Today we’re continuing our look into ESPN’s draft predictions with an examination of the 2011 and 2012 Bills drafts. Unlike the first article, there isn’t much to debate about who made the better choices this time around.
The 2010 Bills season saw some truly dreadful play on all sides of the ball. Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson, and Kyle Williams were the bright spots, but the Bills still had no franchise quarterback, their pass rushing depth was thin enough that they were counting on a way-past-his-prime Shawne Merriman, and they had the worst rushing defense in the league. When the NFL draft rolled around, Buffalo’s selection wasn’t very much of a secret:
Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
While Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, and other names were projected to Buffalo at different times of the offseason, both prognosticators eventually settled on the eventual choice for the Bills: Marcell Dareus.
Thus, the 2011 draft comes out to a tie.
Was Dareus the right call, in the end? Perhaps. Dareus has given Buffalo a few years of nearly-elite defensive tackle play, but he keeps sabotaging his career with immature actions off the field. The team arguably would have been better served with AJ Green, Patrick Peterson, or Julio Jones on the roster. But that’s a story for another day.
Year two of the Chan Gailey experiment elapsed in a slightly better fashion than the previous season’s disaster. Ryan Fitzpatrick had an excellent start to the season, earning a major contract extension, but the defense was still a problem and the offense was missing key pieces. Stevie Johnson was the only pass catching threat, and Demetress Bell had proved not to be the answer at left tackle. Luckily, Erik Pears managed to stabilize the right side for a time.
During the offseason, the Bills made a massive splash, signing Mario Williams to the largest defensive contract ever. They also added Mark Anderson as the other bookend, and found Nick Barnett to lead their linebacking corps.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Bills and general manager Buddy Nix are unpredictable. They could go offensive line, take the best pass-rusher available or even go with a wide receiver here. But Gilmore can also fill a role.
For the second year in a row, Kiper was locked-in with Buffalo’s eventual selection. The team was investigating offensive tackles, cornerbacks, quarterbacks, and safeties, and ultimately went with the lengthy Gilmore over Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Kuechly was an incredibly athletic linebacker packed into a 6’2” 242 pound frame. He was a unanimous All-American for his final two college seasons and managed to set the ACC record for career tackles accumulated - after only three seasons. As a junior, he won the Butkus award (as the nation’s best linebacker), the Lombardi award (as the best lineman/linebacker), and the Bronco Nagurski award (best defensive player).
Why did he fall to the ninth pick? Positional value and needs are one reason. Another was likely the stigma from the last “can’t-miss” linebacker to come through the draft: Aaron Curry, who had just been traded for a seventh-round pick during the 2011 season.
Of course, Kuechly would go on to play to the same level of dominance from Boston College once he entered the pros. He has been a three-time first-team All-Pro, was the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s currently dealing with concussion-related trauma, but has had an incredible impact to this point in his career.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Gilmore has had an up and down career with the Bills, but his performance should be considered “good” for a first round draft pick. He can hold his own on one side of the field with minimal safety help, and had two great seasons in 2015 (three interceptions and 18 passes defended) and 2016 (five interceptions, 13 passes defended, and a Pro Bowl alternate selection). The Bills have let him play through his full rookie contract, and he’s about to cash in with a big deal as a free agent.
Gilmore wasn’t a wasted pick by any means. 2012 had a good cornerback class, and Gilmore has played at or just below the level of Janoris Jenkins and Josh Norman, the most successful corners from that group.
1st place: Todd McShay
This choice is no contest, not to disparage Gilmore’s abilities. Had the Bills drafted Kuechly, they’d have had an incredible linebacker in the middle of their defense - dare I say it, possibly someone capable of making Dave Wannstedt’s ancient scheme workable.
Nah, probably not. That’s just impossible.
But as good as Gilmore has been for Buffalo, Kuechly is two tiers above that level.
2nd place (tie): Mel Kiper, Buddy Nix
That said, you can argue that McShay loses some credit because the Bills weren’t in a position to draft Kuechly in the first place. Gilmore was a fine first round pick, which the Bills followed up on with an even better second round pick in Cordy Glenn. After a lousy first draft, Buddy Nix looked like he was getting the hang of things in year three.