Of the many points of contention for Buffalo Bills fans during the team's three-game slide, the alarming lack of impact supplied by the 2010 NFL Draft class has been a popular rote of late. In fact, Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News wrote an article about it this very morning.
The mailed-in, established opinion (fact, really) of this matter is that the class - which consists of C.J. Spiller, Torell Troup, Alex Carrington, Marcus Easley, Arthur Moats and Danny Batten, as well as three more prospects long since departed - has accomplished very little on the field. It's easy to point that out, and it's easy to discern that the group's lack of impact is hurting the team's re-building process. The 2011 draft class may come under similar fire next season.
What very few talking heads are pointing out, however, was the curious decision made by GM Buddy Nix to completely overhaul his scouting operation after the team had completed the first two drafts in his effort at re-building the talent of this depleted franchise.
Nix was made the GM on December 31, 2009. At that point in an annual scouting cycle, the bulk of college games have been played, and as such, the books have been written on the vast majority of prospects. Sure, there's film to watch and workouts and interviews to conduct, but that's all icing on the cake. The heavy lifting is done. It makes a degree of sense that Nix elected to keep his scouting operation intact through the 2010 NFL Draft, and if you're in a giving mood (Thanksgiving is in two days, after all), a case can easily be made that Nix's first draft class can be hung on the departing scouting staff.
Here's the issue, though: the scouting staff didn't depart. For whatever reason, these guys got an entire year after the end of the expiring scouting cycle. The only significant move Nix made in the spring of 2010 was to hire Doug Whaley from Pittsburgh as his Assistant GM; the move was generally applauded, but in terms of direct impact on the 2010 draft class, it likely meant very little.
Tom Modrak was allowed to stick around as the VP of College Scouting despite Whaley's presence after the 2010 draft process was complete. No one was sure exactly why, or precisely what his role would be considering his rather lofty title, but there he was. The scouts themselves didn't change. The 2011 season came and went, and while Whaley's influence was undoubtedly more significant - and while Nix had likely drilled his scouts to be looking for different things in players - sweeping changes were decidedly not made.
They have since been made. I'd hear arguments that the 2011 class can be attributed to Modrak and the unchanged scouting department, though that would be an exponentially looser argument, considering Nix was nearly a year and a half into his tenure as the GM. It's on him at that point - without good debate, if you ask me - if the 2011 class doesn't pan out. We'll never get an explanation as to why Modrak got that final year.
We'll never get an explanation as to why it took Nix two entire selection meetings to finally get rid of Modrak, promote Whaley, and re-structure his scouting operation under Tom Gibbons and Chuck Cook. These are changes that most General Managers make after the first draft class is imported, if not immediately. The obvious question - what took Nix so long? - won't be answered.
I'm very interested to see how well (or not well) the Bills draft starting with next April's 2012 NFL Draft. I'm interested because it will be the final product of the first full scouting cycle in which Nix is operating a front office system that has his true stamp on it. I'm also curious to see how long he can work that system before he's on the hot seat, knowing that he may have wasted two full draft classes in taking his time to get there. The NFL seems to move at a quicker pace than Nix does, and if he's not careful, his patience could cost him his job.