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Buffalo Bills have struggled to draft, develop quality pass rushers

The Bills are nearly as bad at drafting impact pass rushers as they are at drafting quality quarterbacks

The Buffalo Bills are routinely criticized by fans and media alike for their approach to addressing the quarterback position. For years, critics have taken issue not with the fact that the Bills can't seem to find a long-term solution at the position, but that they don't try hard enough to do so; the Bills have drafted just four quarterbacks since Jim Kelly's retirement in 1996, and only two of those were first-round picks.

It's talked about far less frequently, but a similar argument can be made about the pass rusher position. In the six years that Doug Whaley has been on staff, the Bills have used just three draft picks (out of 48 total) on edge rushers: sixth-round picks Arthur Moats and Danny Batten in 2010, and then seventh-round pick Randell Johnson in 2014. More notable attempts to address that position have failed spectacularly, highlighted by first-round bust selections Aaron Maybin and Erik Flowers.

That's not to say the Bills haven't been able to find edge rushers; they were among the NFL's best pass-rushing units in 2013 and 2014, with edge rushers Mario Williams (a free agent signing) and Jerry Hughes (acquired via trade) leading the way.

But in a league built around quality passing on offense, and disrupting quality passers on defense, the Bills' inability to draft and develop not just a quarterback, but a pass rusher, is part of the reason that the team hasn't been able to end its playoff drought.

The Bills drafted Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, the NFL's all-time sack leader, with the first overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft. That was 31 years ago. Since drafting Smith, who averaged 10.5 sacks per season in his illustrious 19-year career, the Bills have drafted just three - yes, three - pass rushers who have averaged 5.0 sacks per season in their careers. Those names?

  • Phil Hansen: The 1991 second-round pick benefited from playing next to Smith for all but one of his 11 NFL seasons, averaged 5.6 sacks per season for his career.
  • Aaron Schobel: Clearly the best edge rusher the Bills have drafted in the last 30 years, averaging 8.7 sacks per year from 2001-09.
  • Marcell Dareus: The guy's not even an edge rusher, but he's averaged 6.1 sacks per season over his first five years, so we'll count this one in the Bills' favor.

As badly as the Bills need to draft a quarterback and develop him, their need for the same plan with a pass rusher - or, ideally, more than one of them - is a desperate one. That's especially true coming off of a 2015 campaign in which the Bills managed just 21 sacks as a team, the second-lowest total in the NFL, and the lowest total in franchise history since the stat became official in the strike-shortened 1982 season.