In breaking down the Bills rebuild it's easy to see that some of the most critical positions have not been addressed as adequately as they should have been. Building an NFL roster is a tough thing to do and some positions are more important than others and as a result they are harder to find.
LT, DT/NT, QB, Rush LB/DE are among the more difficult positions to fill because of how difficult those positions are to play in the NFL. Teams put a premium on those positions so finding excellent players at those positions other than the draft is difficult to do. Simply because teams retain those players. Merriman is kind of in an odd place because of his injury history - which is why he wasn't retained by San Diego. Although he probably represents one of the better pass rushers to hit the waiver wire even considering his injury history.
When NFL teams prepare for the NFL Draft some teams look to trade picks and some like to let the draft come to them. Buddy Nix, Bill Polian, Ted Thompson are guys that let the draft come to them - so to speak. Other teams like to move around more in order to obtain more picks. There isn't a right or wrong way because if there was then everyone would be doing the same thing; either moving around all draft or staying put. One can argue one way or another but at the end of the day as long as you are upgrading the talent on your roster then you are doing good.
For Buddy Nix we know that he doesn't move around the board much, if at all. He is a GM that likes the draft to come to him.
This exercise is intended to show why the Bills haven't selected a rush linebacker with either the 1st or 2nd round draft picks in the last 2 drafts. The reason I only chose the first 2 rounds is because (especially where the Bills have been picking) you should yield 2 starters there. I've always thought 3rd rounders were fringe starters but guys that either a) needed some coaching up or b) aren't quite there but have a lot going for them - basically great development players. I can be swayed on that but traditionally I like to think of the first 2 rounds of a draft where you are attempting to acquire starters - or impact players. Make sense? Good - moving along...
Going into the 2010 NFL draft the Bills were picking 9th and 41st. This whole argument is based off of Walter Footballs assessment of the top 3-4 rush linebackers for 2010 and 2011 so if you don't agree with that ranking then it's o.k. I honestly didn't look at DE's because, well obviously, they are 4-3 linemen, although when looking at JPP he was listed as their 1st 3-4 rush LB but was drafted for a 4-3 DE. So there is clearly a flaw here - but that's not going to stop me is it? Teams look at players in different ways and I cannot possibly say how teams had these positions graded - so this is the list i'm choosing to go off of.
2010 NFL Draft - Walter Football 3-4 Rush Linebacker Top 5
2. Sergio Kindle - drafted 43rd in the 2nd round
3. Jerry Hughes - drafted 31st in the 1st round
4. Koa Misi - drafted 40th in the 2nd round
5. Jason Worilds - drafted 52nd in the 2nd round.
The Bills selected 9th (Spiller) and 41st (Troup). It's easy to see why they passed on a rush LB with their first pick. JPP is a great physical specimen but certainly had some flags about his game. If the Bills had selected Jerry Hughes at 9 there would have been Donte Whitner comparisons immediately.
So, when looking at choosing between Spiller or JPP/Hughes it's really kind of a no brainier (again, just comparing LOLB and our picks here).
In the 2nd round Koa Misi was taken just ahead of us - I believe he was a target of the Bills at the time but I cannot confirm that, I just remember some rumblings (unintended) about him. Kindle, in my mind, wasn't even a consideration here. His knee injury issues and his off the field incidents were way too big of red flags for the Bills.
So again, no real rush linebackers that were worthy of the pick at the time - maybe some arguments for Worilds but certainly nothing that stands out a as a "must have" rush linebacker at 41. Something that you cannot fault the Bills for given their strategy for the draft.
2011 NFL Draft - Walter Football 3-4 Rush Linebacker Top 5
1. Von Miller - drafted 2nd in the 1st round
2. Robert Quinn - drafted 14th in the 1st round
3. Aldon Smith - drafted 7th in the 1st round
4. Justin Houston - 70th in the 3rd round
5. Akeem Ayers - 39th in the 2nd round
Well Von Miller was gone so he was out - that leaves Dareus vs Quinn, Smith, Houston and Ayers. That pretty much sums up that argument. I can listen to some arguments about Smith - but....moving along in reality.
The Bills selected 34th and took CB Aaron Williams (ranked 4th best CB by Walter Football) - now here's an argument that you can make. With Miller, Quinn and Smith all gone that left the pickings to Ayers and Houston. Houston fell all the way to the 3rd round so obviously it's possible the Bills didn't like him as much as Walter did either but Ayers was drafted close to Williams so there is some argument there.
Part of the problem is not knowing where the Bills had him targeted. In reading Ayers scouting report some teams (and easily the Bills) had him playing on the inside. It's kind of tough to know because I know for sure that the Bills didn't even really consider anyone but Williams at 34 - but it's certainly worth noting that he wasn't looked at by all teams as a 3-4 rush OLB. It should also be noted that Ayers was drafted by a 4-3 team (Titans) - as I said before teams have guys rated in different places. Again, no guys that were must have available when the Bills picked at 34.
Bills Rush LB Situation
The current Rush LB situation consists of Merriman, Moats, Batten and Maybin. To be honest i'm not sure where the Bills have Coleman right now but he could be a consideration there.
So what have the Bills done there? Well we know of Maybin's status and he wasn't picked by this regime so we really cannot fault the Bills for keeping him here this long considering the teams investment in him when the inner circle selected him.
Nix selected Batten and Moats in the 6th round, Coleman was a UDFA and they claimed Merriman off the San Diego waiver wire. So they have added talent there with developmental guys that have shown some promise with the hope that Merriman returns to form (something that a lot feel isn't going to happen - fair enough). So it's not like the Bills haven't done anything there - they just really have stuck with their boards (or grades if you will) when selecting players in the draft. That, to me, is a good thing. They have an entire staff and spend an entire year no setting up their boards so they should be selecting players based off of that.
Even though some positions (LT, QB, NT, pass rushers) are more important if they aren't graded near players at other positions then selecting them isn't upgrading your roster properly. You are effectively taking lesser talented players to fill a position of need instead of taking the better graded player and ultimately hurting your roster. I fully believe that if 2 players are close in the grading that you take the position of more importance first and I believe that the Bills do that too but I cannot say one way or the other.
So while the Bills didn't address the Rush LB position in either of the last 2 drafts in the first 2 rounds there really weren't any guys that should have been picked there based off of these rankings. It's easy to say that Nix didn't adequately address those positions but when looking deeper you really don't see anyone that was heads and tails better than the guys selected. Obviously great pass rushers come from any round and even undrafted FA's become great pass rushers but that's not the point. Hindsight makes things easy to look at - not knowing what the future will hold is much, much more difficult. As a result you have to go by your grades - which is what all NFL teams do.
I'm certainly looking for some good debate here - but I'm not just seeing the obvious rush linebacker that the Bills should have targeted giving their drafting selections and players that were available at the time.