On January 9th Buddy Nix gave his first press conference following the season and made some comments on the personnel needs of this team. To this day, these comments have been cited frequently to try to determine how the Bills will approach the draft. Buddy came right out and talked about positions he felt should be addressed. Before I go on, take a second and read exactly what Nix said in his original press conference...
On how his list of personnel needs has narrowed down to a couple after being here a few years:
I think even signing Stevie (Johnson), I know all you guys watched the games this weekend and there’s only one Calvin Johnson but there’s some more similar to that, that you throw it up there. They’re not covered when they’re covered. We could use another big time receiver. On offense we could use another offensive tackle. Defensively I would say the priority would have to be pass rushers, defensive ends, pass rushers - one maybe two. And you could never have enough corners. We would like to add two corners, whether it’s through free agency or whether it’s through the draft. We also at some point need another linebacker. We got we think Chris White. Kirk Morrison’s up and I don’t know what will happen with him but we need another linebacker. We’ve got some guys that are tweaners kind of. I’m talking about (Arthur) Moats and (Danny) Batten. Those guys will get a shot at linebacker.
The polls conducted on this website reflected Nix's thoughts. After signing Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, it's safe to say the DE has fallen off the list of first tier needs for the time being. That leaves a couple major needs for this team: WR, OT, CB, OLB. I think that is a pretty fair assessment of where this teams could most use an upgrade, at least in terms of starters, going into next season.
The main reason I wanted to write this post is to re-evaluate Nix's comments from January, specifically his comments on the WR position and the physical prototype he is looking for.
The first thing Nix said when he was asked about personal needs was "There is only one Calvin Johnson but there is more similar to that, that you throw it up there. They're not covered when they're covered. We need a big time WR." A lot of people took this comment different ways. Based on my personal interpretation of what Nix meant by this comment, I think it's meaning and significance has been skewed over the pass couple months. The following ideas are what I perceive to be common misconceptions generated from Nix's remarks...
a) WR is a primary need
b) Nix wants a big, physical WR to play opposite Stevie
c) We need a WR with elite speed who can stretch the field vertically
I don't think any one of these is in itself incorrect. My issue lies in the fact that they are in some way true, but I believe what we need is a not necessarily a WR, but another playmaker. A WR with a combination of both size and speed, as well as a capability to go up over the top of a defender and take the ball away would be ideal. If your looking for a model of what this would give us on offense, look at the 2008 Arizona Cardinals with Kurt Warner at QB. Warner was as accurate as they come on short and intermediate routes, but didn't have the strongest arm to make the deep throws at that point in his career and his accuracy on those deep balls struggled (sound like a QB on our roster at all?). The tandem of Boldin-Fitzgerald was a dominant combination. Both could run all the short-intermediate routes, and Fitzgerald could challenge any defender for a jump ball and come down with it. That is the type of WR Nix is talking about- he wants a Fitzgerald to line up across from our Boldin (Stevie Johnson). What GM doesn't want that? However this type of player may not be attainable. If there isn't one on the boards when we pick, then what we need is pretty simple- another weapon in the passing game regardless of their physical characteristics or position.
To try to explain my reasoning, I'll try to use some current players as comparisons for different styles of WR's that exist in the league today. Please keep in mind that these are general characterizations based on skill sets and I'm aware each player has some of the capabilities described in other categories. There are also many players that do not fit purely into one category or another. Players in the same category are not being grouped based on their talent but rather their style of play and skills. Number in parentheses reflect the round the player was drafted.
The fast guys who rely mainly on their straight line speed to stretch out the defense vertically. Can have some value on screens and quick hits when the defense is backed off to far.
Shorter, shifty WR's who primarily run routes that break with-in 12 yards and typically have lower yards per catch averages. It is typical for these WR's to work out of the slot, but not always the case.
WR's who are limited by their speed and agility without any exceptional route running ability who earn their paychecks by showing an ability to make difficult, acrobatic catches down the field. There aren't a lot of players who fit into this category because most who possess this skill have other characteristics that place them in different categories.
Not as fast as the burners but more complete, all around players with adequate ability to run intermediate routes and work in some traffic. Generally not true #1 WR's and are at their best when playing opposite to a larger, physical WR.
WR's that are generally bigger and with speed ranging from adequate-above average who can run just about every route. In general these WR's are not as fast as the "speed possession" group but are more specialized at going over the middle.
Nix's Prototype: Calvin Johnson (1-2), Larry Fitzgerald (1-3), V. Jackson (2), Dwayne Bowe (1-23), AJ Green (1-4), Dez Bryant (1-24), Julio Jones (1-8), Reggie Wayne (1-30), Andre Johnson (1-3), Brandon Marshall (4), Robert Meachem (1-27)
These WR's possess the same qualities as the "physical balanced" group but with one very important distinguishing factor- they are the "go up and get it" guys. The players who have great ball skills in addition to size, all around great athleticism, and the ability to work all over the field.
Looking at Buffalo's current top WR's and trying to categorize them, this is the best I could come up with. Remember, its just a comparison of the style of play and types of skills their best at, not to the skill level of any of the players mentioned above.
Stevie Johnson: Mix between Possesion, Speed Balanced, and Physical Balanced. Stevie is one of the most unique WR's in the game and possesses such a variable and extensive skill set that it's tough to use this system to categorize it. What can be said is that in the Bill's offense he is often used in the possession category but presents a threat to work all over the field.
David Nelson: Possession. While his physical skill set is much different than the other WR's in the list he is used in a lot of the same ways out of the slot. He uses his reach to compensate for what he lacks in his feet.
Donald Jones: Speed Balanced. Jones had pretty good speed, but certainly not elite or even great. He has the ability to work around other parts of the field but has yet to show consistent enough hands to be relied on over the middle.
Marcus Easley: Speed Balanced/Physical Balanced (?). Without ever really seeing Easley in a game it's kind of hard to categorize him, but from what we know he is big and fast with pretty good hands. Depending on whether he relies on his speed or size more he could really fit either category.
Brad Smith: Speed Balanced/Burner. Smith doesn't have the elite speed of a burner but also isn't as versatile as other "speed balanced" WR's. Until he fine tunes his skill set as a WR he will always be a bit of a tweener that seems miscasted as anything other than a #4/5 WR.
CJ Spiller: Burner/Possession. As a WR Spiller has the speed and quickness to match any WR in the league with enough bulk to work on short routes, although his hands need to improve to become more of a possession WR.
So what is it exactly that Buffalo should be looking to add in the draft?
The "burners" who are listed were all fairly productive and served valuable roles stretching the field. Buffalo is in desperate need of a way to stretch the field, but all these players have one thing in common- QB's with big arms throwing them the ball (Flaco, Roethlisberger, Vick, Cutler, Palmer)... With Fitz behind center, and an O-line that is at its best when not required to hold the pocket for over 3 seconds, this kind of WR isn't what the Bills need to invest in moving forward.
In terms of "possession" receivers, the dynamic ones tended to be high picks (Harvin, Crabtree, Boldin). Welker is a bit of a fluke in that he has shown this level of production as a UDFA. Reliable players with less game breaking ability can be had in the middle rounds to specifically play in the slot and be effective role players. Three guys that fit this mold this year are Ryan Broyles, Jarius Wright, and Marvin Jones. Buffalo already has an effective slot WR in David Nelson, reliable back-ups in Namen Rosevelt, Brad Smith, and Derek Hagan, and a #1 who runs a lot of short, quicker routes. Spending anything higher than a late round pick on a guy to play this role would be frivolous unless he is a dynamic player with game breaking ability. Of this group, the only player that I believe possesses those skills is Marvin Jones. He is a 6'2 199 pound WR with explosive acceleration, top-notch agility, and very good route running capabilities. He is projected as a third rounder but could draw a lot of interest at the end of the second.
Sydney Rice and Dwayne Jarrett were both highly productive, playmaking college WR's who dropped due to questions about their speed and have yet to answer those questions. Rice, although hampered by injuries, still warrants attention from the defense due to his abilitiy to make tough grabs over defenders. Jarrett is only worthy on any special attention in the red zone. Mike Williams, who dropped to the 4th for both concerns about his speed and character, has shown the potential be a complete WR and could take a big leap forward this upcoming season and establish himself as a legitimate #1 WR. The player in this draft that fits best into this category is Alston Jeffries. Unless Jeffries proves he has enough speed to separate from NFL CB's he won't warrant a draft pick until later in the 2nd round. I personally would just leave him alone and let another team try their luck.
The "speed balanced" group consists of guys who do just about everything well but make better compliments than true #1 WR's. Most here who wouldn want any of the guys listed (excpept maybe Branch) on the team. However, I'm also assuming there aren't many fans who would want to use the #10 pick on a WR who isn't really a game-breaking, big time #1 guy. For me, that takes Kendall Wright out of the mix as I think he fits this mold of player. I'm more intrigued by Chris Givens of Wake Forest, who has serviceable enough size (5'11 198) to go along with his exceptional speed (4.35), agility, and ability to make difficult catches that could make him a very dangerous WR in the mold of a young Steve Smith. I would be hard pressed not to take him in the 3rd if he is available the position hasn't been addressed. Juron Criner is also guy that could develop into a solid overall WR.
The "physical balanced" group is composed bigger receivers with the ability to work all areas of the field and hurt defenses a lot of different ways. White, Nicks, and Britt may not have all the game changing talents of the Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson's of the league but they are dangerous players that open a lot of things up for the players around them. The players in this group tend to go in the late 1st and don't usually make it past the early 2nd due to their combination of size and speed. Of the players who fit this mold, Rueben Randle would be good value in the 2nd but may not last that long. I'm not crazy about Hill's lack of production and don't think he would be the pick, but he does compare favorably in a lot of ways to former GT WR Demaryius Thomas- big, fast, good hands, but raw. He wouldn't make an immediate impact and may intrigue some teams at the bottom of the first round who can afford to take a more developmental player. Nick Toon is a decent option in the 3rd but needs to prove he has the speed to be a difference maker at this level before I'm sold on him, right now I just think his ceiling is too low to use a 3rd rounder on. I wouldn't mind the pick but I would prefer to take advantage of the depth at OT and CB or draft a WR with higher potential such as Givens. The only guy that really intrigues me past this point is Dwight Jones in the 4th. Jones is a player who was suspended for his bowl game for breaking NCAA violations, but has enough size, strength, and athletic ability to make a Mike Williams type impact right away and has some potential for the future. Think about him as a bigger and more athletic Marcus Easley who produced huge numbers in a pretty strong ACC.
This is very open for debate, but I would be hard pressed not to put Blackmon in this "physical balanced" category rather than the "Nix Prototype". I compare Blackmon to a young TO- fast, strong, and explosive after the catch. I'm not saying he isn't worth a top 10 pick, he absolutely is. You can break a game open a lot of other ways than going over top of a defender for a big catch, but I haven't see enough of this in Blackmon's game to put him in the Fitzgerald like mold where he can be counted on when a QB just wants to put one up. Doesn't mean he won't be a great player, I think he will be a better Roddy White (who leads this group in terms of skill). Just my opinion, I would still draft him in a second, although it's irrelevant to us since he will be gone by the time the Bills pick.
And finally, the Nix prototypes- the skills of the "physical balanced' WR's with the ability to "go up and get it" and make game changing plays. This propensity for making big catches down the field is what separates the late first rounders from the guys you draft in the top 12. These are also the guys who tend to come in as rookies and make an impact right away- such as AJ Green and Julio Jones did a year ago. The only prospect who's skill set I think truly fits this mold is Michael Floyd. If I had to compare Floyd to a current NFL player I would say he reminds me a lot of Reggie Wayne. He has exceptional speed and size that is accompanied by a huge catch radius that would benefit a gunslinger like Fitz in a lot of ways and stretch the defense vertically.
Let me summarize in case that was way to much to try to cut through...
- The Bill's need to acquire another weapon for the Fitz- the current WR corps we have if deep but needs to improve talent near the top of the depth chart
- The Buddy Nix prototype WR is has both size and speed in combination will the athletic ability to make the big catch. Simply adding another WR who is big or fast but not both is NOT a primary need.
- WR's who fit Nix's prototype are top picks or premium FA's. Unless you get lucky enough to find a Brandon Marshall type diamond in the rough, forget about what Nix said about his ideal WR. At that point it is about drafting any guy who is a difference maker.
- I feel there is a lack of premium talent at tackle and there isn't one worth adding at #10. Based on this thought, Floyd is my clear front runner for the top pick, being rivaled only by Kirk or Jenkins (if Nix believes they are true lock down corners). If we don't land Floyd in the 1st for whatever reason, I believe our best choices for an impact player by round are (in no particular order of preference):
1) Reuben Randle (2nd) to provide an athletic, big WR that will look to develop along the lines of a Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt. My biggest fear with this situation is that bigger WR's who fall into the 2nd round have an extensive history of being busts. For every Jordy Nelson there are 4 Limas Sweeds, Dwayne Jarretts, James Hardys, Mohammed Massaquois, Devon Thomas', Malcom Kellys, and the list goes on... If Randle is still around in the 2nd and Nix pulls the trigger he better be sure enough about the kid to have been willing to do it at #25. The light is just turning on for this team, the last thing we need is a bust in the early rounds.
2) Dwight Jones (4th) for the same reasons as I listed above for Randle. Jones is a riskier pick, but has similar potential and a 4th round bust is much more affordable than a 2nd round bust.
3) Chris Givens (3rd) regardless of the fact that he isn't the biggest WR- he is one of the most complete players available. He has a solid build, very good deep speed, and an ability to reel in tough catches. He would be a steal in the 3rd though- we would probably have to reach a bit in the 2nd or trade up if we were genuinely interested.
4) Marvin Jones (3rd). Once again, it's about grabbing a weapon for the passing attack. Jones would probably fit best in the slot, but he has the tools to excel in that role and be a dynamic threat. At 6-2 199 he has more than adequate size to accompany his impressive lateral movements, route running, and skills in open space. He was ultra productive in a tough PAC-10 conference. In Gailey's offense Jones could provide the kind of spark that Roscoe Parrish almost but never quite did.
5) Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen (2nd). I did say draft an offensive weapon, not a WR right? If there isn't a WR worth grabbing in the first why not grab blue chip talent at another important position rather than take a chance on second or third tier prospects at other positions? Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, Brandon Pettigrew, Jermaine Gresham, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley... Big TE's with receiving ability are possibly one of the most dangerous weapons an offense can have, especially when they can run block well. Look at the teams that run a spread offense- New Orleans has Graham, New England has Gronk and Hernandez, Detroit has Pettigrew, Green Bay has Finley, Dallas had Witten/Bennett (although whether you want to call that offense a true spread or not is debatable)... You could make the case that they also have a better QB, but that is all the more reason to draft a stud TE? If your strength on offense is your RB's and interior line, shouldn't you play into it? Who would you rather have on the field on 2nd and 6- a TE or David Nelson/Donald Jones? Which do you think is harder for a defense to match up against? Which gives you more flexibility to run OR pass with out compromising the effectiveness of the other? In my opinion the TE is more valuable every time.
That's all I got for today. Hope it didn't ramble too much, let me know if you agree/disagree about certain players or the general premise of the post.