As you may have heard, the Bills won’t be making the playoffs this year. Entering their week 14 pillowfight matchup with Cleveland, they still have a mathematical chance of qualifying, but for all intents and purposes this season is yet another write off for the Bills.
So, as the playoff drought gets one year closer to legal voting age, I decided to form the Bills All-Drought Team to look back fondly on some of the players who admirably contributed to Buffalo’s playoff plight over the past 17 years.
This practice was inspired by this tweet from my friend Russ, whose friends recently held an impressive 11-round Bills Drought Draft. I decided to put together this little project in a similar vein to the Ultimate Hockey and Football Movie Roster posts I did in previous years. The final product is a 22-man roster along with specialists, general manager, head coach and coordinators that spans the entire length of the Bills’ drought. I was going to include President but there’s really only one choice for that now isn’t there?
My goal was to pick a roster that would best represent the trials, tribulations and ineptitude of the Bills drought. I didn’t want it to simply be a roster of the most random players (of which there are plenty) nor will this be a roster of the worst players (of which there are plenty). Ideally there was to be a mix of good players, average players and downright bad players and I think I did a fair job in accomplishing that. Each position will feature at least one backup (aka honorable mention). In some cases there are multiple backups, that was all dependent on qualified candidates and wealth of choice at certain positions.
Each choice was based on a handful of categories that would go beyond simple on-field contributions. The factors I considered included on field play, off-field activities (positive and negative), career trajectory and their overall impact (expected or actual) on the franchise.
Without further aideu, here is the Buffalo Bills All-Drought Team.
General Manager: Russ Brandon
A few decent names stick out for this spot but none have the distinct advantage of moving to a front office, personnel role after a career on the business and marketing side of the game. Remember when George wants to be a general manager but settles on color commentator but Jerry points out that those jobs typically go to ex-players or people in the industry? This is sort of like that. Honorable Mention: Tom Donahoe, Marv Levy
Head Coach: Doug Marrone
Touted as an offensive genius thanks, in part, to his ties to Sean Payton but ultimately a champion of punting. Hired after posting a stellar 25-25 record with NCAA powerhouse, Syracuse, Marrone ultimately took an opt out that paid him $4 million dollars. He boasted an average resume and literally chose to give up his title as an NFL head coach in search of a better option in the end. Of course, his decision to leave was probably for the best, the Bills probably weren’t going to much further with him at the helm. Good luck, Jags. Honorable Mention: Dick Jauron, Rex Ryan
Offensive Coordinator: Turk Schonert
Schonert’s offense never really got off the ground and thanks to the team’s pop gun attack he was relieved of his duties in the 2009 preseason. Perhaps that has something to do with the poor quarterback play he had to work with, but Schonert’s short tenure highlights many of the shortcomings of Buffalo’s lengthy drought. Honorable Mention: Kevin Gilbride, Greg Roman
Defensive Coordinator: Dave Wannstedt
Wannstedt was an unmitigated disaster as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator as his unit was poor in every facet of the game. The team failed to adjust to schemes in-game and ultimately was a basic, antiquated system that was blown away by the modern NFL. Honorable Mention: George Edwards, Rob Ryan
Quarterback: Kevin Kolb
Brought in to fill the starting role as EJ Manuel got acclimated to the NFL, Kolb was first injured by a rubber mat at training camp before suffering what would be a career ending concussion against Washington in the preseason. His absence pushed Manuel into a starting role early and while his shortcomings likely wouldn’t have been fixed sitting behind Kolb for a year or two, it hurt the franchise’s approach moving forward. You could even connect his injury to the decision to trade up for Sammy Watkins as the team searched for more weapons to help Manuel grow after an up-and-down rookie year. Kolb wouldn’t have been much more than a stopgap for the Bills but he certainly holds a unique place in the history of the drought. Backups: Jeff Tuel, Thad Lewis
Running Back: CJ Spiller
Put Spiller, Marshawn Lynch and Willis McGahee on a wall and toss a dart and you’ll hit a perfect candidate for this role. Spiller earns the spot here as he was the third first round running back selected by the Bills despite already having a perfectly capable starter on the roster already. In the span of seven years the Bills used three first round picks on running backs, leaving them shorthanded in filling other positions. Spiller enjoyed two very productive seasons in 2012 and 2013 but otherwise played three unproductive seasons (one injury shortened) for the team. Backups: Dwayne Wright, Reggie Bush
Fullback: Glenn Gronkowski
Local guy? Check. Undrafted free agent? Check. Brother of a superstar? Check. Backup: Corey McIntyre
Wide Receiver: James Hardy
The second round pick was to be the big red zone target to help push the Bills offense forward under Trent Edwards. He wound up averaging one touchdown per season, moving on from the Bills (and the NFL) after just two seasons with a whopping 96 career receiving yards. Backups: Josh Reed, Sammy Watkins
Wide Receiver: TJ Graham
Perhaps you’ve heard but the Bills chose Graham just six picks before Russell Wilson. Russell Wilson plays quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and won a Super Bowl a few years back. Oh you have heard? Okay then. Backups: Drew Haddad, Naaman Roosevelt
Wide Receiver: Terrell Owens
You could argue the Bills, under the guidance of general manager Russ Brandon, made this signing for the PR and ticket sales surge they enjoyed in the wake of the announcement. Owens wasn’t too bad as a Bill, but he wasn’t a world beater either. He certainly didn’t benefit from Buffalo’s quarterbacks and as a bit more of a PR stunt than football move, he’s a lasting memory of the drought. Backups: Mike Williams, Andre’ Davis
Tight End: Shawn Nelson
The Bills boast a veritable murders row of tight ends from the past 17 seasons, none really stand out from the pack but I chose Nelson for a few reasons. First, he’s one of a handful of “downfield” threats drafted by the team in the middle-to-late rounds who wound up offering very little at the end of the day. Secondly, he was victim to an incredibly odd and arguably incorrectly called fumble in overtime against Baltimore in the thick of the drought. So combining his unfulfilled draft expectations (low as they may have been) and that ridiculous fumble in Baltimore lands him on the squad. Backups: Robert Royal, Tony Moeaki
Left Tackle: Mike Williams
Williams spent most of his Bills tenure at right tackle after it became evident he couldn’t make the switch to the left side. I remember the storylines after he was picked fourth overall talked about playing with a left-handed quarterback so he’d know the intricacies of protecting the blind side. Turns out that wasn’t the case and Williams will go down as one of Buffalo’s greatest draft busts. Backup: Demetress Bell
Left Guard: Derrick Dockery
Scroll down for the breakdown on Dockery’s tenure. Backup: Mike Gandy
Center: Doug Legursky
Legursky gets the nod here because he was an undersized, scrapper who probably had the most fans of a Bills center since Kent Hull retired. The other thing that stands out about Legursky is that he was fairly forgettable but was a somewhat intriguing signing as he stepped in for Maurkice Pouncey for Pittsburgh’s run to Super Bowl against Green Bay. Backup: Melvin Fowler
Right Guard: Jamie Nails
There weren’t too many glaring options for this spot as most of the offensive linemen the Bills have rostered since 2000 are quite nondescript. Nails stands out to me because he was a giant human. He also wasn’t very mobile, which affected his ability to play guard, as I recall. Backup: Richie Incognito (2009 stint)
Right Tackle: Langston Walker
If there weren’t too bigger (literally and figuratively) free agent busts in Bills history I’d be very surprised. Walker and Dockery swung into town to help shore up the right side of the Bills offensive line as Jason Peters had cemented himself as a starter and rising star prior to the 2007 season. Dockery got ridiculous money (7 years, $49 million) while Walker got an impressive deal as well (5 years, $25 million). To their credit, the 2007 line wasn’t bad in pass protection when compared to previous and subsequent years. However, the pair of big money signings never really lived up to the hype and both were gone by 2009.
What really cements their legacy is they helped to fill the narrative that if you have a good offensive line your quarterback will thrive. While I personally believe that is true to an extent, if the man throwing the ball isn’t up to snuff it won’t matter much. In 2007 neither JP Losman or Trent Edwards were capable passers and each played a role in the Bills failing to reach the playoffs. Backup to Walker: Cyrus Kouandjio
*Note: I chose to field a 4-3 as there was a greater offering of candidates on the defensive line as compared to the linebacking corps
Defensive End: Aaron Maybin
Who else? A one year college wonder who was a speed player in a somewhat slower conference. Maybin was the definition of a draft bust, holdout and all. I think his biggest highlight may have been his training camp scuffle with Eric Wood. Backup: Erik Flowers
Defensive Tackle: Torell Troup
Someone once told me Troup was selected one pick ahead of Rob Gronkowski, I’m surprised that doesn’t come up more often.
In all seriousness, I feel for Troup. He dealt with a debilitating injury and then got bad advice on how to treat it to boot. His career was basically over before it could start and to have the additional baggage of Gronkowski’s legacy and hometown tied to him is unfair. The Bills were drafting to fill out their new scheme and needed a nose tackle, I get it. But passing on a physical freak like Gronk who is from Buffalo is the epitome of a Bills-y move. I do have a hot Gronk take, had the Bills drafted him they probably would’ve made him an in-line blocking tight end and he wouldn’t have become the star he is today. Don’t @ me. Backup: Marcus Stroud
Defensive Tackle: John McCargo
After selection fellow All-Drought Team member Donte Whitner at eight, the Bills traded up to 26th overall to select McCargo, giving up their second and third round picks in 2006. If you wish to play the hindsight game, the Bears took Danieal Manning and Dusty Dvoracek with those selections. The real story is that McCargo never came close to living up to his draft position and it could be argued the Bills reached for him in a big way depending on which draft pundits you read. Not only did McCargo underperform, the Bills could have had their defensive line anchor in Haloti Ngata who they passed on in favor of picking Whitner. Backup: Larry Tripplett
Defensive End: Mark Anderson
Not unlike the summer of 2007 when the Bills splashed the cash on Dockery and Walker, the team spent big in 2012. This time they were investing in the defensive line. Mario Williams and Mark Anderson came to town with the expectations of giving the Bills a terrifying two-pronged pass rush. While Williams underperformed his first year, he still managed 10.5 sacks and really only fell out of favor in his final year. Anderson never got off the ground with the Bills, recording only one sack in the one year he played for the team. Anderson was released in 2013 after he season ended prematurely and with three more years of his $20 million contract remaining. Backup: Chidi Ananotu
Outside Linebacker: Shawne Merriman
Merriman’s stardom was greater than most of the other free agents the Bills have signed over the past 17 years so while he certainly stands above the likes of Stroud or Tripplett, he’s definitely in the same category when it comes to underperforming but overhyped additions. OT his credit, Merriman struggled with injuries prior to arriving and during his short stint here. So it wasn’t as if it was a simple skill issue but the PR train was in full go when he was acquired. Backup: Bryan Scott (also technically a safety)
Middle Linebacker: London Fletcher
Fletcher was a tremendous talent for the Bills, posting back-to-back 100 tackle seasons in 2005 and 2006 (five-straight if you combine solo and assisted tackles), who was allowed to walk out the door as a free agent. Fletcher would replaced by Paul Pozluszny, who specialized in making tackles nine-plus yards downfield. I’m not saying Fletcher would have been the solution to Buffalo’s problems in the subsequent years, but he made four-straight Pro Bowls from 2009 to 2012 and letting him walk opened up a hole at a key position that needed to be filled via the draft. Looking back, it seems like too many of those scenarios played out over the years, limiting what holes the Bills could fill elsewhere. Backup: John DiGiorgio
Outside Linebacker: Eddie Robinson
Eddie Robinson played in the Comeback Game, Homerun Throwback and ended his very impressive 11-year career with the 2002 Buffalo Bills. He’s a great example of another aged veteran with a big name who came to town for a cup of coffee. He had over 80 tackles (solo and assisted) and even chipped in a pick, so he was hardly useless. He’s also a player that makes you say “oh yeah, that guy did play for the Bills”. Backup: Coy Wire (also technically a safety too!)
Cornerback: Leodis McKelvin
The drought against the Patriots was almost as painful as the playoff drought in some years and with time waning against the Pats in the 2009 season opener (on Monday Night Football) all Leodis had to do was take a knee. Or at least hold onto the ball. He did neither of those things and the Bills lost a heartbreaker. McKelvin’s tenure in Buffalo was filled with ups and downs and he never seemed to win over the fans. That may have to do with the fumble against New England, I’m not sure. But he was an electric return man and, for the record, he had busted a pretty impressive return before he fumbled. Of course, you can’t contribute to one of the defining moments of the drought and not make the roster. Backup: Ross Cockrell
Backup: George Wilson
Safety: Ko Simpson
Do you know who I am? I am worth millions. Backup: Jim Leonhard
Cornerback: Troy Vincent
Only a cornerback for one season, one of Vincent’s biggest contributions was breaking JP Losman’s leg. For the record they were on the same team at the time. In training camp. Vincent was hardly a corner in Buffalo, as he began to transition to safety almost immediately. But as he was signed on the heels of Antoine Winfield’s departure, we’ll shoehorn him in. Plus, he helped breed the Holcomb-Losman quarterback controversy. So he has that going for him, which is nice. Backup: Ashton Youboty
Kicker: Dustin Hopkins
The Bills used a sixth round pick on Hopkins and he was set to take over for Rian Lindell before he suffered an injury late in training camp. That brought on Dan Carpenter and ended Hopkins run in Buffalo. He’s gone on to be a good kicker for the Redskins. Not a world beater, but a good NFL kicker. It’s very Bills-y to use a draft pick on a kicker only to cut him later. Backup: Rian Lindell
Punter: Brian Moorman
There have been plenty of jokes over the past 17 years that the team’s best player was the punter. They weren’t jokes so much as facts most of the time as Moorman established himself as one of the league’s best punters in the early 2000s and became one of the faces of the franchise. He remained a fixture in the community even after his time in Buffalo ended through the Punt Foundation and while it’s not exactly ideal to have the punter be the most memorable player year after year, there are few better representatives of the Bills and WNY than Moorman. Backup: Shawn Powell
Long Snapper: Jon Dorenbos
This was a toss up between Dorenbos and Garrison Sanborn. Really the Bills haven’t had any bad long snappers or really any special teams snafus over the years, so this just came down to whoever I wanted to pick. Dorenbos gets the edge because he does cool magic tricks. I want to be best friends with Jon Dorenbos. Backup: Garrison Sanborn
Return Specialist: Chris Watson
In doing this I realized a few things. The first of which is the Bills have had some really bad quaterback play (shocker). But they’ve had some positions of strength too. Cornerback and linebacker especially stood out to me when I compiled the master list of players. I also noticed the trend of the Bills having to fill free agent departures at the draft. Clements, Winfield, Greer, McKelvin, Gilmore all kind of link together in a way. This happened at a few positions, even in cases where there were already signed, established starters (running back). It’s a trend that likely kept the team from addressing other key needs at the draft or in free agency, helping to set them back in their pursuit for a playoff spot.
Feel free to build your own version and leave it in the comments or on Twitter. The roster lists are below.