ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper gave the Buffalo Bills the second-lowest grade in the NFL in evaluating the results of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The big reason was the cost the Bills paid to move up five spots in the first round to pick Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Buffalo surrendered first- and fourth-round picks in 2015. “I love the player,” Kiper said of Watkins, “but losing a future first-rounder stings.”
Did the Bills have a good draft? Opinions were mixed among draft analysts, most of whom hedged their verdict and acknowledged the big deal might work.
Here’s a summary of opinions:
• Former Bills general manager Bill Polian: “If the Bills aren’t ready to win NOW, they gave up way too much … even if Watkins is great,” Polian said on Sirius NFL radio.
• ESPN’s Todd McShay: Applauded the aggressive move for Watkins but remains skeptical about Bills quarterback EJ Manuel.
• NFL Network’s Charles Davis: Gave Bills an A.
• NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah: Gave Bills a B-plus.
• Former Bills lineman Ross Tucker of Sirius NFL radio: “I think they gave up way too much.”
• NFL Network’s Mike Mayock: We’ll know a year from now.
• Former Dallas executive Gil Brandt of NFL.com: Watkins will be in the Pro Bowl.
• Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout: Gave Bills a C.
It stands to reason that men who make their living off analyzing the draft would be disinclined to approve of giving up a future first-round pick. Nevertheless, Kiper gave the Bills draft a C-minus. He gave five teams an A, 18 a B and seven a C or C-plus. The only team he rated worse than Buffalo was Indianapolis, with a D.
“I love Sammy Watkins, but I also really like Odell Beckham Jr.,” Kiper said on a conference call Monday, referring to a receiver the New York Giants took at No. 13. “That’s the thing. They could have gotten Beckham without giving up anything. … Obviously they felt, let’s help EJ Manuel out. Let’s get him the top receiver in this draft and go to work. … We’ll see. If Manuel’s the guy, you’re fine. If he’s not, then you lose that pick. That could end up being like the RG3 trade.”
That’s a reference to Washington’s 2012 deal to acquire Robert Griffin III, which wound up costing the Redskins the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Kiper also thinks there could be numerous quarterbacks who are worthy of quality first-round picks next year, including Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariotta, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty. “You have a chance to have two or three of those four or maybe all four develop into really good prospects,” he said.
ESPN’s McShay said he has rated only two receivers higher than Watkins since the 2007 draft. They are Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, both All-Pros. McShay said he rates Watkins equal to Atlanta’s Julio Jones coming out of college.
“If I had EJ Manuel as my starting quarterback, it would be a similar focus,” McShay said. “If this thing’s going to work in Buffalo, they’ve got to have the best supporting cast possible.”
However, McShay is far from sold on Manuel. “EJ’s one of my favorite human beings I’ve been around in the draft process in the 15 years I’ve been doing this,” McShay said. “But I said coming out, I thought it was a reach. I didn’t think they should have drafted him. And I think he has a lot of developing still to do.”
Tucker thinks the Bills’ brain trust knows it’s in a win-now-or-bust situation. “I think they gave up way too much,” he said. “They could have stayed right where they were and got Odell Beckham, who I don’t think is that far off from Watkins. But I think they looked at it and said we’ve got to do something this year. … We have to go out and win this year and at least be exciting this year. We need to give the new owner some reason to keep us around, because if they don’t, who cares about next year’s first-round pick?