The Buffalo Bills named Buddy Nix their GM on December 31, 2009, and less than two months later he had hired Doug Whaley as his Assistant GM. Since then, as Nix has stepped into the background and Whaley taken the reins of the organization, the Bills have made five first-round draft picks.
It sort of goes without saying that of those five players, none will play a bigger role in the Bills' on-field success in 2014 than quarterback E.J. Manuel. Our Monday morning discussion starter, then, is to debate which of the other four first-rounders will be the most important figure in the Bills' playoff push this season.
Spiller spent his first year-plus in the NFL as an afterthought in departed coach Chan Gailey's offense, rushing for just 398 yards in his first 24 games. A 2011 year-ending injury to Fred Jackson opened the door for Spiller, who has since run for 2,623 yards in his last 37 games. Still, there is room for much more production from Spiller, and for creatively using him within current coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's offense. That creativity might be needed, as the Bills find themselves with a lot of mouths to feed at running back this year.
His off-field concerns are well documented and have been thoroughly discussed, but on the field, Dareus is a burgeoning talent that, at age 24, is coming off of his best season as a pro. There's a sense that he is only scratching the surface of his potential - and we're talking about an interior lineman that has accumulated 18.5 sacks in his first three seasons. Buffalo's pass rush was the story a year ago, and Dareus was a big part of that, but he is also a central figure in the Bills' efforts to improve against the run, as well.
It's been a weird two years for Gilmore. As a rookie in 2012, he took some lumps early, but by the end of that season had many pundits believing that he'd ascend to top cornerback status sooner rather than later. Those plans were put on hold when a fractured wrist cost Gilmore five games a year ago, and when he came back into the lineup, he was a wearing a cast and looked rusty. By the end of the year, however, Gilmore was looking more like his usual self. He will once again enter the season as the Bills' top cover corner, looking to follow through on the ascent to greatness many expected last year.
He hasn't played a down in the NFL yet, but there's already a ton of pressure on this 21-year-old talent to produce immediately. The Bills gave up their 2015 first-round pick to move up for Watkins, then traded fan favorite receiver Stevie Johnson to make room for him in the lineup. Watkins now headlines a young and talented receiving group that will be expected to not only grow up alongside Manuel, but help the young quarterback develop as quickly as possible. Receivers drafted as early as Watkins was are expected to become dominant at the position.
Clearly, all of these players will play vital roles if the Bills are going to make the playoffs in 2014. Which do you think is the most important to that goal?