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What conclusions do we draw from Bills’ aggressive draft?

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Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014 1:08 am

ORCHARD PARK — So what do we make of the Bills’ draft?

Clearly, to use the words of President/CEO Russ Brandon, it was “bold and aggressive.”

Which is true.

Five trades in three days, including the first-round stunner that brought wide receiver Sammy Watkins to Buffalo, could be described no other way.

And here’s what’s interesting.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a single Bills’ fan who doesn’t think that deal was too expensive — though part of the price was quickly recouped — but most of them weren’t overly critical ... or angry.

Their concern over the price of the trade to move up a mere five spots and take the draft’s top-rated wideout was seemingly offset by the acquisition of a consensus elite offensive weapon and the idea that the Bills were an actual mover and shaker in this year’s lottery.

Oh, it cost a first- and fourth-round draft pick in 2015 to achieve that notoriety but, within 18 hours, Buffalo had been repaid part of that price.

Of course, it was hard not to connect some dots.

With the death of owner Ralph Wilson in March, the team almost immediately went up for sale and, before the next draft,  will almost certainly be under new ownership.

Thus, there’s no certainty Brandon, general manager Doug Whaley and, for that matter, coach Doug Marrone and his staff, will have jobs.

When asked if that reality was a factor in Buffalo’s proactive approach to this year’s draft , Brandon maintained, “I’m not worried about anything relative to the sale of the franchise when it comes to the football operation.”

Fair enough, but what did you expect him to say ... “Frankly, we’re terrified of losing our jobs if we don’t make the playoffs”

But clearly, their best ticket to job security is for the Bills to end their 14-year absence from the post-season.

IN ALL, Buffalo swung five trades in the draft’s three days and that was after it sent a sixth-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for  wide receiver Mike Williams last month.

They did give up a first rounder in the Watkins deal, but they bought back a fourth-round choice from San Francisco by sending wide receiver Stevie Johnson,  whose welcome had been worn out by immaturity and inconsistent production, to the 49ers. Had he not been dealt, Buffalo might well have opted to cut him at the end of training camp if there was no buyer.

The next day, the Bills sent that fourth-rounder to Philadelphia for running back Bryce Brown, a bit of a quizzical move though incumbents C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are in the last year of their contracts.

The Bills’ other two trades were for position, going down to get extra picks.

They traded places with St. Louis in Round 2 to acquire a fifth-rounder. 

And, finally, Buffalo sent its second fifth-round pick to the Buccaneers for Tampa Bay’s fifth-rounder in 2015 and an extra seventh rounder on Saturday.

Next season, Buffalo will have a second, third (possibly two), two fifths, a six and seventh. If Johnson meets certain production quotas for the 49ers, they get a third, in which case Philadelphia’s fourth-rounder will be used in 2016. If he doesn’t, the Eagles get the fourth rounder next spring.

SO WHAT ABOUT the Bills’ draft?

Experts concur that Watkins was the best wide receiver available, but the price Buffalo paid, in a strong year for wideouts, is worth questioning.

Why?

After the selection, Whaley was asked what separated Watkins from the other top players at his position.

He responded, “I wouldn’t say there was that much. Obviously, there’s a difference and that’s why we coveted Sammy. Not to give any particulars ... there wasn’t that much of a difference.”

Then why spend a first and a fourth to get him?

Still, he’s a high-quality weapon and is as close to a “can’t miss” pass-catcher as you can get.

The rest of the draft?

Assessing it a day or two afterward is sheer folly, but there are measurables.

Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, 6-foot-7, 322 pounds, whom the Bills took in the second round with the 44th pick from St. Louis had a first-round grade from most scouting services.

Conversely, Louisville linebacker Preston Brown (6-1, 251), taken in the third round at No. 73, was pegged for the fifth or sixth round.

Fourth rounder Ross Cockrell (6-0, 191), the cornerback from Duke, went exactly where he was predicted.

And, in Round 5, Baylor guard Cyril Richardson (6-5 329), rated third-best in the draft at his position, was graded as a second-rounder.

In the seventh round, Florida Atlantic outside linebacker Randell Johnson (6-3, 242), taken at 221, wasn’t listed in the Top 23 at his position by Lindy’s Draft assessment.

And finally, Miami tackle Seantrel Henderson (6-7, 331) was ranked as a fourth- or fifth-rounder based on ability but the asterisk of three positive marijuana tests (two at Miami, one at the Combine)  caused him to become a “here’s your last chance” selection by the Bills at the 237th spot.

ONE CERTAINTY is, the Bills have had some Draft Day success with deals.

Last season, they traded down in the first round with St. Louis, got the quarterback they wanted (EJ Manuel) plus, with the second-round pick got from the Rams, took linebacker Kiko Alonso, one of that lottery’s most productive players.

Indeed, had the NFL known, he most surely would have gone in the Top 10, rather than at No. 46.

But, this is a new year and, after a mere 10 starts, some Bills’ fans are ready to bail on Manuel.

It’s an absurd posture.

Yet, that said, the immediate future of Watkins, Brandon, Whaley, Marrone and his staff, aren’t so much dependent on this year’s draft, but rather whether they were right about Manuel in 2013.

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

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