The Buffalo Bills made eight selections in total in the 2013 NFL Draft, adding four weapons for their passing offense, two safeties, an inside linebacker and a placekicker.
As the Bills now set their sights on earning their winning season since 2004 and first postseason berth since 1999, the performance of their rookie crop will be key.
While they may not necessarily have significant contributions in year one from each player, including first-round quarterback E.J. Manuel, they need some of their players to progress quickly and make plays on the field in Buffalo this season for the Bills to make a step forward toward contentio.
Let’s take a look at each of the Bills’ selection, and assess how well the team did in addressing their needs and obtaining value.
Round 1, Pick 16: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
In a draft that lacked a consensus first-round quarterback, it was very unclear who the top quarterback on the Buffalo Bills’ draft board would be. Nonetheless, it came as a surprise when they selected Florida State’s E.J. Manuel is the first and only quarterback drafted in Round 1.
Manuel has the physical tools to be the best quarterback in the draft class, with good athleticism and footwork both outside and inside the pocket and a strong arm. That said, he remains a project as a quarterback who needs to develop better downfield accuracy and touch and make better reads under pressure.
To the Bills’ credit, they did get better value before drafting a quarterback. The Bills traded down from the No. 8 to the No. 16 overall selection, picking up second- and seventh-round selections from the St. Louis Rams in the process while only moving down seven spots in Round 3.
That said, with only one other quarterback (West Virginia’s Geno Smith) off the board when the Bills picked again at the No. 41 overall pick, they may still have been able to get better value on Manuel, or at least draft another top quarterback such as Smith, with one of their second-round picks.
The selection of Manuel suggests that the Bills are plan to incorporate the read-option into their offense and take advantage of Manuel’s ability to run that offense and be an athletic dual-threat quarterback.
Round 2, Pick 41: Robert Woods, WR, USC
After adding a quarterback in Round 1, the Buffalo Bills needed to add more weapons to their passing offense with at least one of their other draft picks. They did that with their second-round pick at No. 41 overall by adding Robert Woods, arguably the draft class’ best wideout.
Woods does not have spectacular size or athleticism for an outside receiving playmaker, but he is the most complete, well-rounded receiver in the draft class. He can catch every pass that comes his way with great hands, is a smart and sharp route-runner, plays through contact to make difficult catches and is a smooth runner in the open field who uses quick, subtle cuts to create big plays.
Woods is a very polished wideout who can step in immediately and start opposite Stevie Johnson, and quickly emerge a go-to receiver on the outside of the Bills’ offense. He would have a solid choice for a team in the late first round, and was a terrific value selection in Round 2.
Round 2, Pick 46: Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon
With the second-round pick the Buffalo Bills received in their trade down with the St. Louis Rams, the Bills made a move to help reinforce their position at the inside linebacker spot by drafting Oregon’s Kiko Alonso.
The Bills needed to add talent to their linebacker corps, which was the weakness of their defense in 2012, and they will get that from Alonso. He is a big, athletic linebacker who is aggressively, attack the line of scrimmage to make plays as a run defender and is also effective at dropping back into pass coverage.
Alonso appears to be in position to start at MIKE linebacker in the Bills’ hybrid defense after the team traded Kelvin Sheppard, their starting middle linebacker last season, to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday.
This could be a daunting task for Alonso at first, who is a bit raw and has limited experience due to injuries and off-field issues (including multiple alcohol-related arrests in his time at Oregon), but he progressed quickly in his senior season at Oregon and the Bills felt comfortable enough in his game and character to draft him in the middle of Round 2.
It did come as a surprise, however, that Alonso was drafted above Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, who does not quite have the size Alonso does but is an even better athlete with more experience and playmaking ability and without Alonso’s character concerns.
Round 3, Pick 78: Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas
Speed is a very valuable commodity for an NFL player, especially for a wide receiver. That is why the Buffalo Bills drafted Texas’ Marquise Goodwin in Round 3, even though Goodwin is a largely unpolished receiver who did not have any consistency in production at Texas.
Goodwin is a spectacular athlete best known for his track accolades — he was the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials long jump champion — and will immediately be one of the NFL’s fastest players, having run the fastest 40-yard dash time at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine (4.27 seconds). He has huge upside as a downfield burner who will expose poor coverages and run away from cornerbacks if he separates from them.
At this point, however, Goodwin remains of an athlete than a receiver. He does not have natural hands, is an unpolished route-runner and lacks the size and physicality to be a consistent threat on the outside. His pure speed, however, gives him big potential as a deep threat if he can become a more well-rounded player with increased footbal experience.
Behind Johnson, Woods and T.J. Graham, Goodwin will likely be the team’s fourth receiver, and start out by being used primarily in long passing situations not only as a deep receiver but as a decoy who can stretch the field with his speed.