Buffalo Bills go boom-or-bust in the NFL Draft
The Bills first-round pick sort of came out of left field, as they drafted Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel. Having ranked Manuel as the third best quarterback in this draft myself, I thought I was higher on him than most - turns out I was wrong. I certainly agree with those who say that Manuel has the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft, and the only reason I ranked Geno Smith and Matt Barkley ahead of him is because I believe they are safer picks. The Bills sort of shocked the NFL community when they reached for Manuel at 16th overall, but in a few years we may be looking back at this selection and wondering how Manuel dropped this far.
USC receiver Robert Woods was the Bills' next selection, though I'd consider him a pretty safe pick. The only concern with Woods is his decline in production during his final year in school, in which he caught 37 less passes for 443 less yards and four less touchdowns than the previous season. Much of that was due to the emergence of teammate Marqise Lee, who led the nation with 118 catches. I think that Woods makes a case as the most polished, complete receiver in this draft class, and is the safest bet to contribute positively in Buffalo.
Just five picks after Woods, the Bills grabbed Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso. This special talent wins with physicality and should improve the Bills' weak linebacker group immediately, but he has had some off-field issues in the past. After receiving a DUI in 2010 and breaking into a house while intoxicated in 2011, Alonso claims to have quit drinking. My guess is that he'll be able to stay out of trouble during his time in the NFL, but with former incidents like that, you never really know.
In the third round, the Bills snagged Olympic athlete Marquise Goodwin. After four years of disappointing production at the University of Texas, Goodwin began turning heads during the pre-draft process by standing out at the Senior Bowl and dominating the combine. At 5'9'' with only 30 catches per year while at school, there is plenty of reason to be skeptical of Goodwin's football future. However, he has unteachable athletic ability and has the potential to turn into a lethal weapon on the football field.
The Bills grabbed another player with a sketchy off-field past in the fourth round, selecting NC State safety Duke Williams, who was suspended three times as a freshman. He has stayed out of trouble since, but his character concerns were reportedly serious enough to drop his draft stock. The Bills appear to be hoping to turn Williams into a nickel cornerback, adding to the risk/reward nature of the pick.
In the seventh round, the Bills opted for undersized speedster Chris Gragg, a tight end from Arkansas. Gragg led all tight ends at the combine with a 4.50 forty-yard dash, and also posted top-five results among tight ends in vertical jump, broad jump, and three-cone drill. However, Gragg has shown minimal promise as a potential in-line blocker, which hurts his stock as a tight end. Teams are also concerned with his injury history. An explosive linear athlete, Gragg could still make an impact as an H-back. At the point in the draft when the Bills selected him, Gragg was well worth the risk, but was a risk nonetheless.
The Bills' haul of boom-or-bust prospects wasn't over when the draft concluded. They signed undrafted free agent Da'Rick Rogers, receiver from Tennessee Tech. After leading the SEC in receptions, Rogers was dismissed from the Tennessee football team due to marijuana related issues. I rated him as the fourth best receiver in this draft based strictly on game tape and talent, but his character is obviously a huge question mark. He could be a starter by the time the 2013 season kicks off, but if he continues to get into trouble, NFL teams won't put up with him.
These players could turn the Bills into a contender some day, particularly on offense with Manuel, Woods, Goodwin, and Rogers. However, if these prospects fail to boom and all bust, this draft haul could be a significant step back for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 1999.