BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot
On Thursday night, the Buffalo Bills did something out of the norm. They traded up.
In the team’s history, the Bills have only traded up two times from their first-round slot to get a player of their choosing. Both times, the move was for a Clemson wide receiver getting drafted. In 1982, Buffalo traded up for WR Perry Tuttle; in 2014, Sammy Watkins got the call.
Trading up is a dangerous gamble in the NFL, but this trade made sense on multiple levels.
To get Watkins, the Bills traded away their 2015 first- and fourth-selections to move up five spots from No. 9 overall to No. 4.
Buffalo has been drafting in the top half of the draft in recent memory and if that trend continues, the Browns will benefit greatly from the trade. Bills general manager Doug Whaley, however, felt like the trade up was a no-brainer, even with the cost:
“Very high cost. But we thought like it was a calculated risk, and a risk we were willing to take,” Whaley said Thursday night, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak. “The high cost of not making the playoffs is something we weighed in and we thought this guy is going to get us to the playoffs.”
The general manager is correct about a few things here. If Sammy Watkins is the No. 1 receiver that the team believes he is, he can put the Bills over the proverbial hump. In doing so, Buffalo’s record should improve and that 2015 first-round pick will become less painful to lose.
If the Bills make the playoffs? Not one fan in Buffalo will complain about not having a first-round pick next year.
Whaley and company needed to be aggressive in this year’s draft. Not only for the Bills, the NFL team who currently holds the longest reign of consecutive years without a playoff appearance, but also for themselves.
With the recent passing of Ralph Wilson, Buffalo is in the market for a new owner. That new owner isn’t likely to keep Whaley, team president Russ Brandon and even head coach Doug Marrone if the team isn’t contending for a playoff spot. Sammy Watkins is Whaley’s “all-in” move. If it pans out, Whaley’s job should be safe for the near future.
The saying “go big or go home” seems fitting here. Whaley went big because he simply doesn’t want to “go home.” In this league, once you’re fired as a general manager, it’s hard to find that same job elsewhere.
One of the best aspects of this trade that many overlooked was the fact that Buffalo didn’t give up any further choices in the 2014 draft. This class is being hyped up more than any other due to the talent teams believe they can find in later rounds. Buffalo still has picks in Rounds 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 to address needs at offensive line, defensive end and linebacker, while they could also add important depth later at cornerback and perhaps running back.
After Round 1, there’s still a ton of talent on the board and something tells me the Bills will get significantly better at a few spots where they need it the most. If the Bills can build a complete team, those 2015 picks won’t be as pressing. Going out and getting Watkins was a great start.
Watkins was the top wide receiver in this draft class and in my opinion, no one comes close to him. Yes, there is a lot of talent at the position in this year’s class, but there was only one that I saw as an instant playmaker. Buffalo already had plenty of talent at wide receiver in Stevie Johnson, Mike Williams, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, but none of them are true No. 1 receivers. Watkins puts the group over the top, and gives the team flexibility after the season.
After 2014, Buffalo will have two wide receivers making big money in Johnson and Williams. One of them is likely to come off the books. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on it being Johnson due to Woods having a similar skill set.
What does Watkins bring to the team? Everything. Watkins has exceptional hands and shows tremendous burst coming out of his breaks. Following a recent trend in Bills draft picks, he has speed. Watkins ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and he plays just as fast on the field. He’s much more polished, though, than the team’s current speedsters Goodwin and T.J. Graham.
Watkins stands in at 6’1″, but plays much bigger than that. The talented wide receiver fits Doug Whaley’s “big wins” mantra. With the fourth pick, Buffalo drafted a wide receiver who is just as talented as Julio Jones and A.J. Green were coming out of college. It’s been a long time since the Bills have had someone like that.
Making the playoffs in 2014 won’t come down to Watkins. No, that pressure is squarely on the shoulders of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. But between Watkins and the aforementioned wide receivers, plus running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and Scott Chandler and others at tight end, Manuel has all the weapons he needs. Now it’s time for him to produce. Young quarterbacks generally get two to three years to prove themselves and this year, Manuel really needs to take that next step.
If he does, Watkins and Buffalo’s offense will take off in a big way. Then, we’ll all be smiling and laughing while talking about the Bills’ 2015 first-round pick … as we watch them in the playoffs.
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Buffalo Bills, Clemson, Cleveland Browns, Doug Whaley, Draft Trades, EJ Manuel, go big or go home, Mike Williams, Perry Tuttle, Playoffs, Sammy Watkins, Stevie Johnson, Wide Receivers