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Buffalo Bills NFL Draft Retrospective: 2014

New general manager Doug Whaley makes a big trade

In order to prepare for observing the Buffalo Bills’ 2019 rookie class during their first training camp, we thought it would be fun to look back at the past seven drafts of the Bills, as a sort of retrospective. Our goal: an examination of where the team found successes, where the it was led astray and a chance to remember some of the more forgotten players from the past nine years.

Next up we have the first draft where Doug Whaley was officially in control. The team once again was dealing with defensive scheme changes as Mike Pettine left to coach the Cleveland Browns. In came Jim Schwartz with his version of the 4-3 defense, with various wide-9 alignments thrown in. Meanwhile, Nathanial Hackett was still looking to develop sophomore quarterback EJ Manuel and Whaley was interested in providing him some offensive help.

Round 1
4th overall

WR Sammy Watkins

In a historic draft for wide-receiver prospects, Whaley infamously decided to trade up from the ninth overall pick, giving up first- and fourth-round selections in 2015 to the Browns in the process for the chance to select Watkins. Immediately becoming the team’s number-one option and dealing with a quarterback switch to Kyle Orton in Week 5, Watkins completed a promising rookie season by starting all 16 games and finishing with 65 catches for 982 yards and six touchdowns. Tyrod Taylor took the quarterback reins in the 2015 season, and Watkins was hampered by a pair of leg injuries that held down his production through the first seven games. Following the bye week, though, he began to come into his own with five 100-yard games in the second half of the season. Expected to finally make the jump into a dominant player during his third year, Watkins was shutdown after a Week 3 game against the New York Jets, and was forced to have foot surgery to correct a stress fracture that occurred during the offseason. Finally returning in Week 12, he started the next six games but only produced a single 100-yard game. A year later, he was traded to the St. Louis Rams for a second-round pick.

Verdict: Minor Miss

Like C.J. Spiller in 2010, Watkins was electric on the field, with elite athletic potential. Also like Spiller, his struggles to stay simultaneously healthy and his lack of consistently dominant production prevented him from being worthy of the fourth overall pick, let alone a first-round selection.

Round 2
44th overall

OT Cyrus Kouandjio

The reason Whaley traded the team’s 2015 first-round pick for Sammy Watkins was his desire to keep the 44th overall selection in order to find help at right tackle. Selecting Kouandjio out of Alabama, the rookie was given every opportunity to start his rookie season but was outplayed by both incumbent Erik Pears and Seantrel Henderson. Henderson ended up starting in 2014 and then beat out Kouandjio again in 2015. With Henderson dealing with the effects of Crohn’s disease in 2016, Kouandjio was given one last chance to become a starter at right tackle, but was instead beaten out by Jordan Mills. He did get a chance to start at left tackle a few times, with Cordy Glenn out due to injury, but by then it was too late. He was waived during the following offseason.

Verdict: Major Miss

There were various reports that knee problems would prevent Kouandjio from having a long career, so we’ll never know how much that may have effected his play. Regardless, getting only seven career starts out of a high second-round pick is not a good look.

Round 3
73rd overall

LB Preston Brown

Drafted to provide depth to the linebacking corps, Brown’s rookie training camp was impressive enough that he earned the nominal starting middle linebacker role, beating out Brandon Spikes. He would not relinquish his starting role for the next three seasons, where he would continue to lead the team in tackles, although he never overcame minor deficiencies in pass coverage. In the 2018 offseason, Bills’ brass decided they could procure better, or perhaps more affordable, services than Brown and let him go to the Cincinnati Bengals for a pittance.

Verdict: Minor Hit

The definition of solid-but-unspectacular, Brown missed only two starts in his four-year Bills career. That’s solid value for the third round, even if Brown didn’t make it past his rookie deal.

Round 4
109th overall

CB Ross Cockrell

A player with average traits but adequate size and experience, Cockrell looked like a worthy backup in Jim Schwartz’s defense his rookie year. In 2015, he proved unable to adapt to Rex Ryan’s scheme that relies on press-man corners, and was waived following a poor training camp and preseason.

Verdict: Minor Miss

Yet another victim of the team’s constant changing of defensive schemes, Cockrell was much too scheme-specific to weather the change to Rex Ryan’s preferred type of defense.

Round 5
153rd overall

OG Cyril Richardson

Richardson was a four-year starter at multiple positions on the Baylor offensive line, so the hope was that he would be able to quickly become a starting guard despite being drafted in the fifth round. He did manage to see time at left guard in four games during his rookie year, but his pass-protection skills left a lot to be desired. The addition of Richie Incognito sealed his fate the very next year, with the Bills waiving him in early September.

Verdict: Minor Miss

The pre-draft scouting reports proved prescient: Richardson’s lack of movement skills proved to be too much to overcome in his transition to the NFL from the Big 12.

Round 7
221st overall

LB Randell Johnson

An impressive athlete, especially for a player of his size, it was hoped that Johnson would carve out a nice role for himself as a special teamer and backup for multiple linebacking positions. His snap counts did increase between his rookie year and second year, but after Ramon Humber was picked up off of waivers during the 2015 offseason he lost his spot on the team and was waived following training camp.

Verdict: Minor Miss

Johnson is exactly the type of athletic prototype that you take a flier on in the seventh round. In this case, it didn’t work out for the team.

Round 7
237th overall

OT Seantrel Henderson

After testing positive for weed at the combine and failing to finish his pro day because he was “sick and dehydrated”—more on that later—Henderson was taken in the seventh round. He immediately wowed coach Doug Marrone in OTAs and earned the starting right tackle job over Cyrus Kouandjio in training camp. His rookie season was a disappointment however, as he was routinely abused in pass protection and graded out as one of the worst tackles by Pro Football Focus. The very next year, he again claimed the starting right tackle role and it even appeared that Henderson’s play was improving. However, after dealing with a concussion in Weeks 6-8, he was listed as out due to “illness” in Week 13. That illness turned out to be Crohn’s disease and it was something he would struggle with for the next two seasons, along with bans related to smoking weed to deal with the pain of the disease. After his rookie deal was up, he left the team in free agency to sign with the Houston Texans

Verdict: Minor Hit

Injuries are one thing, having a painful, debilitating gastrointestinal disease is somewhat different. He had a chance to become a long-term starter with the team, but unfortunately the disease went undiagnosed until his second year as an NFL player. Regardless, the Bills benefited from the 26 games Henderson started for the team when they had no better option.