This actually started out as a comment on a practice recap thread but kept growing. It kind of dovetails with the story I put up about comparing the Inner Circle to Donahoe. Anyway, the comment I was replying to was along the lines that the Inner Circle has generally thrown late round picks at the defensive line while using earlier round selections on defensive backs.
The average DB picked by the Inner Circle was selected early in round 4 (4.2 average) while the average defensive lineman was chosen in the middle of round 3 (3.4 average). By way of comparison the average DB picked by Donahoe was selected in the middle of round 4 (4.4 average) while the average defensive lineman was chosen towards the end of round 3 (3.8 average). It's unfair to compare Polian's drafts as they lasted 12 rounds and the Bills ran a defense that needed more LBs than DLs. [Cutting off Polian's drafts at round 7 leads to an average value pick of 3.8.] Butler, who only presided over one draft longer than 7 rounds (it was 8, in 1993), also drafted for a 3-4 defense but in terms of value of picks chose defensive linemen early in round 4 (4.3 average).
So, while it might seem offhand that the Inner Circle is choosing defensive linemen with throw away flyers at the end of the draft, the reality is that the current regime has devoted higher value picks to the defensive line (DTs and DEs) than either Donahoe or Butler. For what it's worth, the Inner Circle has spent higher average picks on the defensive line than even the masterful Bill Polian (with caveats).
The problem hasn't been where the Bills have taken defensive linemen (2 first rounders in McCargo and Maybin, 1 third rounder in Ellis, 1 fifth rounder in Williams, 1 seventh rounder in Ah You) but that the Inner Circle hasn't been a great judge of talent. Ah You didn't make the team, not unexpected for a 7th round flyer/favor to the family of friends of Marv Levy. McCargo has been an outright bust to this point. Ellis has looked farily pedestrian through much of camp after not seeing the field much last season. Kyle Williams has been a steady if unspectacular defensive tackle, definitely worth more than the 5th round pick. Maybin is, as yet, a complete unknown.
To my way of thinking, while it's wrong to say that the Inner Circle has only taken late round flyers on defensive linemen there are legitimate questions to be raised as to the number of defensive linemen chosen overall. Of the 34 picks the Inner Circle has made 9 (26.5%) were on offensive skill positions (QB, RB, TE, WR), 6 (17.6%) were on offensive linemen, 5 (14.7%) were on defensive linemen, 3 (8.8%) were on linebackers and 11 (32.4%) were on defensive backs. To look at it another way, I am surprised to discover--though I shouldn't be with DBs accounting for almost 1/3 of the total draft picks--that Buffalo has used 44.1% (15 of 34) of picks on offensive players and 55.9% (19 of 34) on defensive players. Then, just to help me keep things straight as I type, here's yet another way:
Order of 'importance' as demonstrated by draft numbers (converted to percentages):
Offensive Skill 26.5%
Offensive Linemen 17.6%
Defensive Linemen 14.7%
Order of 'importance' as demonstrated by average round of selection:
Defensive line 3.4
Offensive skill 4.2
Defensive back 4.2
Offensive line 5.8
The defensive line, critical in the type of defense Buffalo runs, has been the second most neglected area in terms of numbers of picks but has had the highest average pick value. Likewise, Buffalo's woeful LB corps has been the least attended to in numbers of picks but is the second highest in the average pick value. I believe that the low numbers of picks in these two defensive areas can be attributed directly to the high number of picks used on DBs. Not only has the Inner Circle devoted about 1/3 of draft day picks to defensive backs, the team has used reasonably high value picks as well--tying the offensive skill positions in terms of average round of selection. In any event, less than a quarter of the draft day picks have been spent on the front seven of the defense so it really shouldn't be any wonder as to the issues the team has both on the defensive line (generating pressure) and in the linebacking unit (Ellison still playing).
The six offensive skill positions (on the field at any one time) have been addressed in terms of numbers (a shade over a quarter of all selections) and in terms of value of picks. Just as it is no mystery why Buffalo's front seven don't get the job done, it's no mystery as to why Buffalo's offense has shown improvement. The investments were made, particularly in 2007 (Lynch, Edwards, Schouman), and are now beginning to show a return. Or, as an alternative theory, the offensive production hit bottom so hard it bounced.
The offensive line, of great interest to me, has seen a low number of picks and low value picks to boot. Is it any wonder that OBD chose to basically blow up the line and start over? This time, however, it seems that the Bills got it right. Instead of overpaying for overhyped linemen (Buffalo's or anyone else's) the Bills devoted first and second rounders to the line. (Absent Wood and Levitre the Inner Circle's average draft round for offensive linemen is midway through the sixth.) Will it be enough? We'll see. Much will depend on the tackles, one a late round selection and one a free agent pick up.