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Another way to assess the roster-building of Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley

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Tweaking when to begin the evaluation changes a lot.

This past Sunday, Tim Graham of The Buffalo News published the results of a study he did on the job Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley has done retaining draft picks, and how he stacks up to the rest of the NFL.

In the article, Graham came to the following conclusions:

  • “A league-wide roster analysis shows perennial playoff teams have an average 61.1 percent more draft picks on their rosters than the Bills are carrying.”
  • “The Bills have 22 of their own draft picks on the active roster and 31 overall when counting the practice squad and injured reserve.”
  • “Those are the lowest figures in the league and substantially behind teams that have made the playoffs within the past five years.”

None of those points are arguable. Graham did the work, and those statements are facts.

I have the utmost respect for Graham. We’ve met a handful of times, and he’s been approachable, friendly, down-to-Earth, and willing to answer any questions, football-related or not.

However, that doesn’t mean I have to or always will agree with him. This is one of those instances.

And really, this isn’t a flat-out disagreement, it’s just that when I did my own research on this topic, I realized there was another, to me, more reasonable way to present the facts. So my findings are different than Graham’s.

All this needs to begin with one, fundamental question — when should we start giving credit to or blaming Whaley for the Bills’ roster successes and failures?

Let’s start with what we know regarding Whaley and the Bills. He joined the Buffalo organization in February of 2010 as the Assistant GM and Director of Pro Personnel.

He worked in those roles until he was named the Bills’ GM in mid-May of 2013.

The 2013 NFL Draft was held April 25-27.

Weird timing for a team to name a new GM, right?

Absolutely.

Famously in Buffalo, on April 29 of 2013, the Bills traded Kelvin Sheppard to the Colts for Jerry Hughes. Here’s what Graham wrote on that swap.

“The Hughes deal was a coup. He recorded 20 sacks through his first two seasons with Buffalo. It became feathered into Whaley's narrative that he was responsible for acquiring Hughes.

A January 2014 BuffaloBills.com review of the Hughes trade quoted only Whaley and didn't mention Nix. A March 2015 BuffaloBills.com article stated: "Buffalo GM Doug Whaley swung the trade that sent LB Kelvin Sheppard to the Colts for Hughes."

At the Bills' 2013 postmortem press conference, President Russ Brandon praised Whaley for the "personnel brought in not only in the draft, but acquisitions like Jerry Hughes, Ty Powell, Stefan Charles and Dan Carpenter, a lot of players that contributed this year."

Nix wasn't mentioned during the entire news conference.”

While I wholeheartedly agree with Graham that, at the very least, the Bills should have brought up, you know, the GM when that massively one-sided trade went down, any insinuation that Whaley wasn’t largely responsible for at least identifying Hughes as a viable trade target is probably incorrect.

Here’s why.

As mentioned, Whaley’s gig before he was Buffalo’s GM was Director of Pro Personnel.

A quick Google search will lead to a small collection of articles explaining what that job entails. As you can imagine by its title, the Director of Pro Personnel deals with everything involving players already in the NFL. As written in this 2012 National Football Post article by NFL agent Jack Bechta, “on paper, his job is to know every relevant player in the league who can possibly become available in any capacity and help his team.” In that same article, Bechta told a story of a pro scout trying to convince his GM to add the recently cut cornerback, Al Harris, and wrote “his then Pro Personnel Director Mike McCartney also liked what he saw and signed off on bringing Al in.”

To me, as Director of Pro Personnel, Whaley, and the staff of scouts immediately below him, would’ve been the group that discussed Hughes’ high upside in Buffalo with GM Buddy Nix.

Yes, Nix was almost assuredly the final piece of the puzzle who hammered out the specific details of the trade and spoke with Colts GM Ryan Grigson to complete the deal, but Whaley’s involvement was likely integral in the swap.

That organizational hierarchy brings me to another vital question.

Who in the heck was responsible for the Bills’ -- pretty important — 2013 draft?

I’ve always been of the belief that it was basically all Whaley and everyone inside Buffalo’s front office knew Nix would step down right after the draft, which he did.

And I’ve thought that based on these comments Whaley made during an NFL Network interview after the 2013 draft.

"I was an integral part in the drafting process of EJ Manuel. I was the person that handled the draft process and setting up the board."

I’ve repeatedly stated that any criticism of the Manuel pick should fall squarely on Whaley’s shoulders. It’s also the draft that, in a roundabout way, netted the Bills LeSean McCoy.

The thesis of Graham’s research article was the lack of home-grown draft picks currently on the Bills’ roster. While the numbers he presented can’t be argued, tying Whaley to the club’s draft choices before he was named GM seems faulty. Yes, Whaley was in a prominent position, but it doesn’t make sense to knock the Director of Pro Personnel for bad draft picks, and in this case, poor draft-pick retention.

Was Whaley really “in control” of the Bills’ 2013 draft, which occurred less than a month before his official promotion to GM? Or was 2014 his first draft actually calling the shots? You can decide for yourself.

I wanted to research how Whaley stacks up to other GMs, but because we’ll never know the specific answer to those questions, I’ve simply included drafting statistics starting in 2013 and starting in 2014.

Not counting Whaley, there are five GMs hired who were hired in 2013 and still have their jobs today. There is one GM hired in 2014 — Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht — who remains employed by that team.

Below are the numbers of players currently on the roster of the team that drafted them (regardless of active, injured, suspended, or practice-squad status) from each draft class to the present day... out of the total number of draft picks each team made in that time span.

This is essentially what Graham researched. I’ve just tweaked the time period to when we know Whaley should be held responsible.

Draft-Pick Breakdown

Bills - from 2013 on: 20/28 (71.4%)

Bills - from 2014 on: 15/20 (75%)

Panthers - from 2013 on: 16/21 (76.1%)

Panthers - from 2014 on: 13/16 (81.2%)

Cardinals - from 2013 on: 21/29 (72.4%)

Cardinals - from 2014 on: 15/20 (75%)

Jaguars - from 2013 on: 25/32 (78.1%)

Jaguars - from 2014 on: 21/24 (87.5%)

Chargers - from 2013 on: 20/25 (80%)

Chargers - from 2014 on: 16/19 (84.2%)

Chiefs - from 2013 on: 23/32 (71.8%)

Chiefs - from 2014 on: 20/24 (83.3%)

Buccaneers - from 2014 on: 13/20 (65.5%)

AVERAGE (not counting Bills) - from 2013 on: 75.5%

AVERAGE (not counting Bills) - from 2014 on: 79.6%

Noteworthy observations

  • The Bills are slightly lagging behind the averages of other teams included. Without question.
  • Because the sample sizes are relatively small, the percentages can be swayed significantly by one or two draft picks.
  • The Chargers have the highest draft-pick percentage and are currently 5-9. They went 4-12 a season ago and 9-7 in both 2014 and 2013.
  • The Jaguars have the second-highest draft-pick percentage and are currently 2-12. They went 5-11 in 2015. In the two years before that, they were a combined 7-25.

When you look at the draft-pick groups that way, during Whaley’s time with the final say at the top of the Bills’ personnel department, he hasn’t been nearly as catastrophically behind the rest of the NFL as Graham concluded.

Unsurprisingly, Whaley has hit the “pro” market hard. And, if he’s retained, he’ll have a variety of huge decisions to make during the 2017 offseason. But as Buffalo’s GM, he’s been comparable to his contemporaries when selecting players in the draft who stay on the roster.