DRAFT PREVIEW – BUFFALO BILLS

A look at the Bills heading into the 2011 NFL Draft; Buffalo has the 3rd pick in the first round.

REVIEW OF 2010

Record – 4-12, tied for the worst record in the AFC with Cincinnati and Denver.

Finish – fourth in the AFC East, 10 games behind division leader New England and three games behind third place Miami.

Playoffs – not since the 1999 season, and 11-year drought that is the longest in the NFL. The rest of their AFC East mates have made the playoffs 17 times since the Bills have gotten there – Patriots 8, Jets 6 and Dolphins 3.

OVERVIEW

The Bills have been struggling for over a decade now, and they’ve had just one winning record since 1999; that was 2004 when they were 9-7 and still finished in third place. Since they made the post-season under Wade Phillips, they’ve had Greg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and now Chan Gailey as head coach. Mularkey led them to 9 victories in ’04.

Last year, Gailey went 0-8 last season before they were able to crack the victory column. The Bills went 4-4 to close out the season. But they were close, as three of those defeats came by three points in overtime, including at Arrowhead Stadium.

There’s not one particular area that caused the Bills problems in 2010, as they struggled on offense, defense and in the kicking game. The QB position has been in a state of flux since Jim Kelly retired, and last year they used four different passers. It was journeyman Ryan Fitzgerald who eventually won and held onto the job.

PARTICULARS

Offense – averaged 305 yards per game (No. 25 in the league) and scored 30 touchdowns. RB Fred Jackson was the only consistent running threat, as he gained 927 yards on 222 carries and five TDs. No other back gained more than 283 yards. WR Steve Johnson had a breakthrough season catching 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 TDs. The only other receiver over 500 yards was veteran WR Lee Evans (37-578 yards). Fitzpatrick had 23 TDs and 15 INTs, throwing for 3,000 yards and an 81.8 passer rating. Brian Brohm is the very inexperienced backup. Bills passers were sacked 34 times.

Defense – had problems last year, giving up 361.6 yards per game, bad enough to rank No. 24 in the league. They allowed 46 touchdowns, among the highest total in the league. It was against the run where they had major problems – allowing an average of 169.6 yards per game, that left them ranked dead last among the 32 defenses. They forced just 11 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles. CB Drayton Florence led the team with 3 interceptions, including a TD return. DT Kyle Williams led the team in sacks with 5.5, but the Bills had only 27 total QB takedowns.

Special teams – K Rian Lindell was 16 of 21 on FGs, but three of those misses were from outside 50 yards. P Brian Moorman averaged 42.4 yards a punt, but the team’s net average was a mediocre 36.6 yards. In the return game they’ve got a host of talented options like Roscoe Parrish, C.J. Spiller and Leodis McKelvin. Last year, Spiller had a 95-yard return for a touchdown. On coverages, they did not allow a score.

DECISION MAKERS

Owner – Ralph Wilson, Jr. is one of the last surviving members of the Foolish Club, the original AFL owners who joined with Lamar Hunt to start the league. The 92-year old Wilson is not much of a factor in the football operation, other than making the decision to hire Buddy Nix as his GM.

Executive V.P./General Manager – Nix was headed for retirement after sitting out the 2008 NFL season and then doing some national scouting in 2009 for the Bills. That’s when Wilson tabbed him to take over the football operations of the team. He then hired Gailey. Nix has been in NFL personnel departments since 1993, when he worked for the Bills over eight seasons. He then went to San Diego when the late John Butler was hired away from the Bills to be the Chargers GM. That was in 2001. He has a long coaching career on the high school and college level, all of it in the South.

Vice-President of College Scouting – Tom Modrak has been in the NFL now for 35 years, starting with the Steelers in their glory years of the 1970s. He then went to the Eagles and joined the Bills 11 years ago when he was named Director of Football Operations.

Head coach – Chan Gailey has one of the most extensive resumes of anyone currently sitting in an NFL head coach’s chair. This will be his 17th season in the league, but he’s been involved in football coaching since 1974.

Who has the draft room juice? – Nix is the guy in charge, but he’s not going to pull the chain on a draft choice without Gailey signing off. Wilson is going to be part of the decision-making chain because he has to authorize the money.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Quarterback – Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season. Since then, Buffalo has drafted and traded for so many passers and nothing has stuck. They missed on a first-round choice for J.P. Losman and a third-round selection for Trent Edwards. They missed on trades for the likes of Drew Bledsoe, Rob Johnson and Billy Joe Hobert. Now they sit with Fitzpatrick and they are going to get a chance at one of the top two QBs in this year’s draft. There are a lot of holes to fill in this Bills roster, and the biggest is the quarterback, not only in what he could mean on the field, but what he would represent to the community.

2. Outside linebacker – The Bills defense has a couple of huge holes on the edge whether they play the 3-4 as they did last year, or the 4-3 which they will apparently go back to in the 2011 season. Those OLB produced a total of six sacks from starters Moats and Chris Kelsay. With the Bills having the league’s worst run defense, they didn’t get much help from their edge LBs in that area either. Shawne Merriman is on the roster, but he’s trying to comeback from a string of three seasons where he hasn’t played, or has played without much success.

3. Defensive end. This spot really is tied in with the OLB position, whether 3-4 or 4-3. Dissect the defensive numbers and it’s obvious that the edge is being taken advantage of in many different fashions. Last year, the Bills gave up 18 rushing touchdowns. They need cornerstones to lay for the future foundation of the defense.

FIVE-YEAR DRAFT HISTORY

The Bills problems in the last five years can be traced directly to their bad record in the NFL Draft, especially in the early picks. Recent first rounders like DE/OLB Aaron Maybin, RB Marshawn Lynch, DT John McCargo and QB J.P. Losman were busts. There were a host of other second and third rounders that were not any more successful than those first round busts.

Buffalo has tried to use the Draft as their building blocks but the results have been very mixed. On a team that was 4-12 last year, there should have been many opportunities for the rookies to get on the field, but few got much accomplished.

2006: They hit big with NT/DT Kyle Williams in the fifth round and S Donte Whitner was a good first-rounder. The rest have proven to be pedestrian.

2007: Poor return on these investments, as only ILB Paul Posluszny (2nd) is still productive for them. Lynch (1st) and QB Trent Edwards (3rd) washed out and left giant holes in the depth chart that they are still trying to fill.

2008: Two starters came out of the 7th round in Bell at LT and Johnson at WR. These guys should be hitting their prime but too many in the class of 10 picks have already washed out – only four left.

2009: Two starters on offensive line in C Eric Wood (1st) and LG Andy Levitre (2nd) came out of this class, and CB Jairus Byrd (2nd) proved to be a big-play rookie. Maybin has been a complete bust.

2010: The Bills got very little in the way of contributions from this class as rookies. OLB Arthur Moats (6th) ended up in the starting lineup and first pick RB C.J. Spiller had 1,454 all-purpose yards.

PREDICTION

If Carolina goes for QB Cam Newton and Denver scoops up DL Marcell Dareus, that will leave Nix, Gailey and the rest of the Bills to make a tough decision. Do they go ahead and make Blaine Gabbert their next franchise quarterback? Or, do they help that sad defense with the addition of the best LB in this draft, Von Miller out of Texas A&M. As much as Gailey needs and wants a QB, his life and future would be a lot better with a talent like Miller on the edge.

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