ORCHARD PARK — Maybe it’s because the NFL draft is two weeks later than usual.
Or maybe it’s nothing more than its growing mystique and the way it grabs fans’ attention.
Whatever the reason, the number of mock drafts, the amount of speculation, the volume of TV and radio time and newspaper space dedicated to this year’s 79th annual lottery seems to be at an all-time high.
And you’re facing four more days of it until eight o’clock Thursday night when the National Football League conducts Round 1. Rounds 2 and 3 are Friday evening with the final four rounds set for Saturday afternoon.
But it’s the opening round that mesmerizes fans and with the Bills owning the ninth overall pick, Buffalo has been part of all manner of projections and prognostications.
AND WHEN the Bills held their pre-draft luncheon a week ago, general manager Doug Whaley wasn’t averse to joking about such speculation.
“It’s finally one time where we can use you (media) guys to our advantage,” he admitted with a laugh. “There are things that you put out there to see if someone bites and there are some things you put out there that are true. You have people read between the lines and you don'’ want to show your hand. I’m sure everyone is doing the same thing.”
Thus Whaley, who has said Buffalo won’t draft a quarterback with any of its six picks this year — the sixth-rounder went to Tampa Bay for wide receiver Mike Williams — was asked why the press should believe him.
“I’ve been vocal about it,” admitted Whaley, at 41 the NFL’s fourth youngest GM and one of five African-Americans to currently hold that position in the league. “Will it happen? I will always say to you guys to never say never. We don’t plan on it.
“But there are a lot of things that can go down where we may be staring at a guy (who) is the best person for us ... and it may be a quarterback.”
He added, “The way we set up the roster this offseason, we’re able to go after the best player available ... the best player we think can help the Bills get to the playoffs.”
WHALEY didn’t take over his current duties until last May, after the draft, which, though he had major input, was still conducted by then-GM Buddy Nix.
Thus, it’s the first under his name.
“ I don’t look at it that way,” Whaley said. “I look at it as the Buffalo Bills draft. The scouts and everybody in this building has helped us and will help us pick the right players. I don’t say it’s my draft, it’s not the coach’s draft, it’s the Buffalo Bills draft. I’m going to lean on my wise council around me. That’s the only way I know how to do it.
He learned it in 11 years as Pro Scouting Director for the Steelers and the lesson won’t be affected by the Bills’ soon-to-change ownership following the death of franchise founder Ralph Wilson.
“ It’s just like anything in life, you lean on your experience (it’s) the best teacher,” Whaley said of his responsibilities. “Fortunately I’ve been involved in drafts that have built world championship teams (in Pittsburgh), and that’s what I’m going to lean on, and on guys around me to give the information for us to make the best decision to build a championship team here.”
He added, “Every year we’re out to win as many games as possible, and to make the playoffs. So the ownership issue does not factor into what we do day-to-day. Our issue is making the playoffs. It’s a results-based business.
“This draft is critical for us to add more pieces to get us over the hump. Everybody from top to bottom in this organization sees that this draft is important to take that next step.”
WHAT ABOUT the increasingly loud rumors the Bills want to move up in the draft?
“We’re going to keep every option open,” Whaley maintained. “Why would I back myself into a corner and say no we’re going to stay here or move down or move up? You never know what’s going to come across your desk or on your phone. One of the early lessons I learned was don’t say no until you hear what’s being offered to you.
“It's got to be a right deal and it has to be a calculated deal that’s beneficial to us and the other team. It’s going to take two to tango to get to a trade.”
He conceded, “Everybody says you should trade down and that’s great, but if nobody wants to trade with you, you can’t do it. So we’ll sit down and say, ‘Does this make sense? Does this make us a better team? Does this get us to the playoffs?’ If it does and we’re all on board, because it’s a team effort, we’ll do it.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)