As the 2011 NFL Draft approaches, I'm seeing and hearing skepticism growing that the Buffalo Bills will benefit from the third pick overall. As hard as I try to be optimistic, it's even hard for me to maintain that outlook. Why are Bills fans so apprehensive? Because they see a familiar dark shadow rising over the horizon. Buffalo's Draft Killer may be preparing to strike again.
Bills fans are familiar with the work of this menace. He has been striking fear into their hearts since the 2002 draft. Since then, he has perfected his frightening ability to draft only the biggest busts for the team. How has he gotten away with it? Who is this vicious killer, and how can he be stopped?
Back in early 2002, Buffalo had an opening on the staff for an assistant GM. At that time, GM Tom Donahoe brought in Tom Modrak, who graduated to VP of college scouting. Over time, he has become the villain who has killed draft after draft for the team. Since that initial draft of 2002, first round success for the Bills has been seemingly impossible to come by.
In fact, success in the draft itself has been all but absent for the team. During his tenure with the Bills, Modrak has directed nine drafts. The stark reality is that of the 73 players selected in those nine drafts, only 26 of those players remained on the roster at the end of the 2010 season. This means that only 35.6 percent of the players selected under Modrak's leadership, if one wants to call it that, ended last season on the Bills roster. Is it any wonder the playoffs are a distant memory for Buffalo fans?
Let's break this down a little further. I'll list the players selected in the first round of each of the drafts overseen by Modrak, then list players who could have been taken, or perhaps should have been taken. Fair warning: The following list may inspire rage or deep depression, so continue having been forewarned.
In 2002, with the fourth pick overall, the Bills selected OT Mike Williams from Texas. Some would say that Williams was projected this high in league circles, so the Bills shouldn't be entirely blamed for this one.
Sorry, they get no pass from me. Back before that draft, I was already aware of the red flags on Williams for weight and work ethic. I had told friends and foes in both of the Fantasy Football leagues I belong to that Williams was a bust waiting to happen & that Bryant McKinnie should be the pick. Indeed, McKinnie was on the board, and the Bills passed. Besides McKinnie, Dwight Freeney was on the board, along with a fellow you might have heard of, Ed Reed. If I knew that, I expect professionals to know it as well.
In 2003, the team had traded their first round draft choice to New England for Drew Bledsoe. However, via a trade with the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo received the 23rd pick in the first round. Willis McGahee was the pick. It's always good to take a running back with a knee injury so severe that he's not even going to play in his rookie year in the first round. That's especially true when there are players left on the board named Dallas Clark, Larry Johnson and some guy named Nnamdi Asomugha.
In 2004, Buffalo selected 13th selecting WR Lee Evans from Wisconsin. While I'm aware he hasn't really performed up to that level, I'm giving the Bills a pass on this one, because of all of the offensive issues the team has had during Evans' seven years with the Bills. However, it is worth noting that Vince Wilfork was still on the board at that time.
There was also a second first round choice for the Bills. They traded their first round pick in 2005, along with some other picks, to Dallas for the 23rd pick in the first round. Future bust J.P. Losman was the pick there. Sadly, RB Steven Jackson was still available.
Buffalo's first pick in the 2005 draft came in the second round at pick number 55. The selection was Roscoe Parrish. If it was a WR they really wanted, Vincent Jackson was there for the taking. Also still available were CB's Bryant McFadden and Kelvin Hayden. So was DT Jonathan Babineaux. There was a safety there by the name of Oshiomogho Atogwe, who you may know better as O.J. Atogwe. Also available was some DE named Justin Tuck. I seem to have heard of him somewhere.
Picking eigth in the 2006 draft, Buffalo selected S Donte Whitner from Ohio State. This might be the single most egregious pick of all, because massive future Pro Bowl DT Haloti Ngata was still on the board. I can't recall exactly what my words were at the time, but I can guarantee you they were most assuredly not meant for family listening. To add to the anguish, Ngata was projected as a top-15 pick. Whitner was not even projected as a top 25 pick. Chad Greenway, Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes were also still on the board. But clearly, Ngata was a huge miss.
There was also a second first round pick for the Bills, after trading up with the Chicago Bears. This pick landed DT John McCargo from NC State. The list of players still available at that point? Only DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Lewis, Nick Mangold and Mathias Kiwanuka. Two misses in one draft in the first round. That just hurts.
In the 2007 draft, picking 12th, baggage and all, the Bills selected RB Marshawn Lynch from Cal. Meantime, there was a CB available, someone by the name of Darrelle Revis. Maybe you've heard of him. LB Lawrence Timmons was there, as was another CB, Leon Hall, along with WR Dwayne Bowe.
With the 11th pick in the 2008 draft, Buffalo selected CB Leodis McKelvin from Troy. Now, McKelvin was very highly rated going into the draft, and to be fair, was the top corner according to many scouts. Still, the list of players who could've been of greater help to the club is not a short one. There was OT Ryan Clady, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, QB Joe Flacco, OT Jeff Otah, RB's Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson, TE Dustin Keller and S Kenny Phillips. But it would seem unfair to be overly hard on the Bills for this one, even though McKelvin has yet to live up to his draft position.
Picking 11th in the 2009 draft, the Bills make LB/DE Aaron Maybin from Penn State the choice. In a mistake that equals the error of 2006, when the Bills chose Donte Whitner with Haloti Ngata still available, Buffalo passes on Clay Matthews. Also still there for the taking were Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Alex Mack and Michael Oher.
With a second first round pick in 2009, Buffalo picks C/G Eric Wood out of Louisville. At long last, a pick there can be no quibble with, as Wood has performed extremely well.
Finally in 2010, as we all know, Buffalo selected C.J. Spiller with the ninth pick overall. It's difficult to grade this as a major error at this point, but given the lack of contribution from Spiller last season, it certainly appears to be headed in that direction. However, there were a couple of offensive linemen, Mike Iupati and Markice Pouncey who most likely could've served the Bills overall needs more sufficiently.
After looking at the previous nine drafts under the direction of Tom Modrak, the major question has to be how in the world has he managed to keep his job with picks like the ones outlined above. Is the guy made of Teflon, or does he have everybody snowed? It's no wonder that a number of fans out there, myself included can't help but think we could've done a better job given the opportunity.
Indeed, upon examining the evidence, it does become hard to remain optimistic about the Bills chances of hitting the homerun that many Buffalo fans feel the team must hit with the third pick overall in the upcoming 2011 draft. To get uncomfortably closer to the true feelings, it's very difficult to imagine the Bills having any draft success until Tom Modrak is no longer with the team. Yes, things would be far sunnier without the dark spectre of Buffalo's draft killer looming in the shadows.
So, what do I expect for the 2011 draft? Well, there is one player who stands out to me as the most likely to bust in this draft. Unfortunately, I've already seen three different mock drafts with the Bills selecting this player. So with deep regret and great trepidation I'm going to predict that with the third pick in the 2011 draft, the Buffalo Bills select..............Cam Newton, Quarterback, Auburn.
Here we go again.