Sunday, April 30, 2006

Everyone to aft! The Captain's gone daft about the draft! Quick, to a raft!

OK, I guess I gotta talk about the NFL Draft, since I'm a Bills fan and all. First off, drafting's an inexact science and you never know which players are gonna be stars and which players are gonna tank and yada yada yada. William Goldman wrote that Hollywood's golden rule is "Nobody knows anything", but that could also apply to the NFL on Draft Day. The Bills weren't stupid to draft Mike Williams in the first round, and the StuPats* weren't geniuses to draft Tom Brady in the sixth. Nobody knows anything.

So why am I having trouble figuring out what Marv Levy's doing?

I have no problem with the Bills not picking Matt Leinart. I really don't. It couldn't be an attractive possibility to Levy to use a first round pick on a quarterback for what would have been the fourth time in ten years, especially when the team has so many holes in other places. That, actually, is part of what's bothering me: this team has so many holes that what's really needed is an addition of as much talent as humanly possible. We're talking large numbers of raw bodies, and then let's see who sticks. So, when Levy had four picks to use in the first three rounds, along came a still-available Leinart and an opportunity to get even more picks. Instead, Levy used the pick on a safety -- which, while yes we need one, isn't nearly the major point of concern for this team.

So I, an armchair quarterbacking watch-it-on-TV-on-Sunday-afternoon fan, wanted to see those four picks used on two offensive linemen and two defensive linemen. Marv Levy, on the other hand, used one of those picks to trade up into the second round again, and thus used only three picks to take a safety, a defensive lineman, and a cornerback. Uhhhh...OK.

Maybe these guys turn out to be great. I don't know. Not too many of Tom Donahoe's picks panned out, and nor, frankly, did many of John Butler's picks in his latter years here. But Levy always had a different view on personnel: he always looked for character and intelligence and raw athletic ability, players who could develop rather than start right now, and that appears to be what he's doing now that he's a GM. I'm willing to give him partial benefit of the doubt on the players he chose, but I'm less convinced about the manner in which he chose them. The best argument that I've seen is that Levy (and his assistants) came into this draft knowing, for the most part, which players they really wanted to get, and they paid the prices they needed to pay to ensure that they got them. If that's the case, then these guys had better pan out.

And I should note that I'm distinctly unhappy that the Bills didn't take an offensive lineman until the fifth round, and as of this writing, they've only taken that one OL player. I'd really hoped that OL would be a more pressing concern, given how stunningly bad the line has been the last few years. Maybe they're convinced that the cast-off free agents they've signed will pan out, but it's worth remembering that this is a team that closed out last season with zero starting offensive linemen who'd been drafted here. Free agency hasn't changed everything, folks -- the draft is still the main means of upgrading the level of talent on an NFL team over time.

Again, none of this is remotely exact. The Bills' biggest draft bust of all time, Mike Williams, was taken fourth overall in the first round. One of the Bills' best offensive linemen ever, Howard Ballard, was taken in the twelfth round, back when the draft had twelve rounds. Today, Ballard would be an undrafted free agent. But you can't develop the linemen if you only draft one or two per year.

* For newer readers, the word "StuPats" is an abbreviation of "New England Stupid Patriots". Because the NFL team from New England has, for the last five years, been the focus of Ultimate Evil in the sports world.

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