By Nick Richardson @NickSonofDave on May 4, 2014
A key ingredient in the Buffalo Bills’ decade-and-a-half long playoff drought has been their consistently poor draft record. To be fair, the Bills had bad draft years before their current run of futility. They even had a few good ones sprinkled in as well. This is a rundown of the Bills’ best and worst drafts since the 1970 merger (so, before you ask, no O.J. Simpson, who went number one overall in 1969).
This was a thoroughly unimpressive draft all around. First-round pick Reuben Gant finished his career with 127 receptions for 1,850 yards and 15 touchdowns, not what you’re looking for when you take a tight end 18th overall. 10th-round pick Don Calhoun was the only other player who made any kind of impact in the NFL, and the majority of his career was spent with Buffalo’s rival New England.
While Buffalo’s 1976 draft class didn’t produce any superstars, they got very good value from their early picks. DB Mario Clark (18th overall), OT Ken Jones (45th), OT Joe Devlin (52nd) and DE Ben Williams (78th) each played at least eight seasons with the Bills, even though many of those teams weren’t very good. Williams earned a Pro Bowl selection in the strike-shortened 1982 season.
This draft class gets a bit of a handicap as the Bills didn’t have a first or second-round pick in 1989. That being said, Buffalo got little to no value from the picks they did have. Third-round pick Don Beebe is best remembered for his legendary hustle play on Leon Lett in Super Bowl XXVII. Beebe spent six reasonably productive seasons with the Bills; apart from him, no one from the Bills’ 1989 draft class made much of an impact in the league.
Ironically, the Bills’ first pick in 1983, tight end Tony Hunter, was a total bust. However, Buffalo more than made up for that miss with their next two picks: QB Jim Kelly and LB Darryl Talley. Both players would serve as cornerstones during the team’s Super Bowl years. Kelly in particular would establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation.
The Bills’ top three picks in 1975, Tom Ruud, Bob Nelson and Glenn Lott, combined to play a whopping 61 games for the Bills during their respective careers. That gives you an idea of how bad this draft class was. They got decent value from 10th-round selection Roland Hooks, who would spend the better part of seven seasons as Buffalo’s backup running back.
This draft is best known for the Tom Cousineau pick: the All-American was selected first overall, then promptly left to play in the CFL. The Bills got the last laugh, however, as they traded Cousineau to Cleveland for a pick that would one day be used to take Jim Kelly. Overall, this was a very productive draft for Buffalo: Jerry Butler and Fred Smerlas were Pro Bowlers, and Jim Haslett was Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1979.
Buffalo’s first draft as a member of the NFL certainly did not go well. Fifth-overall pick Al Cowlings lasted only three seasons in Buffalo, and his career in general was a disappointment. Dennis Shaw, the Bills’ second-round pick, was the starting quarterback for three years: in those three years, he threw nearly twice as many interceptions (63) as touchdowns (35). Nobody else in this class lasted more than two seasons in the NFL.
The Bills’ 1973 class was eerily prophetic of their 1983 draft: a first-round tight end who wound up a huge bust, Paul Seymour, followed by two cornerstone players in OG Joe DeLamielleure and QB Joe Ferguson. Although neither DeLamielleure nor Ferguson experienced much team success, both men enjoyed stellar careers with the Bills. The Bills also got some value out of some of their later picks.
Appropriately enough, the Bills kicked off the worst decade in franchise history with arguably their worst draft class ever. DE Erik Flowers was one of the biggest busts in team history: taken 26th overall, the Arizona St. product started only six games for the Bills while recording just 4.0 sacks, and was out of the league by 2005. It didn’t get much better from there, as the other seven picks combined for just 29 starts for the Bills.
Any draft class that produces two Hall-of-Famers will go down as one of the best drafts in any team’s history. Bruce Smith and Andre Reed served as two integral pieces of the dominant Buffalo teams of the late 80s and early 90s. Smith recorded almost all of his NFL record 200 career sacks with the Bills, while Reed was just awarded his long-overdue place in Canton. As an added bonus, Frank Reich led the greatest comeback in NFL history.
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