Tony's Bills' Draft Review - Grade A-
by Anthony D. Macari @nflwarroom
The Bills entered the draft with multiple needs and none were bigger than finding a QB prospect worthy in investing the time and money needed to try to develop into a franchise QB. In a draft without a clear cut number one QB and with as many questions as answers in all of the top prospects at the position, the Bills still went forward with their plan after a trade down that helped lower the risk and added picks to address some of those other needs.
This Bills draft did not look like any of their most recent drafts. They took calculated risks on a few players who have some off the field baggage. They also selected players from conferences outside the southern comfort zone. Adding team speed is a key to running the Marrone/Hackett O and Pettine's D. They want to create multiple mismatches on O and attack downhill on D. The Bills added playmakers on both sides of the ball. 5 of the Bills picks were among fastest at their position at the combine: Manuel was the 2nd fastest QB with a 4.65, Goodwin was not only the fastest WR but was the fastest prospect at the entire event with a blazing 4.27. Duke Williams was the 4th fastest safety, Chris Gragg was the fastest TE with a 4.50 and even Kicker Dustin Hopkins ran the 2nd fastest time among the specialists with a 4.75.
While the success or failure of this draft will widely be measured by Manuel's level of success, there is a lot to like here even if your not completely sold on EJ. They filled needs at Receiver, ILB, Safety, TE and added a heck of a kicker to compete and likely replace Lindell the rest of the way. They continued the momentum into the UDFA class adding LB Keith Pugh, G Zach Chibane and WR Da"Rick Rogers.
The Bills wisely traded down and still had their pick of the QBs in this class. They chose to gamble on the kid in this draft with the all of the physical tools in the hope that the Bills coaches can develop him in the same way they developed Nassib at Cuse. While Nassib was more of a finished model, there is no denying the upside potential of Manuel. Even if ultimately Manuel falls short of being a franchise QB, I can not blame them for using their first pick on the QB prospect in this draft who has Manuel's combination of size, athletic ability and leadership qualities.
Here's what I wanted the Bills to do at the QB position in this draft:
- Do the due diligence and study each QB prospect thoroughly. Hard to argue they didn't do that.
- Make sure no matter what it took to get the QB that was #1 on their board. EJ was the 1st QB taken, so obviously he was their #1.
- If possible, get value for the pick by orchestrating a trade down. Bingo -Traded down from 8 to 16, got EJ and 2 extra picks including a 2nd rounder.
- Make sure the prospect they bring in is a leader. EJ commands a room and certainly looks the part of a true team leader by his demeanor and his actions.
- He must have the football IQ to process information quickly and translate it onto the field.Manuel seems to have the requisite IQ, it remains to be seen if he can process an NFL playbook and incorporate that on the field with live bullets. Off the field Manuel is working on his Masters in International Relations. Scored a 28 on the Wonderlic, behind only Nassib and Barkley among this year's QBs.
- Has a track record of winning games. ACC Championship, 25-6 career record as starter (best win % among drafted QBs), 12-2 record as senior, 4-0 in Bowl games. 19-3 in 22 consecutive starts to end his career after missing games due to a shoulder injury his Junior year. He did have a few too many signature losses vs signature wins, but has basically gotten the job done including winning 5 of 6 intrastate rivalry games against Miami and Florida.
- Have the size and physical tools to develop. Hard to argue Manuel isn't physically suited to play the position at the NFL level. This includes hand size which is important in playing in the cold and wind of Buffalo.
- Arm strength. Manuel has elite arm talent and will be well suited to throw through the wind in Buffalo.
- Quick release - His arm angle isn't always consistently tight, but he does have the ability to get the ball out of his hand in a flash (see this ESPN sports science video to put some numbers on it)
- Pocket Presence - My biggest question mark going in. I feel a little better after seeing some numbers about his completion percentage when pressured and outside the pocket, but too often I see him back pedaling instead of stepping up. He does do a good job side stepping and has the athletic ability to break to the outside and make a throw or get positive yardage on a scramble.
- Accuracy - Manuel had a 68% completion rate his senior season which stayed constant against AP ranked teams with a 67%. That completion percentage is even more impressive when factoring in his average length of completed passes of 12.9, which was tops among the top prospects. I personally value average yards per completion more than per attempt because it doesn't reward a QB for completing a lot of short passes to inflate their completion percentage.
So, given this class had no clean prospect, EJ actually does quite well on my check list. The Bills coaches will have to teach him to trust his pocket more and step up instead of always retreating back and he needs to show the ability to handle a more complex, NFL playbook. His offense at FSU did not require him to work through a progression sequentially. That doesn't mean he can't do it, it just means he has limited to no experience doing it. By all reports he did extremely well on the blackboard and FSU does require its QB's to make extensive pre-snap reads to determine primary receiver and call the protections. That will serve him well and puts him ahead of many of the QBs in this or any class.
for the first time in the Buddy Nix era I feel comfortable giving the Bills an A-
Rnd 1 (16) E.J. Manuel QB Florida State Height: 6'4" Weight: 240 40: 4.65 Grade B+
While it was no surprise the Bills selected a QB with their first pick, the trade down to pick up extra picks and the QB selected certainly were. Very few prognosticators predicted Manuel to be the number 1 QB off the board and only a few had projected him to the Bills. Many, including myself, thought pairing former Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib with his college coaches made a ton of sense. However, after the Bills passed on Nassib he dropped all the way to the 4th round. While I still believe Nassib has the potential to be a quality starter in this league, it is clear the Bills coaching staff feel they did all they could with the bright but physically limited Nassib and wanted the opportunity to develop a prospect who has far superior athletic ability.
Manuel has prototypical size for the position with a big arm that will have no problem throwing the ball through the Buffalo wind. His size and running ability make him a potentially dangerous dual threat running the read option. Hackett and Marrone used the read option often at Syracuse and must be drooling to implement the system as a part of their offense with Manuel.
While Manuel's raw potential due to his size and athleticism are his strongest attributes, he also brings leadership, intelligence and experience to the table. He was a consistent winner at Flordia State having been a part of 5 straight Bowl wins and leading the Seminoles to an ACC championship and a 12-2 senior season. Manuel has also done a great job going through the pre-draft process, starting with his senior bowl week performance. He reportedly impressed in interviews at the senior bowl and combine and then went ahead and took the game MVP award. He has the ability to command a room. This was on display for draftnik's on Gruden's QB camp special where I believe he was the most impressive of all the QB prospects. Manuel also has a nice compact, quick release and the ability to throw the ball with touch and velocity even when off balance.
While the raw natural ability, arm talent and intangibles are there, there are some major concerns that show up on tape. Manuel rarely can be seen climbing the pocket when pressured and almost always retreats backwards. You want to see a QB with his size step up and stand tall in the pocket more often instead of always wanting to out run the pressure. This results in many big sacks and fumbles. Early in his career he was purely a one read and run QB, but showed the ability to work through progressions, if only on half of the field. He also lacks elite ball placement skills especially on the intermediate and deep timing routes, thus limiting the potential RAC for his receivers. Inconsistent footwork and arm angle is the reason for lack of precision.
Manuel has intriguing upside given his natural athletic ability, work ethic, leadership, size and arm talent. It remains to be seen if his lack of pocket presence, ball placement skills and limited tape showing him work through multiple reads and progressions are correctable or will prove ultimately to be fatal flaws that limit his NFL potential. However, when grading this pick I give the Bills high marks for getting value by trading down, duing their homework on all the picks and taking a chance on a kid with Manuel's combination of work ethick, intelligence, leadership and natural physical ability. Far too many drafts the Bills were too risk adverse at QB and missed on QB prospect after QB prospect, I'm glad they finally stepped up to the plate and reached for the fences.
Rnd 2 (41) Robert Woods WR USC Height: 6'1" Weight: 190 40: 4.51 Grade A+
While the Manuel pick will generate most of the discussion, the Woods pick is the Bills best. Adding a complimentary receiver to Stevie was a top priority in this draft and they did that with this pick. Woods is a plug and play prospect who runs impeccable routes and becomes like a RB when he gets that ball in his hands. No doubt Woods impressed Marrone when USC played against his Cuse team in the meadowlands this fall as he burned them for 10 receptions for 93 yards and 2 TDs and added 76 yards on an end around. While Woods is not going to wow you with his speed, his polish and ability to get separation out if his breaks, his hands and his run after catch ability are elite.
I would not have been upset if the Bills ended up with Woods in the 1st round but think he is a steal here. He'll step in day one and will take pressure off of Stevie. The Bills want to create mismatches all over the field and while Woods lacks world class speed and size, he does posses the ability to get separation with his route running ability and understanding of the game. He will be a nightmare match up for most team's #2 CB.
Rnd 2 (46) Kiko Alonso ILB Oregon Height: 6'4" Weight: 238 40: 4.71 Grade A-
The Bills shocked me a bit with this pick Not the position or the player on the field, but by his off the field record. Kiko Alonso is a beast and was a major part of Oregon's success this year. I rated him lower than where he was selected because I figured his 2 arrests and the fact he played for a west coast not southern team meant the Bills had little interest. Based purely on tape, he's a 1st rounder. For the Bills to take him means the team is going in a new direction. I see Bryce Paup when I watch him. Instant fan favorite if he can show he's matured after his 2 alcohol related arrests. If you watched any Oregon games, Alonso was the one making plays all over the field play after play, more so than Dion Jordan who the Fins took #3 overall.
Kiko is exactly the kind of versatile player the Bills want to build their defense around. He's equally effective attacking downhill as he is dropping back in coverage which will help them to disguise their blitz and coverage packages. He can also slide inside or on the weakside in various packages depending on the match up from week to week or play to play if needed. The Bills passed on the higher rated Arthur Brown, who was selected by the Ravens likely because they preferred Alonso's size. If Alonso can prove he's matured off the field he will be a beast on it for years to come. The fact this pick was obtained by the trade down in the 1st round makes it even sweeter.
Rnd 3 (78) Marquise Goodwin WR Texas Height: 5'9" Weight: 180 40: 4.27 Grade C+
SPEED. Goodwin posted the fastes 40 time of any player at the combine and in fact was one of the fastest times ever recorded. The Bills offensive philosophy is to attack at every level and try to exploit mismatches. Adding world class speed like Goodwin's will help do exactly that. Goodwin is raw having spent as much time in highschool and college on the track as on the gridiron, but he did prove to be more than a track star in pads on tape as he was a willing blocker and had the ability to show good vision and cutback with the ball in his hand.
The majority of his big plays for Texas came off the end around from the slot position, so he will need to learn how tot run routes. He did flash the ability to snatch the ball away from his body and run crisp routes at teh Senior Bowl but at this point this is more a potential down the road pick than a plug and play one.
Rnd 4 (105) Duke Williams FS Nevada Height: 6'1" Weight: 190 40: 4.51 Grade B+
For the 2nd time in this draft the Bills selected a talented prospect with some off the field baggage. Williams is an aggressive, fast and versatile defensive back that could cover the slot, man up, step up in the box to support vs the run or play center field. He is a perfect fit for the attacking style D that Pettine wants to bring to Buffalo. Like Alonso, he'll need to prove his immaturity that resulted in a couple of mostly alcohol related brushes with the law are behind him. Another concern is his agressive style of play could make him a target for penalties and fines in the new NFL.Provides some insurance if things don't get worked out with Byrd and quality depth that will see the field early and often even if they do. Interesting that Marrone passed on Ryan Nassib and Shamarko Thomas for a 4th time here.
Rnd 5 (143) Jonathan Meeks SS Clemson Height: 6'1" Weight: 190 40: 4.51 Grade D
Meeks was a marginal player at Clemson who has a lot of bad tape. Hard to say exactly what the Bills saw in him besides a decent size/ speed ratio. The picking was getting slim at this point but other safties like Cooper Taylor, who they brought in for a pre-draft visit, were still on the board and may have a better chance to make the roster and make a contribution. Easily my least favorite pick for the Bills.
Rnd 6 (177) Dustin Hopkins K Florida State Height: 6'2" Weight: 193 40: 4.74 Grade B
I'm surprised that I actually like this move. Lindell has clearly lost power in his leg and it may be time to make a move. Games are far too often won and lost by kickers so grabbing the best one in the draft with the 6th pick, where any pick would have a challenge just to make the roster makes sense. Hopkins has proved to be clutch and has a strong enough leg to kick through the Buffalo wind.
Rnd 7(222) Chris Gragg TE Arkansas Height: 6'3" Weight: 244 40: 4.50 Grade B+
Gragg is a good example at how the Bills did a good job playing this draft. I woudl have and projected them to grab a TE much earlier than the 7th round given the need. Scott Chandler is a huge question mark as he recovers from a major injury. Finding a TE prospect like Gragg here, using one of the extra picks obtained by trading down in the 1st round, is tremendous value. I'd be very surprised if Gragg, who is a classic H-Back / slot TE, didn't make the roster and make an early contribution. he was one of the fastest TE's at the combine and was a favorite, reliable target of Tyler Wilson at Arkansas.
UDFAs - Grade A
The Bills went right to work to fill some remaining holes and add competition across the board. They failed to address depth weaknesses on teh O-Line and at Corner and added several bodies to compete for roster spots. They snared 2 of the top rated UDFAs in LB Keith Pough and WR Da'Rick Rogers. Rogers has 2nd round talent on the field but an ugly off the field history that forced him out of Tennessee. He was the most sought out rookie FA, yet the Bills were able to convince him sign with them. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he ends up higher on the depth chart than 3rd round choice Marquise Goodwin and see himself on the field early. Hopefully going undrafted is the final wake up call this young man needs to get serious about his career. He was born to play in an offense like Marrone and Hackett want to implement and would have a good mentor to follow ON THE FIELD in Stevie Johnson, a former 7th round choice.
While Rogers was the UDFA headline grabber, Keith Pough is my favorite pick up and I believe he will make the active roster and be on the field at the very least as a special teams contributor. The Bills lack of depth at LB is well known, but in Pough and Alonso they have brought in 2 athletic agressive backers to build around along with last years rookie Nigel Bradham and new additions Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson. Pough fits the mold of athletic, attacking and versatile LB the Bills want at the position. He'll need to add some bulk, but has sideline to side line chase ability and can be an impact disruptor as a rush backer, as his 31 tackles for loss the past 2 season attests to..
Other notable FA additions who have a chance to at least stick on teh practice squad are QB Jeff Tuel, Cuse OG Zach Chibane, FB Kendall Gaskins and WR Brandon Kaufman. The Bills showed interest in Tuel throughout the pre-draft process, liking his size and arm strength. With a strong camp could make the practice squad and could even pass Tavaris Jackson on the depth chart if the Bills decide 1 veteran QB is enough. Chibane has an advantage going into camp due to his familiarity with Hackett's offense. He has limited upside, but showed steady improvement as a senior. It remains to be seen how much a role a pure FB will play in the new offense, but Gaskins will have to show some versatility to stick because teh Bills will likely fill the one roster spot with a TE/FB hybrid. Kaufman is an intriguing prospect due to his 6'5" height. Again, this offense is all about mismatches, be it with size, ability or height. Will have some stiff competition to even make the practice squad though.
Others: Drew Smith, RB, Albany, Kevin Norrell, WR, Stony Brook, Ryan Turnley, C, Pittsburgh, Aaron Tipoti, DE/DT, California, Izaan Cross, DE, Georgia Tech, Nickell Robey, CB, USC, Vernon Kearney, CB, Lane, Kip Edwards, CB, Missouri, Jumal Rolle, CB, Catawba, Jordan Dangerfield, FS, Towson
Mike's Bills Draft Review - Grade C