Hardy stands alone as impact offensive rookie (Photo Source)
For two years, the Buffalo Bills had made a name for themselves on NFL Draft weekend by trading picks early and often to land players they wanted. In 2006, they traded back into the first round to select DT John McCargo. In 2007, they traded up into the early second round in order to pick LB Paul Posluszny. And entering 2008, the Bills had ten draft picks and a disgruntled quarterback (J.P. Losman) to help them make a move once again.
Over this year's draft weekend, an NFL record 33 trades were made - slowing down an otherwise streamlined draft. Yet despite their history, despite their ammo and despite a growing sense that moving around the board was the best option, in a record-setting draft, the Bills didn't budge an inch.
Bills Still Found Impact
The Bills chose to let the draft come to them, and in the early stages of the draft, it worked beautifully. Adding CB Leodis McKelvin and WR James Hardy gives the Bills two vastly talented players at their two biggest positional needs. McKelvin will likely lock down a starting job at cornerback during the season (if not before) as well as a return role in some capacity, while Hardy should start at wideout immediately next to veteran Lee Evans.
Even the team's third-round pick, Virginia Tech DE Chris Ellis, should make an impact as a rookie situational pass rusher.
When the impact was in the fold, however, the trading game failed Buffalo, and at least from an outsider's eyes, the picks started to frustrate.
Plan B: Build Special Teams, BPA
The Bills have never been a team that uses their late-round picks to fill needs in the vain hope that a sixth-round pick will carry them to the playoffs. Instead, the Bills choose to take the best player available - and, as this is rarely a bad strategy, the Bills have come away with some pretty good players over the years (LB Keith Ellison, S John Wendling).
With an eye on revamping their decimated special teams - which lost five impact coverage guys (WR Sam Aiken, TE Ryan Neufeld, LB Mario Haggan, LB Josh Stamer, LB Coy Wire) this off-season - the Bills added three rookies who should see significant special teams action as rookies. CB Reggie Corner, TE Derek Fine (who may also see a role offensively this season) and LB Alvin Bowen were all standout specialists in college, and they should become immediate special teams contributors for coordinator Bobby April.
The BPA method also landed the Bills three very intriguing prospects in RB Xavier Omon, OT Demetrius Bell and WR Steve Johnson. Omon is a record-setting Division II back with power and soft hands that adds a slightly different dimension to Buffalo's backfield. He may also be looked at as a fullback from time to time. Bell, the estranged son of former NBA star Karl Malone, is an immensely gifted athlete who with a little polish could be a worthwhile project for Buffalo, who needed depth along the offensive line. Johnson had a very productive final year at Kentucky, and although he's extremely raw as a receiver, he's a smooth athlete with plenty of upside at a thin position.
So, was the draft a success?
If you were looking to be wowed by Buffalo's draft class, a la 2007 when Marshawn Lynch and Posluszny sent waves of excitement through the fan base, 2008's class may disappoint you slightly. However, these are ten good football players that the Bills brought in - and half of them could be instant-impact rookies in one way or another. Did the Bills address all of their needs? No - they failed to find an impact tight end. This team's second-day philosophy has remained consistent for all three years they've been there, and tight end remains the team's one glaring weakness. The team will instead rely on Fine to add to a competition that includes Robert Royal, Courtney Anderson, Teyo Johnson and Derek Schouman.
So for me? I'm satisfied. No draft is perfect. I get the logic. I'm not wowed, and I'm not going to brag about this draft class to all of my pals. But the Bills lost a lot of role players this off-season and took strides to replace them with young, smart, athletic football players. It's hard for me to argue with that logic.
Whether or not the Bills should have made a few trades to get more impact, however, is a story that only time can tell.