As much as we like to give credit to Buffalo’s scouting staff, the season outcomes indicate that the Bills could have done better in assembling a team to make a playoff run. Even Buffalo’s first round picks have had mixed results, not to speak of the middle round misses.
With the NFL Combine taking place this week, and ESPN talking heads Mel Kiper and Todd McShay preparing for extensive time in front of cameras, let’s test how well they would have drafted for the Buffalo Bills. We’ll compare their picks to Buffalo’s and decide who was smarter: you tell us if you agree!
Today, we’ll take a look at the 2010 draft, the first year under Buffalo’s recent front office structure. The 2010 Bills were about to experience a 4-12 season, the culmination of a talent vacuum over the past few years. They didn’t really have a quarterback (debating between Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t get you far), former star runner Marshawn Lynch was still on the roster, but was in the doghouse after some off-field trouble, and the defense severely lacked young stars not named Kyle Williams. The team needed an infusion of athletic ability in the worst way.
Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
Davis not only has as much upside as any player in the draft, but he plays a position the Bills simply must address. It's that simple. If Davis lives up to his potential, he could be a Pro Bowl left tackle for years to come. Even if he takes some time to develop, he's better than what the Bills have now. You can't truly evaluate a quarterback until you give him a chance, and Davis would be a good start.
The 6’5” 325 pound Davis never earned a Pro Bowl honor during his career, but he overcame questions about his drive to become a stalwart right tackle for the 49ers. He started 71 regular season games in his first five seasons, including four full seasons without a missed start. Davis retired in 2015 to let his “body and brain heal,” part of a slew of retirees from a dysfunctional 49ers organization. With another team, it’s unclear if Davis would still be playing today.
In their 2010 season, the Bills were playing Demetress Bell at left tackle and Cornell Green, Mansfield Wrotto, and Cordaro Howard at right tackle. Neither of the latter three played in a game beyond that 2010 season, and Bell was ditched after 2011. Even if Davis wasn’t quick enough to handle left tackle, he definitely would have fixed Buffalo’s right side compared with the disaster that did unfold.
Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa
There is a lot of talk about Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen at this spot, but we hear Clausen is not the quarterback the Bills are targeting. Bulaga might max out as a very good right tackle in the NFL, but he will bring a physical presence and be ready to start immediately.
Yes, if you recall, Jimmy Clausen was a hot name during the 2010 season. While Sam Bradford was QB1, there were many who felt convinced that Clausen or Florida legend Tim Tebow were the next best options. Bulaga was technically sound, but questions about his short arms and small hands had most people saying “right tackle,” which is where he ended up at Green Bay.
Like Davis, Bulaga would have solved the issue with Buffalo’s right side. He had more injury issues in his career, only starting 16 games in one of his six seasons, but he’s also still playing today. Bulaga was a second team All-Pro in the 2011 season.
CJ Spiller, RB, Clemson
Buffalo’s newly-minted general manager chose to go in a different direction with his eye-opening first pick. Spiller was considered the best running back in the draft, but this choice was deemed a luxury selection with Lynch and Fred Jackson on the roster. In fact, Jackson was coming off a season that would see his jersey enshrined in the Hall of Fame after he set a new record for all-purpose yards in a season.
Still, there was a certain rationale for making this selection - the Bills needed playmakers and athletic ability. This was a team that would end up filling its receiving corps with four undrafted free agents (and seventh round pick, Stevie Johnson, who had a breakout season). The tight ends combined for 23 receptions, 187 yards, and a touchdown. Spiller had a stellar college career as a Reggie Bush-esque playmaker for Clemson.
However, like Bush, Spiller had trouble when his career hit the pro game. Outside of a 2012 season where a perfect marriage of scheme and talent saw him rush for six yards per carry, Spiller never broke a thousand rushing yards in his career. He also failed to live up to his receiving potential, only breaking 300 receiving yards once (again, during that 2012 season). When his rookie contract expired, Spiller left for the New Orleans Saints, and he was cut a year after that signing.
1st place: Todd McShay
In this first head-to-head-to-head matchup, The feisty McShay comes out on top. It was close, but Bulaga comes out on top for having a longer career and a slightly better résumé.
2nd place: Mel Kiper
Kiper may have missed out on first place, but he still finishes ahead of Buffalo despite his player having retired two years ago. The five years that Davis played in San Francisco were more useful than Spiller’s entire seven year career to this point. That the 49ers were still hoping that Davis would unretire in the 2016 season and join the team speaks to the impact he had on that offense.
3rd place: Buddy Nix
It’s admirable that Nix would make an unorthodox move in the hopes of getting a dangerous playmaker to spark a lousy offense. But the lifetime scout should have paid attention to the platitudes they preach every year: Build from the inside out, and when you’re drafting to rebuild a franchise, start with cornerstone players who can handle the long haul. A running back should be the final piece to finish a rebuild (see: Dallas Cowboys), not the first one.