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Draft gives Bills fans plenty to talk about

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Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013 9:32 am

ORCHARD PARK — The emails started filtering in even before the first round was over.

“What were they thinking ...?”

“They could have gotten EJ Manuel in the third round...”

“How could they pass on Nassib?”

My inbox didn’t contain many endorsements of the Bills’ first-round draft pick on Thursday night.

But my theory has always been that readers are faster to communicate their annoyance than they are their delight.

I was fine with Buffalo’s selection of the Florida State quarterback ... the only player at that position in the first 38 picks.

Could it be a mistake?

Quarterbacks taken in the early rounds of the NFL draft only have about a 50 percent success rate of becoming reliable starters.

But, full disclosure, I was a member of the ABN Club ... that is to say, anybody but Nassib.

I was also down on West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who had more red flags than a Georgia home football game.

And USC’s Matt Barkley ... how does a guy who would have been a sure first-rounder last year become the 98th overall pick in 2013?

Fans were sure Nassib, new Bills’ coach Doug Marrone’s quarterback at Syracuse, was a lock for Buffalo. Instead he fell to the Giants in the fourth round, the 110th overall pick and fifth QB chosen.

Admittedly, Pro Football Weekly said Nassib had “Pro Bowl potential,” so the Bills could have made a mistake.

But Marrone had that guy for four years ... saw him every day. And after the Senior Bowl, the Combine, a private workout and a visit to Orchard Park, obviously Manuel emerged as the better choice.

Buffalo could have had any QB at No. 16 and chose Manuel ... despite Nassib’s seeming edge of  familiarity with the Bills’ coach and the offense he will install.

THE “EXPERTS” weren’t thrilled with the pick.

ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper and NFL-TV’s Mike Mayock all panned the pick, saying the Bills could have gotten Manuel much later.

But there’s a saying that if you target a player ... take him, don’t assume he’ll be there in the next round.

There’s also another factor at work.

McShay, Kiper and Mayock are college football talent evaluators. Their Super Bowl is the draft. If a team’s choice doesn’t agree with their assessments, from sheer hubris, they’ll pan the pick.

The one opinion I do respect was that of former Bills’ general manager Bill Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year, who analyzed the draft for ESPN.

His criticism was that Buffalo might have gotten Manuel a round later, as he’s still a bit of a project.

KIPER graded Buffalo’s draft a C-minus, lowest of any NFL team.

But, to me, there’s plenty to be excited about.

The two wide receivers selected — USC’s Robert Woods, second round; Texas’ Marquise Goodwin — are high-speed field-stretchers.

Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins is arguably college football’s best place-kicker and seventh-rounder, Chris Gragg, the tight end from Arkansas, was a steal.

A former wide receiver, his senior season was sabotaged by injury but at the Combine he had both the fastest 40 time (4.46) and highest vertical jump (37 1/2 inches) among tight ends.  He was projected as a second- or third-rounder.

BUFFALO’S other picks were Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso with its second choice in Round 2 and safeties Duke Williams of Nevada and Jonathan Meeks, back-to-back, in rounds four and five, respectively.

My issue with Alonso and Williams is that they have character issues, the former with alcohol, the latter in several areas.

Still, there’s the reality that football is a violent game heavily populated by tough guys, some of them of dubious moral standards.

That said, both their transgressions were well-known and you’d hope the Bills did their due diligence to satisfy such significant concerns.

After the draft, general manager Buddy Nix fielded that very question.

“We did every bit of the work we could do on these guys and we did not decide to take him until we felt good about it,” he said. “Duke was a younger guy. He had (no) sense. Most of it was like a lot of things ... bad judgment. One of them was underage possession of beer. Anybody here ever done that?

“Football means a lot to him.  When you start to take something away from them that’s important as football they straighten up.  The last couple of years he has been a model citizen and a good player.”

He added, “We do our work. We think they’re OK ... we think we can handle whatever problems (if they occur).”

Fair enough.

The Bills needed two safeties in the draft as insurance in case they can’t re-sign Jairus Byrd.

And Alonso got a ringing endorsement from Stanford coach David Shaw, who faced the linebacker four times, and predicted, “You’ll see him in Hawaii (Pro Bowl) in three years.”

NIX COULD be dead wrong about the Bills’ picks.

And Kiper could be right on about Buffalo having a below average draft.

But the Bills are a team that did absolutely nothing this off-season — with the possible exception of signing injury-prone, but still-promising QB Kevin Kolb — to excite fans chafing over 13 straight seasons of missing the playoffs.

Even the hiring of Marrone didn’t get their juices flowing ... though they’re willing to give him a chance.

What’s certain is, the draft and the addition of eight new faces — thanks to a well-crafted first-round trade with St. Louis that gained two picks — have a way of injecting some enthusiasm.

And the Buffalo faithful are entitled to that ... at least until training camp starts.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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