With the No. 41 overall pick in the 2014 SB Nation NFL Writers Mock Draft, the Buffalo Bills have chosen Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. Paired with first-round pick Mike Evans, the wide receiver out of Texas A&M, my work in the parent company's annual mock draft is now complete.
The pick is here, where you can grade it and discuss it at your leisure at SB Nation's NFL Draft mothership. This post is meant to recap the thought processes behind both picks, which I am sincerely hoping you will use to inform your vote and, much more importantly, your commentary below. (Or, you know, you could just skip the post entirely, vote F and yell at me some more. But you don't need me to suggest that as an option, do you?)
Once more down the rabbit hole we traverse this year, comrades. Here's how I arrived at my pretend draft choices.
|1||9||Buffalo Bills||Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M||6046||231||4.53|
|2||41||Buffalo Bills||Jimmie Ward||S||Northern Illinois||5105||193||4.47|
A reminder on the Evans pick
The Evans pick was announced two weeks ago, and as I explained very carefully and thoroughly at the time, that pick was made roughly two days before the Bills flipped a sixth-round pick to Tampa Bay for wide receiver Mike Williams.
At the time the pick was made, choosing Evans over teammate and blue-chip tackle prospect Jake Matthews was easy. Come May 8, the day of the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, there is a great chance that I, personally, will still consider Evans a better investment for the Bills than Matthews, even with Williams on board and a logjam at the top of the receiving depth chart. Had I made the pick three days later, the decision would have been much more difficult, and I might have ended up taking Matthews purely based on the fact that the need at tackle is much more urgent than it is at wideout. I think highly enough of both prospects that you won't see me complaining if the Bills end up with either.
Again, with feeling: I took Mike Evans. I like Jake Matthews a lot. If you prefer the tackle to the wideout, I have probably heard from you, because we've been over it before. You know where I stand. Let's focus predominantly on the bigger picture and the second-round pick, then.
Explaining the Ward pick
Honestly, I didn't expect to end up taking a safety. I promise.
Once again, I held discussions with community members DanRoc and boomsauce about the pick. Both seemed to like Ward well enough, but naturally, our discussions centered predominantly around offensive tackles and tight ends, with a splash of defensive end.
Defensive end was the top need on my list. Scott Crichton, the Oregon State junior who has made a pre-draft visit with the Bills, was considered. Boomsauce made a case for Kareem Martin, but had I taken an end, I would have taken Crichton. He's a fine prospect. No. 41 seemed a touch too early for him.
Tackles were obviously considered. Morgan Moses was on the short list, but any potential protestations from boomsauce about Moses were obliterated when Moses was taken No. 37 overall. Antonio Richardson was also a player that boomsauce argued for - Dan, not so much - and was ultimately the last man standing against Ward. Richardson is exactly what the Bills should be looking for at tackle from a playing style standpoint, and his athleticism is what has him rated so highly. Ultimately, I thought his poor senior season made him too risky an investment this high.
Dan was all about the tight ends, making strong cases for both Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) and Troy Niklas (Notre Dame). Truth be told, I prefer Amaro (my sincere apologies, cush2push); Niklas has the better long-term potential, but I'm not sure how useful he'd be as a raw rookie. Amaro has a better shot at an instant impact, and the passing-game skill set that the team sorely lacks.
As those discussions were held, Ward was on the radar, but lurking in the background. He is a player that I like a great deal, and believe he would be a lock for Round 1 if he were an inch taller or 10 pounds heavier. I whittled down the popular need-area picks to a short list, and snuck Ward in at the end for two reasons: he's a really good prospect, and the safety position also happens to be a need. More on that in a moment.
Amaro, Richardson, Crichton and Ward were the semifinalists, so to speak, for the pick. Amaro was the first name crossed off, because he wouldn't be anything more than a part-time player as a rookie, and having Evans as the first-round pick alleviates some of the need for a big-bodied pass catcher anyway. Crichton was the next name off the list; I think Richardson is a more appealing prospect by a good margin (as is Amaro, for that matter), and am not sure that Crichton will ever be a quality enough NFL edge rusher to justify taking a part-timer in Round 2.
Why Ward over Richardson? He's the better football player. The gap between the two as prospects trumps the fact that Richardson plays a more valued position, in my opinion. There's nothing wrong with the Bills passing on a player they like for a quality tackle prospect, and I freely admit that the chances seem quite small that they'd do it twice. But I did it twice, because I think that highly of Evans and Ward.
Make no mistake about it: Ward is a little dude. Ostensibly, he would be picked this early to replace Jairus Byrd - it sort of goes without saying that I believe he's capable of walking into Buffalo's starting lineup from day one - but it's worth pointing out that Byrd, who is not the biggest guy around, has at least 14 pounds of extra heft on the 5'11", 193-pound Ward. That is his greatest drawback, and the only reason that a team as obsessed with height, weight and speed as the Bills are might drop him a bit.
He has everything else. Ward has terrific range, and will be able to man a lot of territory at the back end of Buffalo's defense. He has ball skills, as evidenced by his seven interceptions as a senior. He has fluidity, enabling him to drop down into the slot to cover receivers and turn and run when receivers go over the top. Even though he is small, he is physical, taking on blocks almost recklessly at times and tackling with a high degree of reliability. I consider him an excellent skill complement to Aaron Williams, and believe he'd play a ton of snaps as a rookie at a quality level.
Many of you will point out that Buffalo's selections of two mid-round safeties last spring - Duke Williams of Nevada in Round 4, and Jonathan Meeks of Clemson a round later - could mean that the Bills were planning ahead at the position precisely so they did not have to do so this season. And while I will agree with that, I can't carry it past these logical hurdles: Williams and Meeks remain project-type players, and neither of them can hold a candle to what Ward offers as a prospect. The Bills could put unjust faith into their prospects, or they could solve a problem. Ward solves a problem.
I suspect that the overwhelming majority of people that don't like where this mock draft ended up will point out that the team's biggest need areas - tackle, defensive end and tight end, in no specific order - remain unaddressed. That is, indeed, concerning - but I am comfortable with the rationale behind most of my selections, and may ultimately end up using this exercise as rationale for the Bills doing what they can to trade down and end up with another selection or two before day two is out. There are a lot of good football players available, and I'd hate to see them stuck in a position, as I was, where they have to pass on really talented players at lesser-need positions to take solid players in need areas.
The poll, and the comment section, is open for business. Remember: this is all pretend. How'd I do this year?