BBD Editor: Dan Hope
After trading out of the top 10 in last year’s NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills might be looking to move up this year.
At least that’s what longtime NFL reporter Dan Pompei is hearing. In this week’s “Read Option” column for Bleacher Report, Pompei wrote that the Houston Texans are “trying hard to deal the first pick in the draft,” and that “they might have a trade partner in the Bills, who appear interested in moving up.”
The first part of that report, the Houston Texans looking to trade down, comes as little surprise. While Houston needs a franchise quarterback, there is no consensus choice as to who is this year’s top signal-caller. The Bills’ reported interest in moving up to the No. 1 overall pick, however, seems shocking if not unbelievable.
Still, this report shouldn’t simply be written off as ludicrous. Pompei does his homework and is widely regarded as one of the best NFL writers in the business, so it can be presumed that his sources are trustworthy and in the know.
It’s reasonable to believe that the Bills have inquired about making a trade with Houston. With still nearly six weeks to go until the start of the 2014 NFL draft, every NFL team should still be considering all of its options, and as Pompei later wrote in a Sulia post, the possibility that the Texans “may be willing to take less” in a trade than the perceived value of the No. 1 overall pick shouldn’t be discounted because they are “shopping the pick aggressively.”
Still, it’s likely the Bills’ eyes will prove bigger than their stomachs in regards to this potential trade. While there are some tantalizing talents who Buffalo might love to have a chance to draft with the first pick, the cost of moving up might be greater than the potential reward.
The Bills hold the No. 9 overall pick, where they should already be in position to add a top talent like Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley or perhaps even Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews who could help their team immediately.
Moving up wouldn’t necessarily net Buffalo a more impactful player than it would get by simply staying put, and would likely come with the cost of selections that could also lead the Bills to immediate-impact players in later rounds.
Who the Bills Could Move Up For and What It Would Cost
As Pompei wrote in his column, “it is unclear who the Bills would want in a trade-up scenario.”
Ten of the last 14 No. 1 overall picks have been quarterbacks, but it seems highly unlikely Buffalo would trade up for a passer.
While a quarterback draft pick shouldn’t be ruled out, considering EJ Manuel completed just 58.8 percent of his passes in an injury-riddled rookie season, it’s really doubtful they would select one in Round 1. The Bills traded down from the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft, but selected Manuel with the No. 16 overall selection.
It’s even less likely they would trade up to take one. If the Texans have a great desire to move down from the No. 1 overall pick, it wouldn’t make much sense for a team with a far less obvious need for a quarterback to trade to the top of the board to draft one.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would be the Bills’ most probable target at the No. 1 overall pick. Clowney, a tremendous all-around defensive lineman with incredible physical tools, is a rare talent who many teams could have an interest in moving up the board for. Adding Clowney to a unit that already includes Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus could arguably make Buffalo’s defensive line the best in the NFL.
The second most likely trade-up for the target might be Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Some draft prognosticators, including Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and CBS Sports’ Will Brinson, believe Watkins’ would be the St. Louis Rams’ top target if they stay at the No. 2 overall pick. Miller also reported in early March that the Lions could eye a trade up to No. 2 in order to draft Watkins.
It’s easy to see how Watkins would appeal to the Bills. He is a dynamic open-field playmaker who could immediately emerge as Buffalo’s top wideout, yet could also have value as a running threat on gadget plays and as a kickoff returner.
That said, the best receiver for Buffalo to land in this draft might actually be Evans, as he would give the Bills a vertical threat with great size (6’5”, 231 lbs). While the Bills need to add size to their passing offense, they already have plenty of speed threats. As the Bills might be able to land Evans without trading up, a move up to the top of the board for Watkins seems misguided.
Buffalo also needs to upgrade at right tackle, so trading up for Matthews or Auburn’s Greg Robinson could also be a possibility, as both are potential top-5 overall draft picks. That said, there is also a possibility that one of those offensive tackles could still be available at No. 9.
The Bills could even be interested in trading up for a hometown favorite, Khalil Mack from the University of Buffalo. He isn’t an ideal fit for Buffalo’s transition to a 4-3 defense, so trading up for him probably wouldn’t be the best move, but he is expected to be a top-eight selection.
There’s plenty of prospects whose talent would validate a trade up, but the cost might be Buffalo’s ultimate deterrent, especially to get to the No. 1 overall pick.
To trade up to the top spot, the Bills would likely have to give up either their second- or third-round draft pick, and quite possibly more picks or their 2015 first-round pick.
Giving up those valuable assets could be a mistake for the Bills. They still have a multitude of need areas on their team, from wide receiver and tight end to offensive line, linebacker and safety. Meanwhile, as a team building around a young core that has a brighter future than present, the last thing Buffalo should want to do is mortgage its future to make a flashy move this year.
Verdict: Will the Bills Trade Up?
With the NFL draft less than six weeks away, the season of rumors and smokescreens is in full swing, making it always difficult to decipher which draft reports have legs and which ones will ultimately prove misleading.
In this case, it’s likely that the Bills actually have inquired to Houston about trading up. That deal is unlikely to actually occur, however, and if the Bills trade up at all, it would likely be only a few spots from No. 9, and it could depend on how long a player such as Watkins, Matthews or Mack stays on the board.
Given the depth in this year’s draft, Buffalo is already sitting in a great spot to land a premium talent. While Clowney might be the one player whose talent would make him worth the cost, the Bills could likely a fill an area of greater need with better value by just staying put.
If the Bills are going to trade at all, their best move would likely be to trade down, in the event that their target(s) does not fall to the ninth pick. As a team continuing to build up its roster, Buffalo can use all the potential assets it can get, while this draft lends itself to still landing a great player who could be of immediate value—possibly Mosley or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron—by dropping into the middle of the first round.
When the Bills traded down last year, they ended up with an immediate star in linebacker Kiko Alonso as a result. That doesn’t mean Buffalo should trade down again this year, as it should be picking for a best player available, not the best quarterback available like it was last year. Still, the Bills should be in the market to add as many potential starters and/or impact players as possible, and so trading picks for a bigger prize could end up being a costly mistake.