at pick number eight and were pushed to take the best talent. Also consider that Spiller could have easily been Tyson Alualu or Brandon Graham, a pair of players who likely would be taking far more scrutiny at this point in their careers.

Second Guessing

Rather than provide three sub-points this week. I’d like to further explore the recent draft history for Buddy Nix. His role as general manager really took hold in 2009, although he wasn’t the main man in the draft room that spring. Looking back over the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts, the scrutiny that Nix has received may be somewhat unjust.

The main point of criticism coming from Bills fans surrounds a handful of decisions made by the Bills recently. The swing and miss on Aaron Maybin continues to be a contentious point that is associated with Dick Jauron. The miss on Maybin is accentuated by Brian Orakpo and Brian Cushing each being selected in the following four picks. Following in that vein, Rob Gronkowski went one pick after Torell Troup in 2010 and Andy Dalton and Colin Kapernick went immediately after Aaron Williams in the next draft.

Expecting the Bills to find the next Tom Brady with every pick from the fourth round and beyond is an incredibly unrealistic expectation. Consider the mid-to-late round drafting strategy for finding value and future starters rather than for finding superstars and you will realize that the opinions of some are simply out of touch.

Now, these misses are frustrating for Bills fans to deal with. The idea that Andy Dalton could have been had as opposed to Aaron Williams or that the Gronk Spike would be popular in Buffalo as opposed to Boston. Of course, it is easy to vilify management for missing these players, but there is likely more to the choice that was made.

The Gronkowski vs. Troup debate is the most popular, visible and frustrating of these mistakes. Not only has Gronkowski evolved into a deadly weapon for the Patriots, Torell Troup has struggled just to see the field for the Bills. His injury-riddled career has kept him on IR longer than the active roster. Combine that with Gronk’s falshy numbers and overlooking the tight end is magnified ten-fold. However, at the time, the Bills had a pressing need for a nose tackle to fit their new 3-4 front. Drafting Troup meant filling an immediate need on the roster, drafting Gronkowski would have been more of a luxury pick than anything else.

The same goes for Aaron Williams but on a lesser degree. While Williams provided depth and skill at corner, the Bills were believed to have been looking for a quarterback in 2011. From reports leading up to the draft, Christian Ponder appeared to be their guy. But when he was taken far higher than his initial stock indicated, the Bills were left hanging. Whether or not Nix had players like Dalton or Kapernick that high on his draft board is more of an indication of how he planned to draft when looking at the big picture.

One other thing to consider is the other side of this coin. Yes, the need for a quarterback in 2011 was evident despite the Bills choosing to go a different route. However the most questioned draft picks in recent memory not only were trailed by future starts but also a number of busts. Take a look at the list of selections since 2009 and determine what you would have changed. Going further than 10-15 picks past a certain player is fairly unrealistic when you consider how draft boards are comprised. Here are a few examples:

  •           2009 – Aaron Maybin 11th overall. Picks after: Brian Orakpo (13th WSH), Brian Cushing (15th HOU) Both amplify Maybin as a bust and show some poor scouting on Buffalo’s behalf.
  •           2009 – Jarius Byrd 42nd overall. Picks after: Everette Brown (43rd CAR) Pat White (44th MIA) Both Brown and White have contributed little while Bryd excels. This pick could have easily gone the other way as many picks following Byrd have not brought the same return
  •           2010 Torell Troup 41st overall. While Gronkowski went one pick after, Jimmy Clausen and Taylor Mays went seven and picks later, respectively. While the miss on Gronk hurts, missing on Clausen and Mays would have been just as disastrous.
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