ORCHARD PARK — One of the favorite pastimes of National Football League junkies is speculating who their favorite team will take in the draft.
And this off-season, that projection has been complicated for the Bills who have the ninth overall pick a week from Thursday.
When last season ended for Buffalo, its needs were obvious.
This team was desperate for a couple of linebackers, a No. 1 wide receiver — no matter how Stevie Johnson views himself — another cornerback, an offensive guard, some coverage help on special teams, and maybe an impact tight end and a right tackle.
But, alas, starting two months before the draft, the Bills addressed most of those needs in free agency or via trade— Buffalo signed linebackers Brandon Spikes (New England) and Keith Rivers (N.Y. Giants), cornerback and special teams star Corey Graham (Baltimore), a Buffalo native, and guard Chris Williams (Rams).
The Bills sent a sixth-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for wide receiver Mike Williams, another native Buffalonian, who had great numbers but also a distressing number of brushes with the law.
He was arrested for criminal mischief and trespassing for breaking down a door at his girlfriend’s home, was sued for doing $43,000 in damage to a home he was renting, then not paying the reimbursement on time, and, this past off-season, was stabbed in the thigh by his brother during an altercation. And that’s only a partial list.
Still, the Bills opted to give him yet another chance after he averaged 65 catches, 910 yards and seven touchdowns his first three full seasons in the NFL.
Last year, Williams played only six games due to injury.
NATURALLY, during last week’s pre-draft luncheon in the Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse media room, Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley was asked about the trade for Williams and whether that had changed the Bills’ first round draft plans in a year where there are three wideouts with first-round grades (Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, USC’s Marquise Lee and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans), the former two expected to go in the Top 10.
“We’re very excited about the receivers we have on campus right now,” Whaley maintained. “(But) we’re set up, if a guy is there with our pick — whenever that pick is be it one, eight, nine or 20 — if he's the guy we think can get us to the playoffs, there's nothing that will preclude us from taking (him).”
So why Williams?
“The decision was simple,” Whaley said. “Tampa Bay called and asked if we would have interest. I talked to Coach (Doug Marrone), Russ (Brandon, President) and Jim (Monos, Director of Player Personnel) and we said for a sixth-round pick, with our roster now, a sixth-round pick is going to have a hard time making our team. Most likely he’d be a practice squad guy at best.
“Can we get a player the caliber of Mike Williams in the sixth round? We didn’t think so. We thought it was a no-brainer for us to make the deal.”
But Whaley quickly added, “This does not preclude us from taking a wide receiver and it doesn’t preclude us from doing anything else. It’s just another weapon that we gave EJ (Manuel, second-year quarterback), another piece of the puzzle that will help get us to where we need to go.”
What about Williams’ off-field baggage?
“We did a lot (of background research), but we do a lot on every player,” Whaley explained. “Everybody we look at, we send out to the league to see where he is. Obviously we had a tremendous amount of information and background with him being at Syracuse with Coach (Marrone) and I have a lot of friends in Tampa.
“I called them ... you do your due diligence. But he’s not the only one you do your due diligence on ... you do that with every player in the draft and any player that we decide to bring in or even look at.”
And, it could be speculated that the Bills merely used the deal as a relatively inexpensive message to Johnson.
Of course, there could be one for both of them should the Bills choose to draft a wide receiver in the first round.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)