On the NFL calendar April is a month filled with deception, as teams prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft each year. There are essentially 32 people sitting at the poker table and none of them want you to know what there hand looks like.
However, at Wednesday’s pre-draft luncheon Bills fans were offered at least a peek into what combination of cards their team is working with or in this case, what cards they’re hoping to be dealt. “The team’s priority is to get a great player to make you better,” Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said, just three questions into his press conference at One Bills Dr. “[You can] connect the dots and say defense would be a higher priority than a lot of other positions. But again if somebody that we think has a higher value than the defensive guy on the board, we are going to take the guy with the higher value.” That’s certainly not a new philosophy. Everyone’s heard the old, “take the best player available,” strategy before. But, like Whaley said, connect the dots. Buffalo needs defensive playmakers that fit Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense in the worst way. When asked more specifically about how they’ll do that, Whaley offered at least some insight into the team’s thought process.
“I look at it not as Rex [Ryan]’s defense, but where the game is going,” he explained. “If you look at our division alone New England, now that they have the two tight ends, but they are going to be a lot of three to four wides. The Jets, their three wides is their base set, and Adam Gase at Miami’s base set is three wides. So the game is going to a more spread it out, less downhill … you are going to be in nickel and dime a lot. You are going to play 70% of the time in nickel, so you need a guy that is quick.”
He’s right. Every year teams get further away from the old school, pro formation, ground and pound offenses, swapping them instead, for this spread out, shotgun, east-to-west running style. Defenses need to have athletic and versatile players at each level to be able to compete.
So now the question becomes who can the Bills draft at 19 that offers that skill set and is ready to start immediately? Well, Whaley listed at least one player they have in mind. “I don’t think that Reggie [Ragland] is just a straight banger, the GM said. “I think he has a chance to play on third down.”
The hype surrounding Ragland is certainly warranted and drafting the LB at 19 would be fitting considering that’s the number he wore while at Alabama. But don’t start ordering your jersey’s just yet because there are other talented linebacker prospects who could easily slide to Buffalo on Thursday night. It’s all about how the dominos fall. Still, it’s at least known that Ragland – who’s been linked to the Bills since early on in the NFL off-season – is one player the front office has in mind.
All this talk of defense likely rules out any chance of Buffalo drafting a quarterback in the first-round, despite Whaley consistently noting that with Taylor only under contract for one more season and some unknowns to his game, they wouldn’t shy away from drafting a QB as protection. The question is, where exactly will they look to do that? “I would say there is a very, very good possibility we will be drafting a quarterback, Whaley said, adding, “when that will be, I can’t tell you that because I don’t know.”
Maybe not, but with more glaring needs to address it’s unlikely quarterback becomes a priority until, at the earliest, the second-round. More than likely though Buffalo will wait until those middle, third or fourth rounds to draft a QB, which, as history proves, may not bode well for whoever it is they take. Across the league you’ll find that 27 of the 32 starting quarterback’s were taken in the first- or second-round. Two of the five that weren’t, ironically play in the AFC East (Tom Brady & Tyrod Taylor). Of course Whaley was asked about those numbers on Wednesday.
“It’s a very good point and that’s why I have faith in [Jim Monos and Kelvin Murphy] and our scouts,” the GM said. “Will we find the next Tom Brady? We hope so. Or could we find the next Andy Dalton? We hope so. So that’s where we come in and it might be a first-round guy. You just never know. But we’re just going to be prepared for any scenario and how the draft comes to us and make the best decision on the player that we think is the value and the right fit for us at the time.”