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Assessing Buffalo's Veterans

A. Schobel

If history is a good indicator, Bills GM Marv Levy's draft strategy is a bit different than simply "drafting for need". Last season, despite apparent needs at OT and DT, Levy used his top pick to select (unexpectedly) S Donte Whitner. The pick, as everyone here knows, was trashed by the so-called "experts" - the Bills' need at safety was not as "pressing", due to the presence of veteran Troy Vincent and the recently-signed Matt Bowen. It was believed that depth was needed there - so while Winston Justice, Haloti Ngata and Brodrick Bunkley were the top mock draft choices for the Bills for a solid month, Whitner was Levy's top choice all along.

Levy had the foresight to realize that safety was going to be the biggest need for the Bills all along. Both Whitner and Ko Simpson became starters in Week 2 of the season due to injury, and their play dictated the release of both Vincent and Bowen in due time.

Levy then used his second pick to fill a need by trading back up in the first round to get DT John McCargo. Even while this filled a need for the Bills, the pick was hailed as a "reach" once more. But at the very least, it did prove that Marv was looking to add players at positions of current need.

The rest of Levy's picks were a mix of these two strategies - Ashton Youboty was viewed as a potential replacement for Nate Clements (and also the Best Player Available); Simpson was a depth addition with starter's potential (and also the BPA); Kyle Williams filled a position of need (BPA); Brad Butler was a position of need; Keith Ellison was a future depth/competition draftee; and finally, both Terrance Pennington and Aaron Merz were need/depth draftees. The rest is history with this draft class, as five became starters with two more (McCargo, Youboty) on the way.

We've been over and over Buffalo's needs countless times as draft day approaches - obviously, linebacker and running back are the two most common needs mentioned. But which positions will Marv target for future players as he did with the safety position last season? The following is an assessment of the positions at which Buffalo's veterans are on the verge of being considered "over the hill":

DEFENSIVE LINE
The Bills have four players at this position who will be age 29 or higher next season. All four are prominent names as well - Aaron Schobel will be 30 next season, as will Darwin Walker and Ryan Denney. Larry Tripplett will be 29. While the team has some younger depth players in Chris Kelsay (27), McCargo, Williams, Tim Anderson and Anthony Hargrove, it would not be shocking if Levy targeted some young defensive linemen to develop behind the "wave" of veterans we could be losing in 2-3 years.

OFFENSIVE SKILL POSITIONS
Three of our offensive skill starters will hit the pre-determined age plateau next year: RB Anthony Thomas (30 next off-season), WR Peerless Price (31), TE Robert Royal (29) and TE Ryan Neufeld (32). Take these four out of the equation and we are left with Lee Evans as our only consistent weapon offensively (not that he isn't already). Levy will likely focus on finding weapons for J.P. Losman at a variety of positions this off-season - especially considering two of our projected starters are nearing the end of their careers (Thomas, Price).

LINEBACKER
Believe it or not, our biggest need has a couple of veterans who could be out of Buffalo in the next couple years as well. Josh Stamer wil be 30 next off-season and Coy Wire (a converted safety) will be 29. The presence of these two players and their ages could only magnify the need at this position.

The full list of players and their current ages: RB Anthony Thomas (29), WR Peerless Price (30), TE Robert Royal (28), TE Ryan Neufeld (31), OG Jason Whittle (32), C Melvin Fowler (28), DE Aaron Schobel (29), DE Ryan Denney (29), DT Larry Tripplett (28), DT Darwin Walker (29), LB Josh Stamer (29), LB Coy Wire (28), CB Kiwaukee Thomas (29), K Rian Lindell (30), P Brian Moorman (31).

What's your take, Bills fans? How do you think the veterans on our roster will effect Marv Levy's draft strategy this off-season? My take: Much like last season, I think that Levy is going to target a position in the early rounds that have both need and a future depth issue. My early candidate: offensive skill positions. I expect 3 of the 4 first-day picks to be used on weapons for J.P.

Sound off, Bills fans! What's your take?