If you weren’t sure what the Bills assessed as their areas of need, this year’s draft gave a strong indication.
In Thursday’s opening round it was quarterback as the Bills took Florida State’s EJ Manuel, only the second QB they’ve selected in six years ... seventh rounder Levi Brown in 2010 being the other.
Then, in Friday’s second and third rounds, Buffalo grabbed two wide receivers plus a linebacker.
And on Saturday, it was a pair of safeties, a strong-legged place-kicker and a tight end.
WITH THEIR opening pick on the draft’s final day, the Bills took a second player in three selections with a dubious character.
Buffalo’s fourth-round pick was Nevada safety Duke Williams.
At 5-foot-11, 203-pounds, he has cornerback speed (timed in the 4.4s) but projects as a strong safety.
Of his upside, the Pro Football Weekly Draft Preview says, “He has good cover skills and a 37 1/2 -inch vertical leap. Aggressive temperament, confident, competitive, tough and durable.”
But like Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had a couple of alcohol issues in college, Williams has his legal blemishes. He was arrested for illegal possession of alcohol, was with a teammate who was caught stealing, was suspended for a game after fighting a teammate who was hospitalized and was arrested for failure to appear on a parking ticket charge after a car accident.
Said PFW: “He has questionable character, accountability and trustworthiness (three suspensions). His upside might not be worth his maintenance fees.”
In a conference call with the Bills’ media, Willams said of his previous transgressions, “I went through some ups and downs through my college career ... earlier I had a few minor incidents that occurred. As soon as I (realized) that it wasn’t the right decision — I ended up getting suspended for three games — it’s just something you learn from as a person growing up.
“One thing about life is you learn from your mistakes ... I became a better person from those mistakes. It’s a great outcome.”
THE FIFTH ROUND brought another safety ... and a curious pick.
Jonathan Meeks, 6-0, 209 pounds, was ranked 34th of the 176 strong safeties assessed by one scouting service, wasn’t even invited to the Combine and wasn’t even previewed in PFW’s Draft Guide.
The failure to be invited to the Combine wan an insult to Meeks.
“It definitely was and still is,” he said via conference call. “They say the draft is definitely not the end; it’s the beginning and I haven't been able to express that the chip is still on my shoulder. Things happen for a reason so that’s just going to make me more hungry as a player and as a person.”
Of being drafted by the Bills, he added, “I feel like it will work well for me. We had a chance to go over some plays (during his visit to Orchard Park). I just fell in love with the defense within one day and coach as well. The things they were showing me that I would be able to do, I knew as a player that I could perform really well for the Bills and I want to do that.”
Buffalo’s sixth-round pick was a redux of last year’s seventh-rounder, Western Michigan place-kicker John Potter who the Bills hoped could improve touchbacks on kickoffs, but didn’t
Yesterday it was Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins, a 6-foot-2, 193-pounder.
He owns the NCAA record for career points by a kicker (466) and never had a kick blocked in his collegiate career.
Said PFW: “He had record-setting career production and excellent leg strength ... 80-yard range on kickoffs and 60 yards on field goals. He has experience in big games, is confident and mentally tough.”
On the negative side, it added, “He has a thin build and most of his games were played in the kicker-friendly southeastern climate.”
In summation, Pro Football Weekly concluded, “He’s an experienced, poised, confident, productive kicker with the pedigree, leg strength and polish to compete for a job. Kickoff ability increases his value.”
Hopkins joins Manuel and four other Florida State players on the Bills’ roster: linebacker Nigel Bradham, punter/holder Shawn Powell, long-snapper Garrison Sanborn and offensive tackle Zerbie Sanders.
“I was blessed to have Shawn hold for me for three years and I’m aware of how talented he is, not only in punting but also holding, so I’m excited in that aspect,” Hopkins said. “And obviously to have EJ (on the roster), he’s a great friend of mine. We have so many guys up there. Shoot, it’s going to be like, not a college locker room all over again, but it’s going to be good to see friends.”
Of having his college holder, Hopkins added, “It’s a lot of comfort. Just having somebody who knows, not only your work ethic, but also your practice schedule, the way you like the ball held and also just off the field.”
As for kicking in Buffalo weather, he added, “It’s definitely going to be a change. I’ve kicked in some cold weather before in some of our games when we’ve traveled but never at home.
“It’s going to take adjusting to it but at the same time I think when you know how to kick, and you grow up doing it your whole life, you make a couple adjustments and you go with the flow. I’m confident in what I can do.”
IN THE seventh round, the Bills, with starter Scott Chandler recovering from knee surgery, opted for Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg, projected to go in the third or fourth round.
Gragg, 6-foot-3, 244 pounds, missed half of last season with a bone bruise.
Pro Football Weekly, in assessing the positives, noted: “He produced an explosive combine workout posting the top (tight end) 40 time (4.46) and vertical jump (37 1/2 inches). Outstanding hand-eye coordination.”
In summation, it said, “He’s a converted receiver who looks like an athletic small forward playing the ball in the air and can become a legitimate receiving threat if he can stay healthy. Medical evaluations and long-term durability could affect his standing.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)