so, after reading EVEN MORE ironic comments about people politely pointing out how crappy Maybin's been this year, and how we should have drafted Orakpo/Oher/Ngata/Brady/George Washington Carver, i decided to take a few minutes and put together a list of our rookies and how they've done this year.
aaron maybin: DE, 6'4", 249 (?)
maybin's rookie campaign has not been as promising as many had hoped. upon entering the season, many people thought he'd get several sacks and make a (small) impact in his rookie campaign. maybin currently is 22nd on the roster with 16 tackles, along with two tackles for loss and a forced fumble in limited action. espn's numbers on his player card are inaccurate (they list him having one FF but list him having two in the KC game), but they show that he failed to record a stat in five of fifteen games this season (in limited action, to his credit). he has looked lost on the field at times, demonstrating the quickness that he was known for in college but nothing beyond that.
maybin came out of college too early. simple as that. he's VERY young still, and will benefit extensively from an NFL-caliber conditioning program in the offseason. a regime change will not benefit him, however, because line coach bob sanders will likely not survive the deep personnel cuts that will soon slash this team's coaching staff. i'm hoping to see him come into next year with another ten pounds or so of beef on his body, allowing him to develop a bull rush without losing his explosive first step. if aaron schobel decides to move on after this season, maybin might be expected to step into shoes still too large for him to fully fill. i am aware that schobel's not the most popular man on these boards, but i am not alone in wishing that maybin was developing as a LDE instead of RDE to take over his spot.
the jury's still out on maybin. i'll say the same thing next year, too. he's still too young. he needs time, a supportive fan base, and (most critically) elite coaching to develop him properly. he's shown some sparks, but they're too few and far between right now.
eric wood: RG/C, 6'4", 315
eric wood came out of college as a center making the change to G to help with the reshuffled line of the bills. upon entering the season, he quickly showed that he has the brains and brawn to be a force on this line for years. he also reminded us he was a rookie, as part of the most-flagged line in football. i don't have any stats on pancakes or failures, but his play this year has been well above our team's average in past years for the position. he came out of college known as a bruiser, although that reputation was helped by being an excellent athlete against good (not great) opponents. he's had his bumps in this first year, but he should grow into an excellent lineman in future years.
note the word 'should' in the prior statement. this will only occur if he can recover fully from the gruesome injury he received earlier this season. i fully expect him to come back next year during the mid-preseason and be rusty as hell. his sophomore campaign will likely not start well and will hopefully end much better than this one did. as with every rookie on this list, the regime change won't help him much (although getting rid of kugler might). again, as with every lineman on this list (and nic harris), an offseason of conditioning and proper eating will help him immensely as well. personally, i'd love to see him at center and hang as a swing backup. hang might be very smart, but wood's twice the athlete he is and is only a rookie. him and levitre up front, with either kendall simmons or richie loudandproud at RG will make for a very strong center of the line, and wood's raw power will help him deal with the 3-4 DTs we see so often.
wood's a long-term member of the bills if he can recover fully and not get hurt again next year. if he IS reinjured - or hurts something else - his status is uncertain at best. if he stays healthy, i'd not be surprised for him to get back into the lineup as either the starting RG or (preferably) C.
jairus byrd: CB/FS, 5'10", 207
byrd is another in a long line of excellent DBs that have been recognized, acquired, and developed by the bills, following in the footsteps of (leodis mckelvin?) jabari greer, terrence mcgee, nate clements, and antoine winfield. the bills are also good at taking castoffs and playing to their strengths - george wilson and bryan scott show that well. i'd add drayton florence to that list as well, since he wasn't really playing that great earlier in the season (or last season, for that matter) but has hit his stride in recent weeks. byrd was one of the most unliked draft picks in recent memory. even brian only graded him out as a B- in the draft recap. as the bills' only pro bowler in a dreadful year, byrd has certainly made an impact. he is not without flaws, of course - his rookie-ness showed often in poor angles and missed tackles, particularly in the run game. most of his issues are technique, however - leaving much room to improve in future seasons. he's currently 13th on the team in tackles, with eleven pass deflections and nine interceptions in fourteen games. he saw limited action until the third or fourth game of the season, however, after whitner's injuries forced the bills to play him early.
next year is critical in byrd's growth as an NFL-caliber player, and he'll be doing it likely without the assistance of a DB coach who has taken him under his wing, a defensive coordinator who has done an excellent job with the secondary in several injury-plagued seasons, and a head coach who was a DB himself at some point (somewhere in the 1940s, looking at his skeletal form nowadays). it is critical that whoever is hired on the defensive side of the ball get in a good working relationship with byrd immediate so that he doesn't completely fall apart in his second season. byrd's physical gifts are relatively poor - he's not a fast player, and will never wow anyone with hard hits or amazing leaps. his gifts are mental, and as a result he needs to be enticed into the video room twice as much as your average DB does to get his head ready for each matchup. some work improving his techniques is also a critical component to his future success - his tackling ability is notably poor compared to others at his position. considering that most of his struggles are on bringing down runners after the catch rather than at the point of the reception itself, an offseason of conditioning (particularly in his lower-than-average arm strength) will help him immensely. i would also not mind it if he received some kick return practice as well, as he only averaged 17 yards per interception with most coming from two long returns. several of his INTs were layouts, of course, but more yards can't hurt our anemic offense.
byrd as the brains, luck, and ferver to become the next great FS in this league. he needs a guiding hand and some tackling dummies, first. he will start next year at FS regardless of his progression in the offseason. whether or not he finishes the year is up in the air (of course, he needs to stay healthy, too).
andy levitre: G, 6'3", 305
andy levitre is unique for one major reason: he is the only offensive lineman on the active roster at the patriots game to never be hampered by injury for a game. in fact, only him and hang have started all the games this season on the OL - something only shared by lee evans, TO, and corey mcintyre on the offensive side of the ball (i may be wrong here, i'm going from the top of my head). he was viewed as inferior to wood on draft day, however his ability to stay healthy and play tackle (not that well...apparently he played it in college, i missed that) as well as guard has made him an impact player on offense. similar to wood, he's had his ups and downs. similar to wood, he'll benefit immensely from an offseason conditioning program. unlike wood, however, i do not doubt that levitre will become an elite guard at the nfl level. he's tough, scrappy, and has real potential to be one of our better draft picks of the next several years. for the 51st pick, that's not bad at all.
andy will benefit from having different coaching up front. i've not been impressed with kugler's coaching in his tenure with the bills, and i'm excited to see who will be the next man to work with this young OL. levitre needs to buff up and work on his footwork in the offseason. i'm fairly certain that he can hold another fifteen pounds or so on his frame, as he looks relatively small compared to wood, hang, and bell on the line. with additional weight he'll have a stronger initial burst in run blocking, and if he can improve his footwork in pass blocking he'll easily be the best pass blocker on the team (not that hard nowadays). he doesn't have the frame of some of the better guards in the league, but his scrappy nature makes up for a few inches of spinal stretching. he'll also benefit from watching some more tape - his reads on stunts and delayed blitzes were poor this year, and being in the same division as the patriots and jets he'll need to improve on his recognition skills. he doesn't have the natural football IQ that wood does, so his time in the video room will help him immensely.
levitre will be the best lineman on the team in two years, if he keeps up his body and his preparation level the way he has this year.
shawn nelson: TE, 6'5", 240
nelson came out of college called the best steal in the draft. he was one of the better TEs on most boards and unexpectedly dropped to 121 on day two. startlingly fast and possessing excellent size and hands, nelson was considered to be a godsend to a team with horrid TE play since flutie and remiersma were hooking up in 1999 and 2000 (even then, it wasn't that great). nelson came with baggage, though - he was a poor blocker in college, which reduced his value to a team who often threw from 2-TE formations due to line issues. his year was inconsistent at best - 17 receptions, 9.2ypc, and a touchdown are ok for a rookie learning the ropes, but considering his (forced) starting status, his career high of 34 yards per game is not. he missed three games due to concussion-related symptoms, and was blanked for yardage in four of his twelve games when he was on the field. this is largely related to him learning how to actually play TE - in college, he often played as a slot receiver or in the flat rather than actually having to be on the line itself. he has shown flashes of greatness, however, his behind-the-back reception in the jets (?) game and his TD leaping over defenders in the Patriots game some of the better ones.
nelson desperately needs a real coach. the development (or lack thereof) of royal, fine, and schoumann has proved that coiner needs to be kicked to the curb. he's already got the frame to be a fantastic TE - now he needs extended time in the film room and on the practice field learning to actually play his position, something he never did before being drafted by the bills. his blocking skills have improved markedly this year, to the point where he's not a complete liability. i would love it if the new OL coach worked with him on using his hands, something nelson still struggles with on most plays where he is called on to block.
exactly what i expected from another project player. don't look at this season as a flop - look at it as a sign of things to come. TEs rarely make any impact in their first year, but look at the stats for players like vernon davis, brent celek, and tony gonzales - their first years were minimal contributions, but they quickly became excellent players. i expect similar outcomes from nelson if he can get his head right and quit this migraine stuff.
nic harris: S/LB, 6'2", 234
nic harris was an interesting pick by the bills. after beefing up by fifteen pounds prior to the draft, harris came in during the preseason and proceeded to put up ridiculous numbers of tackles every game he saw extensive action. while still undersized, he demonstrated good smarts and decent tackling technique. he then promptly was lost for the next seven games of the regular season, recording a total of one tackle on special teams. forced into action in week eight due to everyone and their mother being injured, he put up seven tackles - six unassisted - in an excellent NFL 'debut'. again he disappeared for three weeks, only to return and drop twelve tackles on atlanta last week. harris is definitely still learning his position - he was often caught out of position several times against atlanta - but his speed and smarts help him make up for it. he'll benefit from some extra pounds and lots of video time, but i honestly don't know if he'll survive the defensive transtion from tampa suck to...well, anything. he is currently 16th on the defense, with thirty tackles and three tackles for a loss.
assuming we stay a tampa 2 team next year, harris is an excellent fit to replace ellison on the (true) weak side - although, honestly, i don't mind having ellison on the field after he put up 68 tackles in seven games. harris is smart enough to know his value is going to be only realized if he actually learns how to play his position - haven't we heard that before? he'll spend oodles of time in the video room and the weight room, and will probably gain another ten pounds in muscle to come close to the size needed to play LB in this league. he's more athletic than ellison, too, which will help his chances on making the team next year.
harris is an ellison clone, and as such will need to distinguish himself this offseason to hope to remain on the active roster next year. his salary represents a minimal impact, so he'll have to do literally nothing this offseason to be cut, but he stands to make no impact next year unless he can show his ability at safety can translate to LB in the NFL.
i'm going to stop at this point because i know very little about cary harris and ellis lankster. they made the team, which is better than most 6th and 7th round picks, so we're going to count them as pluses.
some thoughts on what i've written above.
-maybin is the only player out of six that is actually playing the position that he played in college (nelson doesn't count). interestingly enough, i think maybin will not remain a DE unless he either gains some weight or learns how to play DE properly instead of just trying to run around people. this stat is not a bad one, however - wood has succeeded at RG and would succeed as well at C, levitre made a successful switch to guard, byrd has obviously been a successful switch to FS, and nelson will eventually become an excellent TE. it's just interesting that OBD drafted this many projects in a year where they needed immediate success.
-this is possibly the most successful draft the bills have had in the last decade. all eight draft picks made the team (well, seven, cary harris was on the PS but got called up soon enough), three of the eight had an immediate impact, and three others - nic harris, maybin, and nelson - have good potential to play in this league for several years to come. i don't know many other teams which have had this successful of a draft, particularly when stuck with a poor scouting department and unreal expectations by fans.
-this had the potential to be a horrid draft. maybin, nelson, byrd, and nic harris could have been a total bust, and levitre and wood could have both turned out to be fat rednecks with no real drive to succeed once they'd cashed in...particularly since they were switching positions. thank goodness they've played as well as they have.
-this is exactly what i'd have expected from OBD if they had been in a rebuilding mode, with a 3-to-4 year timeline for success. there's no way they could have guessed that some of these players would have the success transitioning between positions as they have. the only immediate-impact players on this draft were (theoretically) wood and levitre, although their performances in the preseason didn't impress as much as hoped.
so, that's my thoughts. i'll be the first to admit i did most of this from the top of my head (except for a few stats and weights), so there's bound to be errors, but it's what i think. thoughts, everyone?
edit: thanks for the catch. i thought levitre played guard in college. he played tackle.