We’re resuming our look at ESPN’s drafting prowess by looking at Buffalo’s infamous 2013 draft class. 2013 was, in retrospect, one of the weakest rookie crops of the century, seeing a very high bust rate across the league. Buffalo fared no better. EJ Manuel was the first time the Bills used their first pick on a quarterback, and he failed to develop into a decent starter during his first four years in the league. Robert Woods has had the best career to this date, but he has been the prototypical mediocre starter, averaging 50 catches, 600 yards, and 3 touchdowns per season. Kiko Alonso was traded after tearing his ACL in year two, and the other players failed to claim a useful role in Buffalo before the end of their contract tenures.
This seems like a pretty low bar to clear. Can ESPN’s best do it? After examining the first three years, Todd McShay is up 2-0-1 over the others.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
For starters, I think there's a good chance Buffalo trades out of this pick. That said, the Bills are really close to having an offensive line they think is good at every position, but the departure of Andy Levitre means that can't happen unless they plug the hole at left guard. In Cooper you get the best guard I've graded in years, a player who can play a Pro Bowl level as a rookie. I know the Ryan Nassib talk persists, but it's simply too early to make that move.
Kudos to Kiper for correctly predicting Buffalo’s eventual trade down. This analysis also speaks to the complete uncertainty of the NFL Draft. The consensus suggested that Cooper was a rare difference-maker as an offensive guard, someone who ended up picked in the top ten of the NFL draft. He broke his tibia and lost his entire rookie year, then failed to distinguish himself beyond that. He was eventually traded as a throw-in piece when the Patriots sent Chandler Jones to Arizona, then found himself on the waiver wire before long. He’s played in 29 games, starting only 14 of those.
Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
While we’re on the subject of the uncertainty in the NFL Draft, if you’d like a laugh, go search through my old comment history and find my vehement defenses of Ryan Nassib, even as recently as a year ago. Nassib is still nominally an “incomplete” grade, having played as the backup to Eli Manning since the start of his career, but in the NFL’s quarterback-hungry market, if he hasn’t already signed a contract or been traded for a major return, he hasn’t succeeded.
That Nassib was being projected as a possible first round pick before eventually falling to round four speaks to how unpredictable 2013 was. The quarterback situation was lousy, but teams needed new quarterbacks. Nassib had some solid tape and was coached by Buffalo’s new head coach, and those connections had him slotted to the team for months.
His career is completely a non-factor to this point, thanks to Manning’s durability. He’s seen action in 5 career games, completing nine of ten passes with one touchdown.
Buddy Nix (and Doug Whaley)
EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
We have spilled so much ink on the subject of EJ Manuel’s career. I won’t add too much more to the pile. Manuel was seen as a project after starting two-and-two-half seasons for the Seminoles, oozing with size and athleticism but lacking the fundamental passing skills. His career arc didn’t treat him with kid gloves, thanks to Kevin Kolb’s abrupt career ending, and Manuel quickly fell out of favor with multiple coaching staffs. He began his career as a starter, and ended his Bills tenure as the fourth down hard count specialist. He started 17 games in his career, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
1st place: Buddy Nix (and Doug Whaley)
If you knew me, and you knew how I felt about EJ Manuel as a prospect and as a Buffalo Bills quarterback, you may have thought that the Bills would get a lousy grade for this pick. And they do! But something had to rise to the top, and Cooper and Nassib have clearly had worse careers than Manuel today.
2nd place: Mel Kiper
Jonathan Cooper is a certifiable first round bust. Still, he’s started some games in the NFL, which makes him win by default over Nassib.
3rd place: Todd McShay
You could possibly make the argument that Nassib, as a fourth round pick, has just about met expectations as his team’s reliable benchwarmer, while Manuel and Cooper played below expectations as busts. Don’t be. That Nassib was being mocked in the first round means he is, in his own way, a failure of the draft process.