BBD Contributor: Dan Hope
No inside knowledge of the Buffalo Bills’ draft strategy is needed to know that the Bills should be targeting drafting a quarterback in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.
After releasing Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had been the team’s starter since 2009, the Bills signed Kevin Kolb earlier this offseason. But although general manager Buddy Nix called Kolb a “strong candidate in the competition for the starting quarterback position,” (per the Bills’ official team Twitter account) the door remains wide open for a rookie quarterback to compete for and win the starting quarterback job. Kolb’s two-year contract only has a base value of no more than $6.1 million, with the rest of his possible $13 million coming in incentives, according to Pro Football Talk.
Kolb failed to prove himself as a viable long-term starter in two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, and considering the Bills can pay him half as much to be a backup than if he starts, the Bills certainly will not be held back by signing Kolb. The Bills’ other established veteran quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, has not had any consistent success as an NFL starting quarterback either.
The question isn’t whether the Bills will draft a quarterback, but rather when they will. In a draft class that contains no star quarterback prospects, will the Bills take a chance on the best available quarterback at the No. 8 overall pick, or will the Bills wait for better value?
Let’s take a look at five possible quarterback strategies for the Buffalo Bills, as well as which quarterbacks could be highest on the Bills’ radar.
1. Draft the best-available quarterback at the No. 8 overall pick
Although there is not one quarterback in the 2013 NFL draft class truly worth a top-10 pick, the likelihood of the Bills using the No. 8 overall selection on a signal-caller remains very high.
Quarterbacks are routinely overdrafted due to their positional importance, and the Bills need a quarterback as badly as any team in the NFL. Drafting a quarterback in the top 10 would fill the Bills’ biggest need right away, and allow the team to build up their roster through talent value through the rest of the draft.
Whether the Bills draft their quarterback at No. 8 will depend upon whether the Bills view any of the quarterbacks available as a player they cannot miss out. If the Bills consider one of the available quarterbacks to be a much better franchise option than the other quarterbacks they could select, they should draft their guy at No. 8 so as not to miss out on the opportunity to select him later.
This decision could be shaped by which quarterbacks, if any, are selected in the top seven picks. If West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who has the most physical talent and upside of any quarterback in the draft class and is expected by most to be the first quarterback drafted, falls to the No. 8 overall selection, he could very well be the selection in Buffalo.
It is also very plausible, however, that the Bills could opt for another signal-caller even if Smith is available. Smith’s last experience in cold-weather football at the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl was an absolute disaster, which could be a warning given that he would have similar conditions at points playing in Buffalo. He also needs to establish a pocket presence and becoming better at read switching.
If Smith is off the board or the Bills decided to pass upon him, two other quarterbacks who could be in play are USC’s Matt Barkley and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib. Barkley does not have great arm strength and athletic ability, but he is the most polished and accurate pocket passer of any quarterback in the draft class. Nassib, who faced off against Smith in that Pinstripe Bowl, would be a reach at the No. 8 overall pick, but has a big arm, good footwork and athletic ability. Nassib has an obvious connection to the Buffalo Bills as he played for new head coach Doug Marrone for the past four years at Syracuse, and may be the best bet as a cold-weather quarterback for Buffalo.
If the Bills believe strongly enough in any one of those quarterbacks being worth a top-10 pick, chances are good that no other prospect falling will change their mind about who to select. If not, the Bills will likely wait to find better value.
2. Trade down from No. 8 overall, draft a quarterback later in Round 1
Most Likely Choices: Barkley, Nassib, E.J. Manuel
Given that there are a number of quarterbacks who could very well end up in Round 1, but no quarterbacks who stand out as sure-fire top-10 picks, a smart move for the Bills could be to trade down from the No. 8 overall pick, but still target a quarterback with their first-round pick.
If the Bills are targeting Smith, No. 8 overall would likely be their only choice to select him, as he projects to be a likely target of the New York Jets if available at the No. 9 or No. 13 overall selection. If there is a team enticed to trade up, however, the Bills could likely trade down into the middle of Round 1 and still have a good shot at selecting Barkley, Nassib or Florida State’s E.J. Manuel.
Drafting a quarterback at any point in Round 1 makes for a major investment and immediate starting expectations, but trading down and getting additional selections before drafting a quarterback would lessen the pressure and risk of that selection somewhat. If the Bills believe strongly in being able to select Barkley, Nassib or Manuel, trading down would be a good way to get better value on one of those signal-callers, but still be in good position to get the quarterback they covet.
3. Draft another player at No. 8, trade back up into Round 1
Most Likely Choices: Nassib, Manuel, Barkley
There is no clear-cut choice for the Buffalo Bills at the No. 8 overall pick if they wait on drafting a quarterback, but there are plenty of solid options. If Jordan is off the board, other potential choices include LSU pass-rusher/outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper and Alabama guard Chance Warmack.
Drafting a first-round quarterback could still be a possibility, however, even if the Bills draft another player at No. 8. With a number of teams drafting early in Round 2 potentially targeting quarterbacks with their picks (Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets), the Bills could make a move up ahead from the No. 41 overall selection into the late picks of Round 1 to secure their chance to draft one of the top quarterbacks.
This would be a very good plan for the Bills if Marrone plans to bring Nassib with him to the next level. While Nassib is unlikely to be drafted by another team in the early picks of the draft, he looks like a very likely early Round 2 selection.
Barkley and Manuel would also be good targets with this potential strategy. Both quarterbacks have a shot to be among the draft’s early picks, but could also end up in Round 2. The Bills would have a good shot of being able to draft one of them in the late first round, but may not have a shot at either of them at No. 41.
4. Select quarterback with No. 41 overall selection
Most Likely Choices: Nassib, Manuel, Tyler Wilson
The Buffalo Bills could get much better value on a quarterback by waiting until their second-round selection, No. 41 overall. If the board falls their way, the Bills could end up getting a quarterback at No. 41 who is just as good as what they could have gotten at No. 8 — but by waiting, they also run the risk of missing out on all the draft’s top quarterback prospects.
Of the four quarterbacks currently looked at as potential first-round selections, Nassib and Manuel are the most likely to still be available at No. 41 overall. Barkley and Smith are the head of the quarterback class, but while Nassib and Manuel are rising prospects who could go as high or even above Barkley and/or Smith, they belong more rightfully as second-round selections.
Another quarterback who should also be strongly in consideration at No. 41 overall is Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson. Wilson, in my opinion, belongs to be in the conversation with Barkley and Smith as the draft class’ top quarterback, but it appears more likely he will be the fifth quarterback drafted, as the other four have received considerably more buzz in recent weeks. That said, he is a skilled pocket passer with good size and a strong arm, and he could very well be the franchise quarterback that the Bills need while chances are good he will still be available at No. 41.
If the Bills can get a potential franchise quarterback they want without using their top draft pick and without having to move up from No. 41 overall, that looks to be their best-case scenario.
5. Bring in quarterback competition in Round 3
Last year, the Seattle Seahawks had Tarvaris Jackson and a mid-level free agent quarterback signing (Matt Flynn) when they used their third-round pick to select Russell Wilson, bringing him into a three-way competition which Wilson ultimately won and which ended up working out better than anyone could have expected in Wilson’s stellar rookie season.
While it is unlikely that the Bills will find a player who rises to stardom as a rookie by waiting to draft a quarterback in Round 3, they could very well replicate the competitive stage of what happened in Seattle by drafting a third-round quarterback — which would not come with nearly the immediate pressure to play of a quarterback selected in the first two rounds — to compete with Kolb and Jackson.
If Tyler Wilson were to fall to the Bills’ third-round pick, that would be hitting the jackpot in terms of filling the quarterback need with value in the 2013 NFL draft. More realistic options at No. 71 overall, however, include Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Arizona’s Matt Scott, all of whom have visited with the Bills according to the team’s official website.
Among those quarterbacks, the best choice would be Bray, who has the highest upside among them with a strong arm, great size and the ability to make any throw on the field if he can become a more accurate passer and polished decision-maker. Glennon is a similar high-upside prospect, though he does not have as much arm talent and is even more mistake-prone, while Jones and Scott may not be starting quarterbacks but could be good additions into the rotation.