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2009 NFL Draft Grades: Buffalo Bills Edition

The 2009 NFL Draft is in the books, and the Buffalo Rumblings community - at least to the point that this is published - has given the Buffalo Bills' efforts over the weekend an overwhelming 78% approval rating (while 9% of voters disapprove and 12% are undecided).

I have long believed that handing out grades after a draft is an exercise in futility, because ultimately, we have no idea how each pick is going to pan out.  Ellis Lankster may end up being the best draft pick out of this class; we just don't know yet.  But we do a reasonable amount of research, and far more prudently, we can grade the picks on a philosophical level - so grades aren't completely irrelevant.  Here's how we grade the Buffalo Bills' 2009 NFL Draft efforts - factoring in player, philosophy and using those to form an ultimate grade.

1-11: Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State
Entering draft weekend - and throughout the entire pre-draft process, really - I worried that the Bills would pass on a speed rusher for a more well-rounded, every-down defensive end.  That's the type of athlete they've targeted in the past, and I didn't expect it to change.  I'm happy to report I was wrong.  On paper, Buffalo has its most explosive pass rusher since Bryce Paup.

What makes this pick better is the fact that they took the right player.  No DE displayed a quicker first step in college or at the Combine than Maybin.  I had him rated as the top DE on the board the moment he declared for the draft, and the Bills clearly followed suit, if only at the most critical juncture.  I think he's the best pass rusher in the draft.  The Bills, too, think he's the best pass rusher in the draft, and his upside is tremendous.  There is risk here, and he won't play every down, but this is still a perfect fit.  Philosophy grade: A; Player grade: A-

1-28: Eric Wood, OG, Louisville
Considering the fact that Buffalo went into the draft with only three set starters on the offensive line, this pick made a ton of sense both philosophically and player-wise.  Wood was Buffalo's top-rated interior lineman, and he was close to the top on my board as well.  He was one of four or five guys that I viewed as immediate starters at this level, and it was plainly obvious that the Bills needed one of those.  They may have had to reach a touch to get him, but blame the Cleveland Browns for that - they took California C Alex Mack at No. 21 overall.  Buffalo couldn't wait on Wood once that happened, so they're not docked as many points overall.  Philosophy grade: A-; Player grade: B+

2-42: Jairus Byrd, FS, Oregon
My eyebrows raised a bit on this one, as I'm certain yours did as well.  It was pretty apparent, however, that the Bills were going to add a DB early on in the draft process, and it was nice to see them target a safety prospect with ball skills.  Byrd's ball-hawking tendencies alone make him a smart investment, but like Maybin, he's probably not an immediate starter.  I like the fact that they targeted a playmaker here; I do believe there were some better safety prospects available, but I'm not complaining about the Byrd selection in the least.  Philosophy grade: B; Player grade: B-

2-51: Andy Levitre, OG, Oregon State
Remember when I said that I thought four to five interior linemen in this draft class could start right away?  Levitre was one of them.  He was also the third-rated interior line prospect on Buffalo's board (behind Wood and Seahawks C Max Unger), and at this point in the draft, he was another supremely intelligent investment.  Don't be concerned with the college tackle's position switch - Levitre was born to play guard.  He's a Wood clone.  With this pick and the subsequent shift of Brad Butler to RT, Buffalo had quickly re-assembled its offensive line after the trade of OT Jason Peters a week prior to the draft.  Philosophy grade: A; Player grade: B

4-121: Shawn Nelson, TE, Southern Miss
I'll say it now, folks - Shawn Nelson is the steal of the 2009 Draft.  Name any other pick by any other team that you think is a steal, and I'll tell you why Nelson is a better pick.  At one point in time, Nelson was considered a fringe first-round pick.  A day before the draft, most experts would have told you he'd be a second-round pick; third at the worst.  This kid is tall, super fast and athletic, and outside of Bengals TE Chase Coffman has the best set of hands on any receiving prospect in this draft class.  Buffalo actually considered trading up on day two for this guy.  His athleticism, ability to stretch the field, and run-after-catch abilities are going to be an excellent help for QB Trent Edwards - who got a lot of help in this year's draft, by the way.  Philosophy grade: A-; Player grade: A-

5-147: Nic Harris, OLB, Oklahoma
I have no issues with Buffalo taking a productive, athletic collegian and asking him to make a position switch.  Harris will be able to handle it.  We've crossed the threshold from instant impact to depth here, though; Harris will make the team and contribute as a special teams player (where he actually has a good deal of potential), but he's not an answer to the team's question at starting SAM linebacker.  Philosophy grade: B; Player grade: C+

6-183: Cary Harris, DB, USC
You knew that Buffalo would take a pure corner at some point, and Harris was actually one of the late-round sleepers I'd circled because of his physicality and zone-based skill set.  He has the potential to start in this league, folks.  He'll never be a spectacular player or a Pro Bowl performer, nor will he make many big plays, but he's smart, tough, defends the run well, and will hold his own.  He can also play some safety if need be, and of course, he'll play special teams.  Philosophy grade: B-; Player grade: C+

7-220: Ellis Lankster, DB, West Virginia
Was I surprised that the Bills ended the draft by taking two defensive backs?  Not really.  Lankster is a fringe prospect, but he has a bit of playmaking potential and, like Harris, has a zone-based skill set.  I'll defer to the Bills on this one - they've drafted relatively well in the late rounds over the past three years.  It would have been nice if they'd had a player at a different position graded out as highly as another DB, however.  Philosophy grade: C+; Player grade: D

Total (weighted) philosophical grade: B+
Total (weighted) player grade: B
Overall 2009 Buffalo Bills Draft Grade: B+