It is said that hindsight is 20/20. When looking back at previous NFL Drafts, it's easy to cherry pick the great players a team could have had versus the players that were actually selected. It's fun, too. I started looking at the Buffalo Bills' historical draft classes, and was actually a little surprised to realize how little turnover there has been at One Bills Drive over the past two decades. Buffalo has had Bill Polian, the late John Butler, Tom Donahoe and, most recently, the "Inner Circle" making the draft day decisions. Instead of going all the way back to the 1986 Draft, I decided to look at the drafts of the two most recent eras.
We, as Bills fans, take certain things as articles of faith. Donahoe was a moron. He completely neglected the offensive line. The Inner Circle never met a DB they didn't like. OBD has a weird fascination with Ohio State. MRW is secretly a Dolphins fan. (Okay, I made that last one up.) Are these articles of faith true? Check after the jump...
I've taken a look at the drafts from 2001 through 2008. Yes, I realize that it's tough to say much definitively about the most recent drafts. However, I think we can actually begin to compare the Inner Circle and Donahoe eras. I've divided the draftees into four groups:
First Tier: These are the guys who have stood out over a period of time. They may not be the best in the business, but they're generally well-respected players, many of whom have been to a Pro Bowl or two.
Second Tier: These are the guys who have been solid, if unspectacular, players. They tend to make up the bulk of most NFL rosters. They can play, but aren't likely to have widespread league recognition.
Third Tier: These are the limited role players, generally limited to special teams. They might fill reserve roles, but tend to come and go.
Fourth Tier: Everyone else. Many of these guys don't even make the roster, and some of them are out of the NFL within a year or two. Sometimes it's due to injury; other times, due lack of opportunity. Most often, however, they just can't cut it in the NFL.
The Donahoe Drafts
2001: Donahoe started things off with a bang in his first draft. The first tier guys from the draft were DB Nate Clements, DE Aaron Schobel, and RB Travis Henry. OT Jonas Jennings was a second tier guy. No one else really even registers. For those who wonder, Travis Henry did make good on his second round selection. He was a productive back on some bad teams and did bring some trade value.
2002: This was the infamous year of the Mike Williams pick. However, three second tier guys (WR Josh Reed, DE Ryan Denney, and DB Coy Wire) highlighted the draft. Coy Wire makes it into the second tier largely because of his versatility and his contributions on special teams.
2003: This was Donahoe's best draft in terms of pure numbers. First tier players include RB Willis McGahee and DB Terrence McGee. Second tier guys include DE Chris Kelsay (sorry Kurupt) and LB Angelo Crowell. Third tier picks were WR Sam Aiken and LB Mario Haggan.
2004: The draft was notable for exactly one first tier player, WR Lee Evans. Everyone else was a bust.
2005: Like 2004, this draft was notable for exactly one first tier player, Roscoe Parrish. He's a first tier guy because of the fact that he's been one of the best return men in league history. No, he hasn't been a great WR, but he was the highlight of Donahoe's last draft.
Inner Circle Drafts
2006: The Inner Circle started out with two first tier players, DT Kyle Williams and OG Brad Butler, as well as two second tier players, DB Donte Whitner and LB Keith Ellison. John McCargo, to this point, has been a bust; Ashton Youboty hasn't been healthy enough to do anything; Ko Simpson was demoted; and Terrance Pennington was cut before his second season started.
2007: This has been the best draft of the Inner Circle to date. Two first tier guys were picked - RB Marshawn Lynch and LB Paul Posluszny - as well as two second tier guys, QB Trent Edwards and TE Derek Schouman. One third tier player was selected in DB John Wendling. To clarify, Edwards might turn out to be a first tier guy - this season should answer the question one way or the other.
2008: Yes, it's really early to judge the class. (For obvious reasons, we won't break down the current draft class.) However, I think we can safely describe DB Leodis McKelvin as a first tier guy (due to his awesome return game) and TE Derek Fine as a second tier guy. James Hardy, Demetrius Bell, Chris Ellis, Reggie Corner, Alvin Bowen and Steve Johnson are largely unknown quantities at this point.
To sum up, that's seven first tier guys, six second tier guys, and two third tier guys for Donahoe. The Inner Circle compares favorably to those results, already turning in five first tier guys, five second tier guys, and one third tier guy.
You can take it as in indictment of Donahoe or as credit to the Inner Circle for good drafting. It's not a coincidence that the Bills seem to be headed in the right direction. To come away from drafts with just one player, as happened in both 2004 and 2005, really sets a team back. (It's pretty clear that I see it as an indictment of Donahoe...)
Moving on, let's take a look at the articles of faith. Did Donahoe ignore the offensive line? Does Jauron have a DB fetish?
Donahoe drafted 2 OL in 2001, 2 in 2002 (Mike Williams with the No. 4 overall pick), 1 in 2003, 1 in 2004, and 2 in 2005 for a total of 8 offensive linemen in 5 years (out of 42 picks). It seems out of line to suggest that Donahoe ignored the line given that about 20% of the picks were devoted to it. The problem was that Jennings was the closest he came to a hit. The case can be made that Donahoe didn't invest heavily enough in the line during the first day of the draft, as only Jennings and Mike Williams were picked within the first three rounds. It's a little surprising when just the sheer numbers are considered, even if Tom Donahoe clearly wasn't a good judge of offensive line talent.
What about Jauron and his alleged DB fetish? The Inner Circle has made 34 total draft picks. Of those, 11 have been defensive backs. That's one third of the players taken over the past four drafts - so, yeah, the Inner Circle has focused heavily on defensive backs. By way of comparison, Buffalo has taken just two defensive tackles. Just to sicken Kurupt, the Inner Circle has effectively selected just one defensive end - Aaron Maybin, with C.J. Ah You being a seventh-round favor to the family of a friend of Marv Levy's.
While it is inaccurate to suggest that Donahoe ignored the offensive line, it is indeed accurate to suggest that the Inner Circle has ignored the defensive line on draft day. Granted, the Inner Circle brought in Marcus Stroud via trade as well as acquired Spencer Johnson in free agency. Building through the draft, however, would seem to be the better long term course.