There are a number of reasons the Buffalo Bills have been inept throughout the last decade, but failure in the draft stands out brighter than any other. These series of articles explore how the failures of the Buffalo Bills' drafts from 2001 through 2010 have left a team bankrupt of talent, and one of the laughing stocks of the National Football League.
The Bills 2007 NFL draft is a head-scratcher. In one respect, it's a perfectly executed well done draft. Looking at team needs, the personnel selected, there is very little to quibble with. On the other hand, just three years later, there is exactly one person from the draft left on the team.
For three and a half years, Dick Jauron brought some of the most boring football to Western New York ever seen. After Mike Mularkey posted a bubble 9-7 season, and a bust 5-11 the next year, Jauron put the Buffalo Bills squarely where they belonged. For the next three years, hard schedules or easy ones, Jauron had his team squarely at 7-9. Good enough to get on a roll, not good enough to put a season away. Start fast, start slow-didn't matter. Buffalo found themselves at 7-7 two years in a row, 6-6 the last year, and each year Buffalo couldn't break the 7 win barrier.
At least it could be said that Buffalo was always precisely who we thought they were-a slightly less than average team.
Often folks complain that a young QB doesn't get the chance to work through his growing pains to develop into a good player. In this "Not For Long" era of football, very few players get the Aaron Rodgers treatment- allowed to sit, watch and come along. And for every Aaron Rodgers you're apt to have a Matt Leinart who perhaps sat a little too long. At some point you have to take the guy out of his box and let him play-which is precisely what Buffalo did with J.P. Losman.
After splitting the season with Kelly Holcomb in 2005, Losman started each of the 16 games in the 2006 season. He proved to be exactly who we all know him to be today-a kid with a strong arm who held the ball too long, made some poor decisions, a kinda high-pitched voice and a bit too much confidence in himself. He finished 268 of 429 for 3051 yards 19 TDs and 14 picks. He took 47 sacks, which brought the passing yards down to around 2700 yards-good enough fro 28th overall in the league. The number of sacks was good for 7th most in the league, but the killer was that nearly 1 in 10 passing plays (9.8%) resulted in a sack-third worst in the league.
The image of Losman hanging deep in the backfield waiting, waiting, just waiting for Lee Evans to come open (he did 82 times for 8 TDs and nearly 1300 yards) is burned into the minds of all those who watched-as were his inevitable sack and fumble. Why, oh why, we fans would lament, could we not have a QB who would get rid of the ball? Someone who'd take the check down every now and then?
This would be filed under "be careful what you wish for."
Peerless Price, returned from his big Atlanta contract, added 49 catches and Josh Reed (34) and Roscoe Parrish (23) added a few catches as well. The tight end combo of Brad Cieslak and Robert Royal couldn't get involved in the offense in any meaningful way ( a combined 29 catches), contributing to Buffalo's lackluster passing offense.
Buffalo ranked 31st in pass attempts and 28th in yards via the pass, so you'd think they were getting it done on the ground.
Much of the running game's problem could, again, be traced to the front five, but not all of it. Anthony "A-Train" Thomas followed his old head coach from Chicago to Buffalo where he played the second back to Willis McGahee. Neither one could run the ball very well in 2006.
McGahee finished with just 990 yards on 259 attempts (3.8 a carry) and 6 TDs. A-train contributed 107 more carries for a paltry 378 yards (3.5 a carry) and 2 TDs. It took two backs in 2006 to match the production Henry and McGahee had been getting on their own for the past 4 years. It was the worst production by the Buffalo backfield since the 3-13 2001 team-and good for only 25th in attempts and 27th in yards.
If you have the second fewest pass attempts and the sixth fewest rushing attempts it means the offense isn't on the field all that often. That means one of two things: They are turning the ball over (which they did some, 19th in the league) or not converting 3rd downs (which they really didn't do- just 234 all year, good to finish DFL). Despite some supposedly dynamic players, Buffalo didn't have an offense.
The defense, to its credit, was passable and certainly better than the offense. They finished in the top 10 for points allowed, and 18th for yards (a typical "bend but don't break" philosophy in action). They were just below average on 3rd down, finishing 16th in the league (allowing 298 conversions) and were that good largely based on their 7th against the pass (yards) defense. Their run defense gave up an abysmal 2254 yards, and finished near the bottom of the league (28th), as did their turnovers (just 24-for 25th in the league).
Ultimately, the team did not impress. JP Losman didn't look all that great in his first full season, even though some still held out hope he would improve. The skill players, hampered by a young QB and a bad O-line, couldn't produce. The O-line had found a reasonably good LT in Jason Peters, but that was only after switching from RT. All in all, 9 players (Mike Gandy, Tutan Reyes, Melvin Fowler, Chris Villarrial, Duke Preston and Terrance Pennington) started on the Offensive line, only Fowler started each game at the same position.
Defensively, Aaron Schobel had one of his best years (14 sacks) but most everyone else played just okay. No one else did anything particularly spectacular-Nate Clements had just 3 picks, Terrence McGee none. London Fletcher actually lead the team with 4 picks, and was probably the most consistent player on the defense that year (and the only linebacker to start every game).
Buffalo had clear needs on the offensive and defensive line, as evidence by their inability to run and stop the run. The hope going into the 2007 off-season and draft was that a few key players at key positions would unlock the potential of the other stars on the team, giving Buffalo the boost it needed to be a winning team.
The monkey wrench in this plan was Willis McGahee. Bills fans following the team at the time are very familiar with this quote offered by the star running back shortly after he was traded to Baltimore. It was a poorly kept secret that Buffalo just wasn't a big enough city to keep the 2003 first round draft pick happy. Even though it was home to the team that made him a millionaire-at great organizational risk, given his devastating injury, and great cost, given they traded back into the first round to select him- the women weren't pretty enough and the clubs weren't crazy enough for McGahee. He wanted out.
Rather than be unable to resign him as a free agent the following year, Buffalo chose to get something in return for the running back. The accepted Baltimore's third and seventh round picks in the 2007 draft, and put McGahee in the center of one of the most exciting cities in the world...Baltimore.
The result was two more picks for Marv Levy and Dick Jauron rebuild the team with, but also a change in direction. The team was no longer settled at a key position-running back-and needed to address this accordingly.
2007 NFL DRAFT
The 2007 NFL draft is a head-scratcher. In one respect, it's a perfectly executed
Round 1, Pick 12: RB Marshawn Lynch: A strong running, pass catching, versatile back, the drafting of Marshawn Lynch was a direct response to losing Willis McGahee. He was also, probably, one of the best players left on the board at number 12 (Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson and Patrick Willis were already gone by the time the Bills were up to draft). Throw in the fact that he was a likeable guy (unlike the vilified McGahee), he was an instant success in Buffalo. He was the first running back to go over 1000 yards in his rookie year since Greg Bell in 1984-and that was with missing 3 games due to an ankle injury.
"Beast Mode" was a big hit with a blue collar town that was ready to see it's football team push piles, keep their legs moving, and impose their will on the other team for once. Lynch was a good pick, a good player, and started out well.
Unfortunately, Lynch used up a lot of his positive capital in Buffalo fairly quickly. Although fans were quick to dismiss as "unfortunate" incidents where he was shot at (in a case of mistaken identity) by gang members, and accused of sexual assault by an ex-girlfriend, they proved to be more harbinger than aberration. In 2008 he was under investigation in a hit and run accident (where eventually, criminal charges were not brought) and was arrested for gun and marijuana possession in 2009. After a very good 2008 season (where he played in 15 games) he missed the first three games of 2009 for a suspension relating to this last crime.
Unfortunately, for him, the Bills had struck running back pay dirt with Fred Jackson while he was gone. Jackson had proved to be a great compliment to Lynch in 2008, but demonstrated he was a less troublesome but equally dangerous back in 2009. Lynch would only start 6 games in 2009, and was on a very short leash with new Head Coach Chan Gailey in 2010. After losing pre-season time to an ankle injury, he played just four games before being traded to Seattle for two picks.
So, on one hand you have a top 15 pick that didn't last 4 years with the team. On the other hand, it was/is a good player, he returned some value for a trade, and there wasn't anyone else Buffalo should have particularly taken. Sure, Darrelle Revis was taken two slots later, Michael Griffin with the 19th pick and Brandon Meriweather at 24-but Buffalo didn't need corners or safeties. Same with Dwayne Bowe at 23-Buffalo didn't really need a WR as much as they needed other things. Jon Benson is a good linebacker taken with 25 by Carolina, but he certainly didn't have the potential of Lynch to be the impact player Buffalo was looking for.
DTs like Justin Harrell and Adam Carriker were available, and they were at a position Buffalo needed to upgrade-but neither of those players is impressive at all. Same with Des Jarvis Moss and Anthony Spencer, or OT Joe Staley.
The first round, frankly, was sparse for good players at positions Buffalo needed. Did it work out with Marshawn? No, not really. Was he a bad pick? I can't say that he was.
Round 2, Pick 34 LB Paul Posluszny: Buffalo traded picks 43 and 74 to Detroit move up and take Paul Posluszny. "Poz" was an impressive player coming out of Penn State, and certainly helped fill a need at LB for Buffalo. He was named a starter coming out of training camp, and produced immediately on the field. He recorded 10 tackles in his first NFL game (a loss to the Broncos) and looked to be a solid contributor right out of the gate.
Unfortunately, Poz was injured in week three (a broken left forearm) and missed the remainder of his rookie campaign. He returned the next year to have a solid year, one that earned him Bills defensive MVP honors and a Captainship the next year. In 2009, he injured himself in week one (another arm injury) and was sidelined until week 6.
Much like Bob Sanders of the Indianapolis Colts, when he's healthy Poz is a great player. His problem has been keeping healthy. He also takes a bit of a knock because he isn't a game changing, elite type of linebacker-but of course he wasn't taken in the first round, and no one particularly expected him to be. Perhaps on a better team, he would make a more direct impact on plays. Or perhaps, as he is on the Bills, he would be a fairly solid and consistent player (when he's healthy).
In just a little over two full years of play, he's racked up 324 tackles (about 9 a game) , 2 sacks (not his job usually as MLB) and 4 picks. Good numbers for a young player on an up and down defense.
Another solid selection at a position of need. And again, a selection that is arguably the best available for Buffalo at the time. Kevin Kolb was taken at 36, and Buffalo might have selected him-but that's about it, and it isn't as if he's exactly proven himself to be a good quarterback yet. Even trading some of the other picks to move up doesn't seem all that extravagant-The only three Pro Bowl players taken between 34 (where Poz was taken) and 74 (the lowest pick traded) were Sidney Rice, Steve Smith (Giants, not Panthers). Lamarr Woodley and Ryan Kalil. Again, Buffalo wasn't in the market for Wide Recievers so not taking Smith or Rice is more than understandable. Woodley has been an excellent end for the Steelers, so Buffalo would have done well to take him-but Kalil was a second alternate Pro Bowl player currently on one of the worst teams in the league. It's quite possible he's overrated.
The full point being, Poz playing healthy is as good as any of these players (or close too), and so you really can't fault Buffalo for selecting him over others. He is a consistent, if not spectacular, player when healthy. It is perhaps it is this consistent (if not spectacular) play that makes him the only person from the 2007 draft still with the Buffalo Bills.
Taken with the pick that they got for Willis McGahee, Edwards was a big coup according to many for Buffalo-including offensive legend Bill Walsh, who was convinced Edwards was a great pick by Levy.
Much the way fans loved J.P. Losman because he wasn't Drew Bledsose (whatever that was all about), fans loved Trent Edwards because he wasn't J.P. Losman. Levy and Jauron hoped that Edwards, a Stanford man, would be a better fit for their conservative offensive approach to offense (ball control, check downs, etc)-and that's exactly who Edwards was.
There is an adage about being careful what you wish for. In fact, I think I used that adage in my summary of the J.P. Losman career.
Edwards appeared in 10 games in his first year with Buffalo, making his debut when J.P. Losman went down with injury in week three. He played until he sprained a wrist in week eight, giving the job back to Losman. Losman, however, continued to be unimpressive, and was benched for Edwards in week 13. In a redux of the 2005 team, Buffalo featured two mediocre to terrible QBs trading turns winning and losing games. Much like 2005, the veteran was chastised by the fan base for constant failure, while the young player reaped praise for performing so well despite his youth.
His 56.1% completion percentage for 1630 yards, 7 TDs and 8 picks weren't great, but they inspired confidence and earned him all rookie honors.
It's hard to say what exactly happened next. Edwards did lead the Bills to a 4-0 start, playing lights-out football a quarterback. Week 5 was a setback against the Arizona Cardinals, after Edwards took a huge hit early in the game that knocked him out of the game. Concussed, he was reportedly a bit mystified about his surroundings after coming round in the locker room, and was groggy over the next two weeks.
Thankfully, the following week was a bye week, giving him extra time to rest up. His return two weeks later saw Edwards complete 25 of 30 passes in a 23-14 win over the AFC West leading San Diego Chargers, giving Buffalo a 5-1 record on the year.
Buffalo seemed to have found their quarterback. People were throwing the word Playoffs around. I bought his jersey. A nice one-one of the retro deals with the sewn on numbers. And I'm cheap-reaaaallllly cheap. So you know I was drinking the Kool-aid too.
Then of course was the epic failure to end all epic failures. Buffalo at 5-1 managed to win just 2 of their last 9 games, to finish 7-9 for the second year in a row-missing the playoffs again. What is worse, Edwards looked awful in those games. Buffalo's once future king went from lights-out to looking as if the lights were out in his head. Fumbles, skittishness in the pocket, quitting on the deep reads-he didn't get the nicknames "Captain Checkdown" and "Trent-ative" on accident, they accurately described the timid way he played the position of quarterback.
Skeptics argue that his first four games of 2008 were against terrible teams, and that San Diego is a notoriously poor early season road team. As such, Edwards stock soared way to high and only came back down to where it should have been once the rest of the league got their shot on him. Others think that the lasting effects of getting laid out in Arizona took a much bigger toll on him and his play than initially thought. That such a drastic change in play, and the style of play, can only be attributed to a neurological (or at least psychological) change in his persona.
It's impossible to say what was the cause, but what can be said is that he certainly never played that well again. The following year he split time with Ryan Fitzpatrick, unable to assert himself as a starting quarterback. In 2010, Chan Gailey took exactly three games to decide that Trent Edwards didn't have what it took to start at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, unceremoniously cutting him in week four. It may be the only time in history that a week one starter was cut so early in the season.
But the question here is, was Buffalo wrong in taking Trent Edwards? Certainly from a talent perspective, Edwards didn't work out. Keep in mind, however, that Buffalo didn't take him until nearly the 100th pick of the draft-so they certainly didn't invest too much into the quarterback position. Plus, he did have streaks of good play-so you could see why they wanted Edwards in the first place. Looking at the draft position and other players taken around him, it isn't as if there are great players that Buffalo missed taking. In comparing him to other quarterbacks taken in the draft, I'd say he stacks up fairly well against JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn (the only two quarterbacks taken in the first round), John Beck (taken in the second round) and Isaiah Stanback (taken a few picks later with 103).
Like Lynch, Edwards may have been a bad player (or at least, in Lynch's case, a bad fit), but I am hard pressed to call him a bad pick.
Aside: It's hard to say just what would have happened if Buffalo hadn't traded McGahee to Baltimore. If he was happy in Buffalo, what would this draft have looked like? Or if he hadn't been drafted all, of course, it might be a completely different situation for Buffalo. Would they have taken a QB or LB in the first round? Could Kevin Kolb or Jon Beason be a Buffalo Bill right now? Tough to say, but I'm pretty sure that at least two of these three picks would be fairly different than they are now.
Round 4, Pick 111: RB Dwayne Wright: With the fourth round pick, Buffalo chose to further supplements the running back position with the selection of Dwayne Wright out of Fresno State. Wright, however, never made a serious impact with the Bills, or any other NFL team. He appeared in 15 of the 16 games of the 2007 season, running 29 times for 94 yards and making 3 catches for another 17 yards. He, essentially, had one okay game spread out over 15.
He was cut the following year, and bounced around the league-appearing on practice squads and in training camps on a variety of teams, but never on the field.
Round 6, Pick 184: S John Wendling: Wendling served admirably as a backup safety for Buffalo from 2007-2009, appearing in all but two games over the three years. Mostly helping out on special teams, he did make a few plays on defense despite a serious talent gap between him and the people he was often asked to cover. He made one interception in 2009, had a fumble recovery in 2007, and finished with 21 tackles in Buffalo before moving on to Detroit in 2010.
Round 7, Pick 222: TE Derek Schouman: One half of "The Dereks" at tight end (along with Derek Fine), Schouman was instrumental in one of the most famous college football games in history when he caught an overtime touchdown pass to propel the Boise State Broncos to a win over Oklaohoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Taken by Buffalo late in the 7th round, he was sadly the latest in a long line of tight ends that did not fulfill the promise of being the next Jay Riemersma. "Shoe" played three years in Buffalo, appearing in 21 games and starting 15 (12 in 2008) but proved to be slow, not versatile, and an unreliable receiver. He caught 27 balls for 275 yards and 1 touchdown in those three years before being cut in early 2010. He most recently signed a contract with the Rams, but has yet to record stats.
Round 7, Pick 239: DE CJ Ah You: Charles "CJ" Ah You has an excellent name, just waiting to be turned into a t-shirt-but that t-shirt will not be put out by the Buffalo Bills. The DE was unable to make the team his rookie year, the first and only rookie of the Marv Levy era to fail to make the team, and was cut after training camp. He also will likely be only the second most popular Bill drafted with the name CJ. He did, however, find a home with the St. Louis Rams where he has played in 15 games over the last two years.
The 2007 draft was, in a word, disastrous. With the exception of Poz, no player has made a lasting impact on the Buffalo Bills, or even remains on the team. But looking at the draft, it's hard to find fault with any pick the team made. Levy, in his second and final year, took talented players at appropriate positions without over-drafting. Nor did he miss any huge talents available to him at these types of positions. I think it's fair to say that he took "the best player available' at a position of need every time, and yet it didn't pan out.
The lesson of the 2007 draft seems to be that a certain amount of luck is always involved in these types of endeavors. That you can, in fact, make all the right moves and still come away with surprisingly little. In baseball if you do everything right at the plate, you're only going to get a hit about one out of every three times-and if you do that over your career you're going to the Hall of Fame. In football drafts, you are simply going to have at-bats that don't work out. There is no excuse, however, for swinging at bad pitches. The Bills may have had bad luck in 2007, but it doesn't excuse silly draft picks from 2003, 2005 or 2009.
If you know you're going to have a head-scratcher like this every now and then, it makes those years when you could do better all the more important. Patience at the plate, or the draft board, is key to success. I think that more years that followed the structure, if not the result, of 2007, are the difference between a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 10+ years and one that has.