— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) April 25, 2014
BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills held their annual pre-draft luncheon on Friday. General manager Doug Whaley, director of player personnel Jim Monos, director of college scouting Kelvin Fisher and coordinator of college scouting Doug Majeski spent nearly an hour meeting with the media to answer a wide variety of questions about the 2014 NFL draft, scheduled to be held May 8-10.
Proceed with caution: First and foremost, I’d warn not to read too deeply into anything Whaley or his colleagues said Friday. The Bills, just like any NFL team, took care to not say anything that would be a significant revelation in regards to their draft strategy.
Nonetheless, much of what the Bills said Friday affirmed some of what has already been speculated that Buffalo might do in this year’s draft. The Bills left the door wide open during the press conference to all possibilities, but I’ve taken a look at some of the event’s highlights below.
A full transcript from the conference can be read at BuffaloBills.com.
Drafting for talent over need
The Bills are in an unusual position for a team that won just six games last year, in that they have no truly pressing needs on their roster. Whaley said that gives the Bills great flexibility in this year’s draft.
“We can go with any position,” Whaley said. “We can take offensive line, we can take running back, we can take receiver, you can always use another DB, a safety, a linebacker. So that makes our job a lot easier. We can stack the board without having a pressing need.
“When you have a pressing need, guys tend to get pushed up the board,” Whaley added. “When you push guys up the board, that is when you have a greater chance of making mistakes. When you have it set the way we do this year, we have a less chance of making a mistake and we’re excited about that.”
Looking for a big target for EJ Manuel
There might be nothing more important to the Bills’ success in 2014 than the progression of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. Whaley said Friday that Buffalo is “going to give every avenue and every piece of the puzzle to surround EJ and make him as successful as possible.”
One specific type of player the Bills should be looking for to help Manuel is adding a wide receiver or tight end who can add size and playmaking ability to the offense.
“Sometimes you have to bring in a dimension that you don’t have and a size receiver is a dimension that we don’t have,” Whaley said. “Everybody is looking for that, but it would help EJ just because he can find that guy anywhere and also EJ can basically throw up the ball and you’ve got a 6’5” guy with 35-inch arms and 30-plus vertical, that’s a big target that you can have down the field.”
Whaley said the Bills are “very excited about the receivers [they] have on campus right now,” but added “there’s nothing that will preclude [them]” from drafting a wide receiver.
One of the receivers who Buffalo is excited about is Mike Williams, who the Bills acquired earlier this month in exchange for a sixth-round pick. Whaley said the decision to make that trade was “simple” and a “no-brainer.”
“With our roster now a sixth-round pick is going to have a hard time making our team,” Whaley said. “Most likely he’d be a practice squad guy at best. Can we get a player the caliber of Mike Williams in the sixth round? We didn’t think so.”
The Bills have consistently reaffirmed their commitment to Manuel as their starting quarterback for the 2014 season. Still, Whaley responded with “never say never” when asked whether Buffalo would consider drafting a quarterback with its first-round pick.
“We don’t plan on it [drafting a quarterback], but there are a lot of things that can go down where we may be staring at a guy and he is the best person for us,” Whaley said.
Whaley said if the Bills select a quarterback in this year’s draft, “he’s going to compete.”
“Now to compete to start? We’ll see. I would say no right off the bat, but there are going to be injuries and a lot of that stuff works itself out,” Whaley said. “Don’t get it wrong. All the quarterbacks on our roster now are competitors and they think they have the ability to start and you want a quarterback like that. But we wouldn’t per se pick a quarterback and say you’re coming in to compete with EJ.”
Whaley said Manuel “is a competitor so he’s not going to shy away from competition.”
Considering another first-round trade
In March, Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei reported that the Bills appeared to be “interested in moving up” and were a potential trade partner for the No. 1 overall pick. Asked about the potential of trading up Friday, Whaley said the team is “going to keep every option open.”
“You always have to keep options open because you never know what is going to come across your desk or on your phone,” Whaley said. “One of the early lessons I learned was don’t say no until you hear what is being offered to you.”
If the Bills are going to trade—either up or down—Whaley said “it’s got to be a right deal and it has to be a calculated deal that is beneficial to us and the other team.”
“Everybody says you should trade down and that is great, but if nobody wants to trade with you, you can’t do it,” Whaley said. “So we’ll sit down with Russ and Coach and all these guys and Jim Overdorf and we’ll say, ‘Does this make sense? Does this make us a better team? Does this get us to the playoffs?’ If it does and we’re all on board because it’s a team effort, we’ll do it.”
In response to a question about whether trading up would be “mortgaging the team’s future,” Whaley implied the Bills wouldn’t give up a large number of picks, but said if the Bills were to trade a second-round pick or a 2015 draft pick to move up, it would be “a calculated decision.”
“I would say it all depends on the deal,” Whaley said.
Considering the Bills already hold the No. 9 overall pick, one would expect Buffalo would only trade up to ensure it could land a player who the team considers to be “elite.” According to director of player personnel Jim Monos, the Bills consider “five to six” players to be elite.
Monos didn’t elaborate on who those players were, but it’s not too difficult to infer who they might be. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah tweeted earlier this week that in “talking with personnel guys, they all have the same names in their top 5: [South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon] Clowney, [Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil] Mack, [Clemson wide receiver Sammy] Watkins, [Auburn offensive tackle] Robinson & [Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake] Matthews.”
On Mack, coordinator of college scouting Doug Majeski said “he’s an outstanding player.”
Monos said he thinks Watkins’ traits “are dynamic enough to overcome his lack of height.”
If the Bills consider a sixth player elite in addition to those five, who might that be? Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron are among the possibilities who would also be great choices for the Bills at the No. 9 overall pick; a quarterback such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater could also be held in that regard.