I don't get into the whole "Hey, a decade's about to end, let's make lists!" culture. It's fun, but it's repetitive and boring. Still, those types of lists engender some fun discussions, so while I won't go overboard and do best/worst lists for every possible topic concerning the Buffalo Bills, I figured we'd knock off the most important aspect of the team: drafting.
This past decade has been a brutal one for Bills football. But even in bad times, a few (random and ultimately meaningless to the win column) good decisions are made. What follows is my list of the Bills' ten best draft selections of the past decade.
10: Travis Henry, RB, Tennessee (2001, Round 2, No. 58 overall)
We start our "best of" list with one of the more controversial figures in the NFL of the past decade, and he only played four seasons in Buffalo. That should tell you a lot. However, as a second-round pick, the Bills got three highly productive seasons out of Henry - until he was usurped by a man who will appear a little higher on this list.
Henry finished his Bills career with 3,849 yards and 29 touchdowns. He played in three more seasons with Tennessee and Denver, but his career was cut short thanks to off-field troubles. Henry is currently serving a one-year NFL suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, but that's made irrelevant by the fact that he's nearly a year into a three-year prison sentence for financing a cocaine trafficking operation.
9. Angelo Crowell, LB, Virginia (2003, Round 3, No. 94 overall)
He got his start as Takeo Spikes' replacement, and when he got into the lineup, he hung onto a starting job for a number of seasons. Not a flashy performer, Crowell nonetheless put up solid stat lines in three seasons as a key defensive contributor, tallying 233 tackles, 7 sacks and 5 interceptions in his brief Bills career. He spent the 2008 season on IR (controversially, I might add), and is now out of football after being cut by Tampa Bay prior to the start of the 2009 season.
8. Marshawn Lynch, RB, California (2007, Round 1, No. 12 overall)
He's only in his third season - and his third season isn't going so well - but Lynch has been a consistent performer on some bad football teams, to his credit. He's rushed for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns to this point in his Bills career, and you can add a Pro Bowl berth to his resume as well. Off-field issues have plagued him early in his career, but if he can lay those issues to rest, Lynch is in line for a solid career.
7. Willis McGahee, RB, Miami, FL (2003, Round 1, No. 23 overall)
Before he became the hated son of Buffalo, McGahee was one of the bolder and smarter picks of the Tom Donahoe era. Drafted in spite of a knee injury, McGahee rewarded the Bills for their risk in the form of 3,365 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns in three seasons as a Bill. Still one of the more productive scoring backs in the game with Baltimore, McGahee also makes the list because the Bills were able to trade him for three more draft picks. He wasn't a need pick, but the Bills got production and tripled their draft selections with this investment.
6. Nate Clements, CB, Ohio State (2001, Round 1, No. 21 overall)
The Bills have had a lot of "whoops" moments with their first-round draft picks in recent seasons, but Clements decidedly does not fit that criteria. In six seasons with the Bills, Clements picked off 23 passes and scored 7 touchdowns (5 on interceptions, 2 on punt returns) while establishing himself as one of the best corners in the game. He has spent the past three seasons in San Francisco, where he has added a further 7 interceptions to his resume as the cornerstone of a re-building defense.
5. Lee Evans, WR, Wisconsin (2004, Round 1, No. 13 overall)
With Drew Bledsoe in town, Buffalo needed a speedy receiver to complement Eric Moulds. They got a good one - and an immediate contributor, which is rare for rookie receivers - in the form of Evans. He caught 24 touchdown passes in his first three seasons, including 9 as a rookie, and since then Evans has established himself as one of the more under-appreciated receivers in the game. His production has slipped, but as he's been catching passes from awful quarterbacks, that's not overly surprising. Furthermore, Evans is one of the few draft-day investments the Bills have made at the receiver position in the past decade that actually panned out as planned.
4. Jairus Byrd, S, Oregon (2009, Round 2, No. 42 overall)
It's tough to put a current rookie on this list, but we'll make an exception for a guy who is still leading the league in interceptions (8) as a rookie making a position switch. Byrd has dealt with nagging injuries all season, and he's very much a one-dimensional player. But his ball skills and ball-hawking presence has been a tremendous boost to Buffalo's pass defense, and for his flaws, he's still a heck of a football player with a bright future.
3. Kyle Williams, DT, LSU (2006, Round 5, No. 134 overall)
I love it when teams find excellent, underrated contributors in the middle rounds. Williams has been a very nice find for the Bills, emerging as a very solid run defender as a fourth-year starter out of LSU. He'll never be a dominant player, but he's the type of guy that can find work on any NFL team thanks to his overall ability, his attitude and his work ethic. He's started every game he's ever appeared in as a Bill, and picked up 127 tackles and 7 sacks in the process.
2. Terrence McGee, CB, Northwestern State (2003, Round 4, No. 111 overall)
McGee is decidedly the "one who did NOT get away," as he's the only big name corner the Bills haven't allowed to leave via free agency in recent memory. A no-name draft pick out of Northwestern State, no one was really sure what to make of the McGee selection when it happened, but he's proven to be the steal of the decade for the Bills. A contributor since a rookie and a defensive starter for the last four years, McGee 390 tackles, 16 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown to his name. He's also widely regarded as one of the best kick returners of the past decade, with a 26.3-yard average and 5 return touchdowns. He made a Pro Bowl appearance in 2004 for his return efforts, as well.
1. Aaron Schobel, DE, TCU (2001, Round 2, No. 46 overall)
Clements was the big name draftee in 2001, but Schobel has given the Bills the most production and the most longevity of any draft pick made this decade. In his ninth year as a Buffalo Bill, Schobel ranks second on the Bills' all-time list with 75 career sacks, trailing only Hall of Fame end Bruce Smith. He's also got 19 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries, 30 tipped passes, 3 interceptions and a defensive touchdown on his resume. Schobel has never been flashy and he makes a bit more money than he probably should, but he's been one of the most respected pass rushers in the league over the past decade, and as a second-round pick, he's also by far been the Bills' best draft pick of the past decade.