I remember the Donte Whitner selection like it happened yesterday. There were the Bills at pick #8, sitting pretty with both of the top-rated DTs on the board - Brodrick Bunkley and Haloti Ngata. Talented USC tackle Winston Justice was there as well. If you had asked any Bills fan - literally, any fan - our top two pre-defined draft needs were DT and OT. Heck, even QB Matt Leinart was available - sure, we weren't going to take a QB, but still... it was Matt Leinart.
"With the eighth pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select... Donte Whitner, safety, Ohio State University. The Detroit Lions are now on the clock."
I sort of sat in a stunned, what-the-flip just happened state for a few minutes. Then I wrote down the pick, gazed up at the TV, and proceeded to watch the likes of Mel Kiper and Chris Mortensen trash the pick.
Hours later, the Bills moved back into the first round. Look! The Bills have the 26th pick now, and Justice is still on the board! What a move, Marv!
"With the 26th pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select John McCargo, defensive tackle, North Carolina State. The Carolina Panthers are now on the clock."
Wash, rinse, repeat. More Kiper bashing.
Day 2 was not much different - the Bills were getting quality, value-rich picks such as Ashton Youboty (Day 1), Ko Simpson, and Kyle Williams. But nowhere, according to the experts, had the Bills added an impact player. The Bills' draft was weak, and the team would suffer for it in 2006.
The scary part is, they're half right. We haven't gotten much playmaking from this group. But that's a topic for another discussion.
What is important is that while everyone outside of the Bills organization hated our draft last year, they did produce. Four of our rookies became full-time starters (Whitner, Simpson, Williams, Terrance Pennington), and sixth-round pick Keith Ellison saw significant playing time. The group is vastly intelligent, headstrong and were instrumental to the improvement the Bills showed last season.
Fast forward to 2007. The Bills have the #12 pick in the draft, and our needs are once again defined: LB, RB, CB, and then depth. Order the first three in whatever priority you want; the fact remains that in general, those are our consensus needs.
But Bills fans now know better. As draft day approaches, we scan first-round prospects, looking for the next Donte Whitner. We throw out once-obscure names of talented players who the Bills may consider with their pick. We do in-depth analyses of every player with even an outside chance of landing with the Bills. We don't like being wrong - and let's face it, we were wrong on a lot of the Bills' targets last season.
Marv Levy has made us paranoid. We and all the experts have cited Patrick Willis, Leon Hall and Marshawn Lynch as the "best" prospects for the Bills. Amobi Okoye and Paul Posluszny are becoming popular names as well. But based on last season, shouldn't we be aware that Marv thinks and builds teams differently than anyone can predict? Who could he be targeting as a surprise pick?
So we then throw out those grasping-at-straw names - Robert Meachem; Jon Beason; even Adam Carriker. More are sure to come over the next 10 days. Levy's draft strategy was so left-field last season that it has Bills fans covering their tails, hoping to get so obscure in their selection that - hey! - maybe they'll guess right.
Personally, I love this. As much as we or experts can speculate, no one knows what is going on in the collective minds at One Bills Drive. I love the advantage it gives us - I can guarantee that no team knows what's going on with our franchise; we are a black hole of information. Unpredictability can be used to an advantage in a draft setting. I also love that at the ripe age of 81, Marv is still outwitting GMs much younger than he.
I trust our GM with personnel moves more than any other front office in the NFL, except perhaps Mr. Polian in Indianapolis and Mr. Pioli in New England. I'm willing to put up with the criticism from national media, because I believe that Marv's "crazy" moves are building this team into a winner.
But it is driving me crazy. I still like being right.