Doug Whaley made sure that he put his stamp on the Buffalo Bills with this year’s draft. He made both pragmatic and radical moves over the weekend in what appears to be a clear attempt to end the Bills’ decade-and-a-half playoff drought.
With Sammy Watkins as the obvious crown jewel of the class (as any first round pick would be), Whaley committed to improving Buffalo’s offense with his selections that included three offensive linemen. The trade to get Watkins is a clear risk for a team with as many holes to plug as the Bills do. Whaley deserves credit for ensuring that he kept his 2014 selections intact while sacrificing his first round pick in 2015.
My feelings on trading up wavered on nearly a week-to-week basis as the draft slowly approached. Making a drastic move to secure a cornerstone talent like Jadeveon Clowney would have been interesting and quite entertaining. However the assets required to make a pick like that outweighed the benefits in many cases. Managing to only give up an additional mid-round selection along with the requisite first round pick was a coup for Whaley. Even if you have concerns over giving up that pick, Whaley still did well in maintaining the rest of his assets along the way.
The lone concern I had in giving up a first round pick in 2015 is that the Bills could be on the outside looking in if a quarterback is needed. This is a worst case scenario situation, of course, but should management or the coaching staff realize that EJ Manuel isn’t capable of carrying the team – or if Manuel’s knees don’t cooperate again – the Bills may be searching for a signal caller next year. With Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston expected to be the most sought after signal callers in 2015, the Bills would be left out of the party. Now, a number of factors would need to come together for the Bills to be in that situation, but it certainly could be a possibility come next May.
To Whaley’s credit, he took every step possible to ensure that Manuel not only has the weapons to succeed this year, but the protection as well. As someone who has always valued building from the inside out, Whaley’s investment on the offensive line is impressive. Cyrus Kouandjio and Cyril Richardson add two massive bodies to the offensive line. The pair serves as a serious upgrade at tackle and guard for a team who rotated through a number of relative no-names through the 2014 season.
The Bills primary tackles last season were Cordy Glenn, Erik Pears, Sam Young and Thomas Welch. Pears will likely be edged out and hopefully Chris Hairston returns to full health. Should that be the case, Glenn, Hairston and Kouandjio will take over as Buffalo’s top three tackles. Richardson enters a similar situation at guard, where Colin Brown and Doug Legursky took turns trying to out-suck each other throughout last season. While Legursky represented a slightly stable option, Brown turned out to be a failed experiment. Richardson probably won’t wind up being a week one starter with Kraig Urbik in the mix along with Chris Williams. A versatile player like Mark Asper could even get a look depending on how his summer goes.
Combining the upgrades along the line with the addition of a weapon like Watkins, gives Manuel the two pieces that appeared to be lacking during the quarterback’s rookie season. Now he will have better protection along the line with the added threat on the outside. Whether you subscribe to the theory that you need a good line to protect your quarterback, or that a collection of weapons will draw the defense away enough to protect him, you’re going to be on board with what Whaley did.
The line has been upgraded with both starters and quality depth players while Buffalo’s skill positions have undergone a serious makeover as well. The acquisition of Bryce Brown should all but guarantee that Brown with join Anthony Dixon, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller as the team’s backs next year. Meanwhile, Watkins joins a speedy receiving corps that includes Marquise Goodwin, Mike Williams and Robert Woods. TJ Graham might stick around, but that seems like a long shot at this point, even with the departure of Stevie Johnson.
Trading Johnson is certainly an interesting choice. Adding Watkins and Williams gave the Bills a very deep group of receivers. In fact, Goodwin would probably have been the de facto fifth man of that group. So there was certainly going to be a crunch on playing time and where the passes would go. Regardless, Johnson was still the team’s incumbent number one receiver and could have seriously benefitted from having a true elite talent like Watkins alongside him.
It seems as if the coaching staff or management (perhaps both) had reached a point where they didn’t feel as if Johnson was fitting in with their philosophy any more. Perhaps that was caused by Johnson’s personality, perhaps it was simply his skillset not fitting within the scheme they want to run and their quarterback’s skillset. No matter what the root of the problem was, it can all trace to a set of philosophical differences between the staff and the player. In situations like that it makes sense to move him.
Clearly it will be difficult to move on without him. He was a great individual talent with a fun personality who made the team incredibly entertaining to watch. The choice to trade him is going to be dissected and magnified any time the receiving corps struggles. While I don’t know if it was the right decision, it doesn’t affect how I feel about the direction the team is going.
This was a strong draft for the Bills. Based on what they brought in, they addressed every position of need aside from defensive end. Exactly what their plans are with Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson are anyone’s guess. I feel like it was necessary to add another talent to that mix, but the additions the Whaley orchestrated should serve to elevate the offense this season.