The Buffalo Bills came into the 2013 NFL Draft looking for a quarterback and made little secret about it. General Manager Buddy Nix has been personally going and scouting all of the signal callers this past year. The Bills parted ways with Ryan Fitzpatrick, so they had nothing at quarterback that could start. They also brought in a new Head Coach in Doug Marrone, formerly the head coach at Syracuse, so the speculation was that he would want his quarterback in college in Ryan Nassib. The Bills smartly did nothing to suggest these rumors were not true and just let the speculation build. People were predicting the Bills would take him with the eighth overall pick in the draft. Beyond quarterback, the Bills had a substantial number of needs from linebackers to wide receivers. The Bills took a substantial risk early in the draft and it ultimately paid off but it could have blown up in the Bills face and followed that up by some moves that need further explanation and are not difficult to criticize.
When the Bills went on the clock at the eighth pick, it was unclear what they were going to do and there were a number of options on the board who could contribute and be a good fit for them, so they opted to take a trade down from the Rams who wanted to move up and grab Tavon Austin. The Bills grabbed an extra second round pick from the Rams to move down to the sixteenth pick. This was a good move for the Bills looking to add picks to help them get more talent on their roster, but considering what they did at sixteen, it was a risky move.
When the Bills went back on the clock, they went ahead and made a pick this time around, selecting Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel, making him the first quarterback taken in the 2013 draft and ultimately the only quarterback that went in round one. Considering that when it comes to selecting a quarterback in the first round and how early that player is expected to contribute and the fact that the front office’s job could likely ride on that player, they have to really convince themselves that this is the guy. Trading back and potentially leaving him open to be taken before they get back on the clock again is a risky play. If they really believed he could be the franchise quarterback and someone else took him, it is a disaster. Manuel was not really projected to go in the first round, so it was a reasonable gamble and it worked out, but it was a high stakes poker play by Nix.
As for Manuel himself, he has tremendous physical tools and potential to become a great quarterback in the NFL, but he is not there yet and appeared to need significant development. All indications are he is a smart kid who can learn fast and work hard but he is still raw as a passer. While atFloridaState, Manuel ran a pro style offense but it was a large amount of dinking and dunking with short relatively easy throws on hitches, digs, and comebacks. He threw some crosses and some other throws that look more difficult but for the most part, it was a controlled offense. And perhaps the coaching staff was holding him back. Occasionally, he would show flashes of brilliance making big time throws and plays that show the potential of what he can become but needs to get far more consistent.
Manuel seems like a person who can handle the riggers and pressure of the NFL but the only competition he has for the starting job is journeyman Kevin Kolb, so it would hardly be surprising to see Manuel be the starter from the jump and whether or not he is a mature person, being a rookie quarterback in the NFL who needs significant development is a large pill to swallow. If that is the case, the Bills need to find a way for him to be able to be effective and advance his development which is a tricky situation. Marrone and his staff had to have a plan in place for Manuel the second he was drafted and his job will likely rest on his ability to develop Manuel into a good, starting quarterback.
The pick was a significant reach but the Bills do deserve credit for not giving up anything as far as their interest in Manuel. There were people who thought they liked Geno Smith and a significant amount of attention on the relationship between Marrone and Nassib, but the Bills maneuvered in the draft and got the guy they really wanted; E.J. Manuel.
In the second round, the Bills used the first of their two picks on Robert Woods, wide receiver from USC. This was an interesting pick because Woods was caught up in this clump of extremely talented wide receivers that could go in any number of different orders and no one would have complained. It is also an intriguing move because of a pick they made later.
Woods has elite feet and is a tremendous route runner who is fantastic at creating separation and getting himself open. He plays faster than he times and can make plays after the catch and get yards after the catch. Woods demonstrates good hands, has experience running a pro route tree and should be able to step in and contribute immediately with how he was developed by the Trojans.
Woods is an excellent complement to Stevie Johnson and creates this an interesting dynamic of having athletic, sleek receivers who have a knack for making plays. Woods will be competing with T.J. Graham for the second starting receiver job and should win the job with relative ease and give them a nice collection of speed and athleticism.
With the pick they acquired from the Rams, the Bills selected Kiko Alonso, inside linebackerfrom Oregon. This pick is perplexing considering the other linebacker options on the board. In theory, this move could work out well if the Bills have a specific vision for what their defense wants to do. Alonso has the best instincts for pass defense of any linebacker in this draft. He is not a guy who can fly around and shut down guys in man coverage but his knack for processing where the offense is going and putting himself in great position to make a play on the football. Alonso is not the fastest guy in the world but he plays so smart in pass defense that he looks much faster than he is.
The question comes with his contributions in the running game. Alonso does a poor job of taking on and shedding blocks and much of his success with playing the run is reading and attacking gaps quickly before the opponent can adjust and blowing up the play at or behind the line of scrimmage. The issue comes when he guesses wrong and swings and misses on his read and takes himself completely out of the play, creating a huge lane for the back to run and enabling them to get big plays.
If the Bills in their 3-4 alignment are going to be able to protect Alonso and allow him to run around and make plays, it could be a great set up. It seems like it would be a far better fit in the 4-3 they were running last year with Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus clogging up the middle so that a linebacker such as Alonso would be able to do just that, but in the 3-4, inside linebackers are often faced with having to deal with guards coming up and blocking them. That is an area where he is ineffective. If he can improve at this area and become a better run defender, his skills in the pass defense could make the pick look brilliant down the road. The problem is that the Bills could have picked Arthur Brown from Kansas State who had first round talent there so if Alonso struggles and Brown flourishes with the Ravens, also playing the 3-4, the second guessing will be overwhelming. The only way to explain this move is that the Bills take on the 3-4 is going to be far more suited to what Alonso does with his attacking style.
Alonso is basically being penciled in to play next to Nigel Bradham as a starter immediately so it will be interesting to see how he does with the opportunity. Bradham is a strong side player who can take on blocks and be a thumper and Alonso is their weak side backer who can also contribute in nickel situations, which adds to his viability as a player and could be where he makes his biggest impact.
In the third round, the Bills took another receiver and opted for Marquise Goodwin, the two sport star from Texas. Goodwin ran track and every bit of that sprinter’s speed shows up on the field and he is easily the fastest guy on the field. If he gets the ball in the open field, he is a huge threat to take it all the way. He did not produce much in Austin and while people will be quick to suggest the Longhorns did a poor job utilizing him, he has some warts in his game that could be extremely problematic in the NFL. The most notable which flies in the face of his style of play is that he has trouble tracking the bowl down the field. There have been multiple example both in games at Texas as well as during the Scouting Combine without a helmet on where Goodwin simply lost the ball in the air and it hit the ground. Considering that he was drafted by a team with a huge arm in Manuel, that could pose a problem.
Now, with Johnson, Woods, Graham, and Goodwin, the Bills have the makings of a nice 4×4 track team. Graham and Goodwin can both fly and are curiously similar in how they play, so it will be interesting to see how the Bills utilize them. If they opt to go with a four receiver set and all of these guys on the field at once, they will have a speed everywhere to stress the defense. If Marrone follows his upbringing with Sean Payton in New Orleans and that offense, he will have all of these guys play out in space and let Manuel find the open guy and let them run all day.
In the fourth round, the Bills selected Duke Williams, safety from Nevada. In an attempt to giving their star safety, Jairus Byrd, a running mate as their current projected starting strong safety is Da’Norris Searcy, formerly an undrafted free agent. Williams comes in and could have a shot to compete and take that starting job from Searcy and that is probably ultimately what the Bills are hoping. If Searcy holds him off, Williams can probably be depth for both safety spots on the back end. After a pair of questionable value picks in Alonso and Goodwin, the Bills get a good value here with Williams.
His size says free safety but his willingness to fill and be aggressive says strong safety. He is a nice combo safety prospect but some minor arrests and a temper have hurt his reputation a little bit. He has not done anything overly serious but it did hurt him in the draft process slightly. If he can stay focused on football, the Bills potentially have a steal here in the long run that could at least contribute on special teams but it would not be a shock if he ended up the starter next to Byrd.
They followed up picking Williams by going with another safety, Jonathan Meeks from Clemson. He comes in as their fifth safety on the depth chart and will likely be battling with Aaron Williams to make the final roster. Meeks was not all that highly regarded in the draft process, but the Bills must have a plan with him in the long term as another potential player to become the strong safety next to Byrd but unless he is a revelation in camp, he will need to make an impact on special teams or he is likely to find himself on the practice squad this year. The unpleasant thought for Bills fans is the idea that they drafted Meeks and Williams back to back because they are not sure they will be able to retain Byrd past this year.
In the sixth round, the Bills opted to go the kicker route and selected Dustin Hopkins from Florida State. Hopkins is a kicker with a big leg that could be a good fit in Buffalo and he is a guy who should not have too much problem kicking touchbacks. When a team drafts a kicker, they expect them to be their guy during the season but the Bills still have Rian Lindell to provide competition during camp before he is ultimately let go.
In the seventh round, the Bills finished their draft by adding a pure receiving tight end in Chris Gragg from Arkansas. In Gragg, they get a pure receiving tight end that fits more of the joker role than an inline tight end and considering what the Bills currently have on their roster, this could be a good pick up. The top two tight ends on the depth chart coming in are both huge inline tight ends and Lee Smith is basically a pure blocking tight end. When he came out of Marshall, there was talk about moving him to tackle in the NFL. Scott Chandler has shown some flashes for the Bills and will likely be their top option again this year. Having Gragg coming in as a pure receiving threat gives them options on mixing up their line up and creating mismatches. The Bills do not have a big receiver at this point, so that could be a niche that Gragg can take over, especially down in the red zone. Gragg missed most of this past year due to injury but was a productive option for Arkansas his junior year. There is little risk here and while it seems like a good bet for Gragg to make the final roster, it is possible he could spend a year on the practice squad.
My Thoughts: Much of my take away from this draft and wait and see. On the surface, the Bills had in my opinion the most objectionable draft of anyone this year and while it could work out and Buddy Nix could look brilliant, they reached on most of their picks and while they appear to have a vision of what they want to do, I am openly questioning their way of going about it.
I think E.J. Manuel has a world of potential and he could be a great quarterback if developed correctly, but in my analysis, he was a guy who needed a year, maybe two of developing and warranted a third round pick. It would have been understandable to take him in round two, but it is a difficult approach taking him in round one. It is going to be extremely difficult to keep Manuel on the field and while everything about Manuel and how he carries himself suggests he can handle it, it is going to be difficult and they could end up ruining him by rushing him.
Manuel has the arm to play in Buffalo which was a smart move but it seems like the Bills would like to run an offense like the Saints and it remains to be seen if Manuel is the guy to do that. Perhaps Marrone is adjusting the offense to fit more to what Manuel does well. The potential is there for the offense to do a lot of great things and if it goes according to plan, they could light up score boards, but the other possibility is their quarterback and skill position players do not fit together all that well.
Woods makes a ton of sense for that Saints style of offense and would have been a great fit there, so if that is the way they are planning to go, great pick and a great fit. Marquise Goodwin’s upside is significant but taking him over Markus Wheaton from Oregon State was baffling. Wheaton does not possess the raw speed Goodwin does but he has plenty of speed and can stretch the field vertically, is a bigger player and is just a substantially better wide receiver than Goodwin. Having Johnson, Woods, and Wheaton with Graham could have been an outstanding group. This is another wait and see type pick and one that could end badly both in that Goodwin could be a bust and Wheaton could be great with the Steelers. Wheaton warranted a second round pick and Goodwin closer to a fourth or fifth.
Picking Alonso over Arthur Brown is not something I would have done but I am curious to see the style they want to play in their defense. Alonso has a specific skill set and way he plays linebacker that had to stick out to the Bills as specifically fitting what they want to do in their defense. He is so instinctive and smart in coverage but his style is hit or miss against the run and could be problematic, though in a 3-4, he will have perhaps an easier time shooting gaps and limiting the number he can attack which could increase his accuracy.
I like the Gragg pick given what the Bills seem to want to do with their offense and he could end up being a cog with virtually no risk. It is always difficult to tell with kickers because so much of it is about their mind set but if he works out, that obviously is a good value as well. The Meeks pick has me scratching my head both from a value and depth standpoint.
Overall, I think this draft could work out for the Bills and their specificity with their systems could ultimately make the picks warrant the perceived reaches in the draft, but on pure value and evaluation, they took a lot of significant gambles and if it blows up in their face, it will be easy to see what and where it went wrong. People can spin it so it sounds better than it is and the Bills could certainly end up with a great draft but the safer bet is that they had one of the weaker drafts in the NFL. Buddy Nix stepped down this week as their general manager so they will have someone else running their draft next year. Nix’s lasting legacy in Buffalo will largely be based around the success or failure of E.J. Manuel and what Coach Marrone is able to do with him under center. Even if that is the only thing the Bills were to get out of this draft, it would be a success but most of their draft is all about showing scouts and the draft community why they were so much smarter than everybody else and why their picks fit what they want to do better than other players would have.
Topics: 2013 Nfl Draft, Arkansas Razorbacks Football, Buffalo Bills, Chris Gragg, Clemson Tigers Football, Duke Williams, Dustin Hopkins, E.J. Manuel, Florida State Seminoles, Jonathan Meeks, Kiko Alonso, Marquise Goodwin, Nevada Wolfpack Football, Oregon Ducks Football, Robert Woods, Texas Longhorns Football, USC Trojans Football