Monday, May 6, 2013

Grading the Draft: Buffalo Bills

(Originally posted at

For months many thought the Bills would take a signal caller in the first round, and they did. They just didn’t select the quarterback many predicted. The team maneuvered throughout the first two days of the draft and came away with a variety of offensive weapons. Chris Tripodi grades the team’s effort.

E.J. Manuel/QB/Florida State (Round 1/Pick #16): After trading out of the 8th spot and picking up an extra second-round pick from the Rams, the Bills were the first team to take the plunge into the 2013 quarterback class and had Manuel rated above the rest, thanks in part to a solid bad-weather workout. The former Seminole quarterback might have the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft, combining impressive size (6-4, 235) with 4.6 speed, a quick release and a powerful arm. Where he struggles is in his decision making, timing and mechanics and while the potential is immense, Manuel is not ready to start at the NFL level. The Bills do have Kevin Kolb set to start in 2013 and will reportedly be implementing some of the read option into their playbook, both of which will be positives for the Manuel’s development. This pick comes with a ton of upside, but also more risk than you’d like in a top-20 pick.

Robert Woods/WR/USC (Round 2/Pick #41): After drafting a quarterback early and having almost nothing behind Stevie Johnson at the wide receiver position, Woods was a no-brainer pick for Buffalo and a solid one at that. After an All-American sophomore season, Woods was seen as a mid-first round pick but struggled with ankle issues and the emergence of Marqise Lee as a junior. His draft stock took a hit but he’s still the same prospect he was after the 2011 season; a smooth, natural receiver with soft hands that runs crisp routes and can make plays with the ball in his hands. Woods is not a vertical threat and lacks above-average leaping ability, but he has all the makings of a very solid second receiver at the NFL level who can excel between the 20s. This pick made sense on a lot of levels for Buffalo.

Kiko Alonso/LB/Oregon (Round 2/Pick #46): Alonso may not have the size (6-3, 240) or speed (4.68) NFL teams covet at linebacker, but he has solid athletic ability, a nonstop motor and NFL-level instincts that could make him an instant starter for the Bills. The former Oregon linebacker is also a versatile player that could play in multiple fronts for Buffalo, who just hired Mike Pettine at defensive coordinator. Pettine prefers to run the 3-4, but Buffalo’s current personnel fits the 4-3 defense better. Alonso might displace Bryan Scott on the outside this season and can move inside if the team uses the 3-4 front at times as well. He plays with a nasty streak and also shows ability in coverage, making this a good fit for a team in transition on the defensive side of the football.

Marquise Goodwin/WR/Texas (Round 3/Pick #78): Even though the Bills are in need of depth at receiver, this was a puzzling pick for Buffalo. Goodwin has insane speed and ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine, so he’s faster than last year’s third-round pick, speedy receiver T.J. Graham. Are the Bills giving up on Graham after just one season, even though he wasn’t seen as an instant impact receiver anyway? With the team looking to use Stevie Johnson in the slot more this season, the Woods pick made sense to give the team an outside receiver, but Goodwin is nothing more than a slot guy thanks to a serious lack of size (5-9, 183). The Bills might plan on using him as a gadget player like Tavon Austin, but Goodwin wasn’t anywhere near as productive at Texas as Austin was at West Virginia and is very raw. Goodwin could help the return game immediately, but a third-round pick is high to use on a kick returner. Until we see what Buffalo may have in store for Goodwin, it’s tough to sign off on this pick.

Duke Williams/S/Nevada (Round 4/Pick #105): Williams is a very good athlete that is extremely aggressive defending the run. He has good speed (4.49), explodes to the action quickly and can range outside the numbers to make plays. Where the former Nevada defensive back struggles is with his fundamentals and ball skills. Williams is more of a big hitter than a wrap-up tackler, which will certainly play well on special teams immediately but he needs to refine his game to turn into a starter. The Buffalo secondary struggled as a whole last year and GM Buddy Nix has said he may use Williams as a slot corner in nickel packages and views him as a potential starter on the outside as well. Off-the-field issues pushed Williams down draft boards, but he has the physical skills to play many positions in the Bills’ secondary.

Jonathan Meeks/S/Clemson (Round 5/Pick #143): Although Draft Insider had Meeks ranked as a free agent, he has the physical skills to stick in the NFL. Meeks is very similar to Williams; both are good athletes who defend the run aggressively and will be immediate contributors on special teams. Williams has good positional versatility while Meeks’ skill set will play in multiple defensive schemes, a plus for a Buffalo defense currently in flux. Unlike Williams, Meeks struggles in coverage but when he does manage to stay with receivers, he can outjump them and shows good ball skills. There is upside in Meeks’ game and continued improvement like he’s shown the past two seasons at Clemson could land him a nice rotational role in the Buffalo secondary.

Dustin Hopkins/K/Florida State (Round 6/Pick #177): The Bills’ second pick from Florida State, Hopkins was our best placekicking prospect in this year’s draft. With a career long of 56 yards, Hopkins has the necessary leg strength to kick in the NFL and can consistently reach the endzone with good hangtime on his kickoffs. He made 83% of his kicks as a senior after making 81% as junior, so his accuracy is good as well. The kicker position is more important in a place like Buffalo where bad weather can be a factor, so Hopkins could be worth this sixth-round pick if he pans out.

Chris Gragg/TE/Arkansas (Round 7/Pick #222): Gragg’s greatest asset is his speed, as he ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at the combine, over one-tenth of a second faster than any other tight end. He lacks strength and balance in the running game and will never be even an average inline blocker, but projects as a move tight end with the ability to get down field and makes plays in the passing game. Rated as a fourth-round prospect at Draft Insider, Gragg fell due to a lingering knee injury and is a decent value pick if he proves healthy. Any time you draft a player in the seventh round who has the potential to see the field and impact your roster it’s a positive, but he’s no guarantee to make the team if he can’t get on the field and beat out Dorin Dickerson.

Grade: C. On the surface, this is nothing more than an average draft for the Bills despite having three picks in the top 50. Trading down from 8th to 16th and picking up St. Louis’ second-round pick allowed Buffalo to take a risk-reward approach to the first round, and how this draft is viewed down the line will hinge directly on the development of E.J. Manuel. If Manuel can hit his ceiling nobody will question using a mid-first round pick on him but if not, Buffalo may struggle to produce even three starters from this draft. It’s difficult to justify using a first-round pick on a project player, as the team will likely feel pressured to play Manuel by the end of 2013 if they’re out of contention. That may not be the best move for his development, but taking him as early as they did accelerates the timetable for him to see the field. Bringing in a second-day talent like wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers as an undrafted free agent was a solid move for the Bills though, as he has the upside to play with Woods on the outside while Johnson mans the slot and he’s an easy cut if his character issues weigh too heavy.

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