Let's go retro this morning, folks - it's April of 2007, and the Buffalo Bills are entering the NFL Draft with two glaring weaknesses on their team: running back (made a need by the trade of Willis McGahee) and linebacker (where the free agent defections of Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher left depth sorely lacking). Yet as fans prepared for that draft, first-round mock draft choices for the Bills were varied in terms of positional choices: DE Adam Carriker, DT Amobi Okoye, and LB Patrick Willis were the three most popular choices, especially to this (then just-born) community.
Marshawn Lynch? Yeah, some mock drafts had him in Buffalo, but the Bills weren't taking a running back in the first round. There were second-round runners that could be just as effective, and choosing one of them would allow the Bills to focus on other needs with their top pick. Then former Bills defensive end Bruce Smith "shocked" the Bills' fan base with the pick:
"With the twelfth selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select... Marshawn Lynch, running back, University of California."
2007 Flash Forward
Get used to that feeling you had last season when the Bills selected Lynch, whether it was euphoria or disappointment. Buffalo went into the draft with Lynch rated as the top player on their board, and even though many considered him an iffy proposition as the number 12 pick (including yours truly), they took him. Expect the exact same thing to happen this year at a different position: wide receiver.
It's now 2008, and the hole that the Buffalo Bills have at receiver is even more glaring than the hole they had at running back in 2007. And unlike last season, when the Bills entertained the option of trading for former Chargers (current Falcons) running back Michael Turner, the team is out of veteran options. The Bills' clear and most urgent need for an influx of talent is at wide receiver. Other positions can wait; wideout can't.
Wideouts Worth #11?
The most common argument against selecting a wide receiver with the eleventh pick is that the top two prospects, Texas' Limas Sweed and Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly, have too many question marks to be considered value selections that high in the draft. That, folks, is the exact concern that we had with Lynch last off-season: was his durability good enough? Could he carry a full rushing load, something he'd never done in college? "Certainly taking a player with those types of questions would be a bad move that early in the draft", we said; Lynch proved differently.
I'm not saying that either Kelly or Sweed are the upcoming 2008 versions of Lynch. It would certainly be nice if it worked out that way; all I'm saying is that it's not prudent to discount either of these guys just because they're not perceived to be value selections at this point. Sweed has worked out well this off-season, and the Bills have already confirmed that they're high on Kelly (despite the fact that he's got lingering injury questions). If the team becomes enamored with either Kelly or Sweed, the Bills will take him. End of story - they can't afford not to. And even if they don't fall in love with either player, they should take a wideout first - they need to fill that hole with the best talent available. You get that at the top of the draft.
No Other Alternative
Sure, the team has other holes that could be filled with excellent first-round talents. The team is almost certain to take a look at top cornerbacks such as South Florida's Mike Jenkins, Troy's Leodis McKelvin and Kansas' Aqib Talib. Cornerback is this year's version of linebacker. Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey and even Miami safety Kenny Phillips should, and probably will, be considered as well. Ultimately, come April, they won't be serious considerations - they can't be.
So I'm prepared. It's not my favorite thought to dwell on, but I must, just as the team must - the Bills will be taking a wide receiver with their first pick, and the chances are enormous that they'll get their pick of the crop. They can't beat around the bush, just as they didn't beat around the bush last season when they selected Lynch. Get used to it, Bills fans - whether they trade down to do it or not, the Bills are taking a receiver with the eleventh selection.