Was McKelvin a "surprise" pick on draft day? (Photo Source)
Anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I was a receiver guy. When it came to the Buffalo Bills and our pre-draft preparations, I was dead set in my opinion: the Bills had to draft a wide receiver. Clearly, this past weekend, that did not come to fruition, as the team's top draft pick was not a receiver, but cornerback Leodis McKelvin. As disappointed as I was that the pick was not a wideout (note: that disappointment was quelled after our second-round pick), I saw the logic in the McKelvin selection. Good player, elite potential, and a position of need. Nothing wrong with that.
Yet there is still a contingent of Bills fans out there that believes the McKelvin selection was a poor one - and today, Anthony Bialy became their ringleader. This contingent is a small one, but some of their concerns deserve to be addressed this afternoon. Since Bialy is the ringleader - and believe me, I enjoy Mr. Bialy's work; his writings are generally excellent - I'm going to (hopefully) address some of his concerns right now.
Excerpt One: The Cover-2 Fit
First thing's first - is McKelvin a good fit in Buffalo's defensive scheme? Bialy thinks not:
McKelvin doesn’t have a reputation as a dispenser of overpowering brute force at the line of scrimmage according to most scouting reports. That’s only a problem if a team plays, say, a Tampa 2 style where it want its corners physically confronting wide receivers as soon as the ball is snapped. Of course, the Bills employ this exact technique; defensive backs are schooled to engage in bumping knowing a safety should be ready to help if the opponent gets by, and McKelvin will have to adapt.
That's true... for every other Tampa 2 team besides Buffalo. Watch the game tape from any Bills game last year - and I mean any game. Buffalo's cornerbacks play double-digit yards off of the receivers they're playing. Much of that had to do with the fact that the Bills needed an eighth defender - mostly Donte Whitner - in the box, as their run defense was atrocious. But even with the run defense apparently getting better this off-season, don't expect our coverage philosophies to change much.
I can recall several times our very own Kurupt becoming belligerent at Buffalo's pass defense. Our season-opening loss to Denver last season serves as a sufficient example - how many times did Javon Walker and Brandon Marshall catch a slant route in front of Buffalo's corners, which led to Jason Elam's game-winning field goal? They could have used a corner with closing speed and an ability to contest every throw at that point. The Bills didn't need a jam-them-at-the-line corner this year, because that's not the style they play. Playing off the ball, cornerbacks in Buffalo's scheme need to play the ball well and have terrific recovery speed. Those are areas in which McKelvin excels.
Excerpt Two: Not a Positional Need?
Bialy's next argument is whether or not cornerback was a positional need for the Bills:
With all the money NFL teams invest in player evaluation and rookie contracts, the Bills should have spent a fraction of a dollar on a pad of Post-Its so they could have stuck one on their board reminding them that they didn’t need a potential shutdown corner.
Perhaps it's just me, but I was not overly comfortable relying on Jabari Greer or William James as a starter next to Terrence McGee. Sure, I was willing to deal with it if it meant the team would draft a receiver with their top pick, but that doesn't mean I was comfortable with it. The Bills did, after all, boast a terrible pass defense last season.
Let's crunch numbers: in 2007, Buffalo's defense surrendered 35 total touchdowns - 19 through the air, 16 on the ground. Playing a bulk of their late-season games in the northeast with less-than-ideal weather conditions, the Bills gave up 10 of those 16 ground scores over their last 7 games. That's true of just two air scores. Therefore, at one point, the Bills had given up 17 scores through the air as compared to just six on the ground. And of those 17 scores, folks, 9 of them came off the right arm of some bum named Tom Brady. If New England's offense is not reason enough to draft a shut-down cornerback, I don't know what is.
Excerpt Three: The Trade Down Argument (+)
Bialy also believes that drafting a cornerback was a waste of the team's resources:
In a defensive philosophy where quick pass-rushing linemen and help over the top are almost as crucial to stopping throws as corners, using the 11th overall pick on the Troy product comes across as wasteful. If the Bills were absolutely fixated on drafting a corner first, they could have traded down in the round and still been able to choose from a decent buffet of secondary prospects...
Well, the "trade down" argument can be made for wideout as well - any time you can move down to get picks and value it's a good idea. That really doesn't pertain to the argument at hand, though. Had the Bills traded down, they could have done any of a number of things; it's entirely possible they would have considered a different cornerback with lesser skills than McKelvin in their eyes. We know now, however, that the team was not as high on Mike Jenkins (the best Cover 2 fit of the top prospects) as most, and they likely weren't going to select Kansas' Aqib Talib, either.
As far as the defensive philosophy goes, Bialy admits in his writing that though the pass rush and safety help are considered very important to good pass coverage, cornerbacks are still the most important players in this endeavor. Let's face it - the Bills only had five such players on the roster heading into the draft, and only one of them (McGee) could start for most NFL teams. Greer, James and Ashton Youboty all have starting experience and are solid players, but they're numbers guys more than answers to the question. We didn't have a guy who can be a true-blue, put-him-on-your-best-receiver corner. Now we do.
In the end, McKelvin was not my top choice. I'm still willing to admit that. But if anyone tells you that McKelvin was a poor first-round choice, keep in mind this argument: you can NEVER, ever ever ever, have enough cornerbacks in this league. Especially when Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker are in your division. It wasn't the ideal choice for a lot of Bills fans, and that's OK. But it is logical. And ultimately, it may be the smartest move that Buffalo's current regime has made to date.