Entering the 2014 NFL Draft with the No. 9 overall pick in the first round, many around the league believed that the Buffalo Bills would be best served by selecting one of the draft’s top offensive tackles, such as Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan or Zack Martin. This was viewed as a safe route for the team to take, especially considering the depth of talent in this year’s class.
Instead, the Bills opted for a more aggressive approach, moving up to the fourth overall slot to select Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. In exchange, Buffalo sent their first and fourth-round picks in the 2015 draft to the Cleveland Browns. The Bills continued to be aggressive in the second round, selecting Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, a player many had pegged as a first-round talent but one who came with significant injury concerns.
Several NFL experts have expressed concern over the Bills’ draft strategy, claiming that giving up a first-round pick for Watkins was too risky, as was selecting a player with an injury history like Kouandjio’s.
I would argue that the Bills have no choice but to be aggressive.
As the current owners of the NFL’s longest active playoff drought, the Bills must look at any and all solutions to end that drought. There are several factors driving the Bills’ win-now attitude. The passing of owner Ralph Wilson has left the ownership of the team up for debate. Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that it is imperative for the team to acquire a new stadium if they wish to stay in Buffalo. The prospect of new ownership puts extra pressure on president Russ Brandon, general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone to produce a winning team. A lack of improvement this season could bode ill for their respective futures with the team.
There is also an enormous amount of pressure on second-year QB EJ Manuel. Coming off an injury-plagued and inconsistent rookie season, Manuel needs to prove that he is the franchise quarterback the Bills have been looking for since the departure of Jim Kelly almost twenty years ago. The addition of both Watkins and Mike Williams, coupled with a returning cast that includes Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin gives Manuel plenty of weapons to work with. If he can’t succeed with this supporting cast, then he will have shown that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a starter in the NFL.
As we saw with the Kansas City Chiefs last season, a team’s draft position doesn’t necessarily reflect the state of the team. The Chiefs went from the worst record in the league to a playoff spot in just one season. The Bills do not lack talent: as noted earlier, they have a number of weapons on offense. They have several studs on defense, including Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Kiko Alonso. They have a no-nonsense coach in Marrone.
They also have an uncertain future and a fanbase dying for a winner. In today’s NFL, the fortunes of a team can change in a single season. With a collection of talent as good as any they’ve had in recent memory, Buffalo has absolutely no incentive to be conservative. There are simply no more excuses, and that’s exactly the way it should be for this team.