Of course, those were all first-round picks. They’re supposed to be good. How about guys taken just a step behind them? Here’s a look at a roster comprised of picks in the second and third rounds, which make up the second day of the modern NFL Draft.
Joe Ferguson, 1973 (3-57)
As much as I would have loved to put Frank Reich under center for this team, he only started eight regular season games for the Bills. Trent Edwards and Todd Collins could never quite make the Bills “their team,” so Ferguson wins this one by default. Ferguson spent twelve seasons as the Bills’ starter, at first largely serving as a conduit to hand the ball to O.J. Simpson but eventually making the team his own. He led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1975 with 25, and topped the league in passing yards two years later with 2,803. Unfortunately, he finished his Bills tenure with a 77-86 record and only one playoff win (which, yes, I know we’d gladly take now). He bounced around the league before bowing out after a final game with the Colts in 1990 at age 40.
Thurman Thomas, 1988 (2-40)
Joe Cribbs, 1980 (2-29)
Thurman is the first of two Hall of Famers to make this roster. The eighth running back off the board ran for 12,074 yards and 65 touchdowns between 1988 and 2000, with all but 136 of those yards coming with the Bills. He also caught 472 passes for 4,458 yards and 23 receiving touchdowns in his career. He led the league in yards from scrimmage four straight seasons, including his MVP campaign in 1991.
Cribbs, an Alabama native who left the team in 1984 to play for the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL, never liked playing in Buffalo. Still, he made three Pro Bowls in the early part of the 80’s as a dangerous dual-threat running back. After rushing for 11 touchdowns as a rookie, Cribbs caught seven scores in ‘81 and ‘83. In the strike year of 1982, Cribbs led the NFL with 90.4 rushing yards per game. He returned to the Bills for an abbreviated year in 1985 before bouncing around the league as a backup.
Peerless Price, 1999 (2-53)
Robert Woods, 2013 (2-41)
Price is the career leader in the major receiving categories among these players by a significant margin, having caught 403 passes for 5,281 yards and 31 touchdowns in a nine-year career. He caught at least 52 passes in four straight seasons, highlighted by a monster 94-1,252-9 season in 2002 that led the Bills to slap the franchise tag on him and ultimately trade him for a first round pick. He didn’t quite pan out with the Falcons, however, and after a layover with the Cowboys he returned to Buffalo in 2006 with a decent 49-402-3 season. He retired at age 31 after a neck injury cut his 2007 season short.
There were a few contenders for the second spot, including second rounders Josh Reed (2002) and Chris Burkett (1985). Woods, however, had several stretched where he capably played the part of a number one receiver, and was at the very least a solid second option who could block with the best of them. He signed a five-year, $39 million deal with his hometown Rams this offseason after four seasons with the Bills.
Lonnie Johnson, 1994 (2-61)
The Bills haven’t had much luck drafting tight ends in the middle rounds over the years. 2005 third-rounder Kevin Everett was a promising prospect before his tragic accident in the 2007 opener that left him paralyzed. The team has drafted five other tight ends in this range, with only 1980 third rounder Mark Brammer being anywhere as close to productive as Johnson. Since Johnson was a fairly productive starter for four seasons and Brammer...wasn’t...Johnson gets the nod here.
OT Joe Devlin, 1976 (2-52)
OT Ken Jones, 1976 (2-45)
G Billy Shaw, 1961 (2-11)
G Reggie McKenzie, 1972 (2-27)
C Bruce Jarvis, 1971 (3-53)
Devlin was an absolute workhorse at left tackle. While he never received a whole lot of recognition for his play, he started every game for the Bills from 1977 to 1989, with all but the final season coming at right tackle. He helped pave the way for everybody from O.J. Simpson to Thurman Thomas. His bookend was Jones, selected seven spots earlier in the same draft. After playing at defensive end in his rookie year, Jones took hold of the starting left tackle job in 1978 and didn’t let go until 1986. Cordy Glenn will eventually surpass him, but at this point Jones deserves this spot.
Shaw is the second player on this team with a bust in Canton, notable as the only Pro Football Hall of Famer who never played in the NFL (he retired in 1969, the year before the merger). Shaw was a Pro Bowler in every season except his first, and was an AFL All Pro for five straight seasons, including the Bills’ AFL Championship years of 1964 and 1965. McKenzie only made one All Pro team, as a part of the Electric Company line that helped Simpson run for 2,003 yards in 1973, but he earned a starting job as a rookie and didn’t let it go until the end of the strike season of 1982. He finished his career with two solid seasons for the Seahawks.
The Bills have only drafted two centers in this range, Jarvis and Leonard Burton in 1986. Both spent four years with the Bills, but only Jarvis ever served as the primary center, so the spot is his.
DE Aaron Schobel, 2001 (2-46)
DE Phil Hansen, 1991 (2-54)
DT Fred Smerlas, 1979 (2-32)
DT Jim Dunaway, 1963 (2-9)
Unlike the first round group, this team will feature a four-man front. Schobel never appeared in a playoff game, but he recorded 78 sacks in his nine seasons with the Bills. The two-time Pro Bowler topped ten sacks four times, with a career high of 14 in 2006, and was the team’s best player for a stretch near the end of his career. Hansen, on the other hand, played in the shadow of Bruce Smith for much of his career (some might say to his great advantage), but he managed to pile up 61.5 sacks in an 11-year career that was good enough to get his name on the Wall of Fame. His first career interception in his penultimate game to seal a win over the Jets was a memorable stamp on an entirely forgettable 3-13 season in 2001.
Dunaway also played alongside a highly-regarded player, in this case Tom Sestak. Unlike Hansen, however, Dunaway earned plenty of recognition for his play, garnering four Pro Bowl invites and an AFL All Pro nod in 1966. Dunaway rounded out his career in 1972 as a spot starter on the 17-0 Miami Dolphins. Smerlas, the hard-nosed centerpiece of the Bermuda Triangle defense of the early 80’s, made five Pro Bowls and earned an All Pro nod in the 1982 strike season. While he left the Bills prior to their Super Bowl run, he bridged the gap from the 70’s and helped Bruce Smith off to a strong start in his Hall of Fame career.
Darryl Talley, 1983 (2-39)
Paul Posluszny, 2007 (2-34)
Sam Rogers, 1994 (2-64)
The first name on this list is a no-brainer. The Bills’ third pick in the 1983 NFL Draft played on the Bills for 12 seasons, right through the final Super Bowl run in 1994. He only made two Pro Bowls, but topped 100 tackles five times, recorded five or more sacks three times, and even intercepted five passes during the 1991 season. The second name was just as easy to pin down, even though Poz left for Jacksonville after the 2010 season. Despite only making the Pro Bowl once, he ranks third in career solo tackles among active players. The final spot was a bit harder to pin down. Eugene Marve and Sam Cowart were both considered, but Rogers was a five-year starter in the late 90’s that stuck around a bit longer than Cowart did.
CB Nate Odomes, 1987 (2-29)
CB Ronald Darby, 2015 (2-50)
S Jairus Byrd, 2009 (2-42)
S Aaron Williams, 2011 (2-34)
Yes, seriously. Ronald Darby, he of the 29 career games played, is the second cornerback on this team. The spot came down to him and 2006 third rounder Ashton Youboty, who played five seasons with the Bills primarily as a spot starter and nickel corner. Darby has been on the edge from Day 1, which gives him the roster spot. He sits behind Odomes, who was the primary corner in the Super Bowl era and led the NFL with nine interceptions in his final season with the Bills in 1993.
You know who else led the NFL with nine interceptions? Jairus Byrd, in his Pro Bowl rookie campaign of 2009. His play tailed off a bit over the next four seasons, but it was still strong enough to earn him a reputation as one of the better free safeties in the league (as well as two more Pro Bowl nods). Byrd earned the franchise tag for the 2013 season, but held out for most of the offseason and didn’t make his first appearance until Week 6. He moved on to the Saints after that year, but failed to live up to a six-year, $54 million deal and was cut this offseason. He’s still a free agent...as is Williams, who was released by the Bills after a series of neck injuries that kept him on the shelf for most of the last two seasons. After starting his career as a slot corner, Williams took Byrd’s spot at safety in 2014. While he lacked Byrd’s ballhawking ability, he was a surefire tackler who notched 75 takedowns in 14 games that year. His first neck injury came in Week 2 of the 2015 season against the Patriots and was aggravated a few games later. He returned in 2016, but a cheap shot from Miami’s Jarvis Landry put him back on the bench until the Bills cut him loose. He’s still looking for a job for next season.