Buffalo Bills: Best Draft Picks by Round in Franchise History

Greg MaiolaSenior Analyst IIJanuary 22, 2013

Buffalo Bills: Best Draft Picks by Round in Franchise History

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    As the Buffalo Bills prepare to head in a new direction with coach Doug Marrone in 2013, the NFL Draft is a major opportunity for the Bills to add talent and get the franchise back into the playoffs.

    Believe it or not, the draft has treated the Bills very well over the years. Though the 2000s haven't been exactly kind to Buffalo in the early rounds, the Bills have actually found deep talent in the draft. And in the years prior to 2000, Buffalo rarely whiffed on an early round selection.

    So while Buddy Nix prepares for one final draft in Buffalo with coach Marrone, now is a great time to look at the best draft selections Buffalo has made i every round throughout franchise history.

    Here are the best picks made in every round by the Buffalo Bills.

Round 1: Jim Kelly, QB, Miami, Pick 14, 1983

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    After initially snubbing the Buffalo Bills for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL in 1983, Kelly made his Buffalo debut in 1986 and easily became the best quarterback in franchise history.

    Kelly and the Bills introduced—and thrived with—the famous K-Gun offense, which allowed for a lot of scoring and a lot of winning. From 1991-94, the Bills won an unprecedented four consecutive AFC Championships, taking the small market team to the glorious Super Bowl four times in a row.

    In 2002, Kelly was a first ballot Hall of Fame selection, proving his greatness. He left Buffalo with a franchise record 35,467 passing yards, 237 touchdowns and an 84.4 passer rating. His No.12 is currently the only number ever retired by the Bills.

    Buffalo made the playoffs in eight of Kelly's 11 seasons and won six divisional crowns in the 1988-95 time period. In 2009, he was selected as the quarterback on the Bills' 50th Anniversary Team.

    In a sport where a quarterback dictates a franchise's success, the Bill nailed the 14th overall pick in 1983. Kelly brought a sense of winning to the Bills and a sense of pride to Buffalo. Since his departure in 1996, Buffalo has yet to find a franchise quarterback, showing how rare his breed is.

    Without Kelly's guidance and direction, there is a possibility that Buffalo would have never tasted the success that they did. He directed the Bills dynasty in the early1990's and for that, he is the best first round pick the Bills ever made.

Round 2: Thurman Thomas, RB, Oklahoma State, Pick 40, 1988

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    Thurman Thomas was another crucial piece to the puzzle for the Bills' dominance of the AFC in the early 1990s.

    Thomas is a five-time Pro Bowl selection who won the AP NFL MVP Award in 1991. Thomas is the Bills' career leader with 11,938 rushing yards and has 16,532 yards from scrimmage in his 13-year career (he spent 2000 with the Miami Dolphins).

    Thomas was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He was a phenomenal receiving threat out of the backfield and helped fuel the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1991-94.

    Thomas is the only player in league history to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage four consecutive times and more impressively rushed for 1,000 yards eight consecutive seasons. That consistency easily makes him the best Bills running back of all time and what he did in the postseason was just as impressive.

    He scored a touchdown in a record nine straight playoff games and rushed for 1,442 yards and caught 76 passes for 672 yards in 21 career playoff games. In Super Bowl XXV, Thomas rushed for 135 yards and a score and caught five balls for 55 yards.

    Thomas was voted as the running back on the team's 50th Anniversary squad and is simply a gem for being a second round pick. His draft stock fell due to a college injury, and when the Bills stopped him from sliding further in the 1988 NFL Draft, he went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

    That production is extremely hard to match, even for any player that goes No. 1 overall.

Round 3: Joe Ferguson, QB, Arkansas, Pick 57, 1973

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    The third round isn't a round that the Bills have necessarily nailed since their drafting days started in 1961, but Joe Ferguson was a solid pick in this round.

    Ferguson played with Buffalo from 1973-1984, before his NFL career ended in 1990 and pro-football career ended in 1995.

    Ferguson threw for a league-high 25 touchdowns in 1975 and threw for a career high 3,652 yards in 1981. At one time, Ferguson started a league-record 107 games at quarterback until he was replaced by Joe Dufek in 1985 by Buffalo.

    He started immediately since being drafted, which was rare in that time as teams would develop younger players, and took the Bills to a 4-2 start that year. In 1993, he was inducted into the Bills' Wall of Fame and his No. 12 uniform was made famous by Jim Kelly, making it the most successful number in team history.

    After retirement, Ferguson coached at Arkansas and Louisiana Tech University before defeating cancer in 2005 and again in 2008.

    His only playoff win for Buffalo (and his career) was against the Jets in 1981 and he lost his three other postseason matchups with Buffalo.

    Ferguson was a fantastic pick for Buffalo in 1973 because the third rounder came in and started immediately en route to a 12-year Bills career. He came into Buffalo as a 23-year- old kid and left a 34-year old man. That is a lot of value for a third round pick and Ferguson was well respected throughout his stint with the Bills.

    The Bills nailed the 57th pick in 1973 and turned a third rounder into a franchise player. Though he never brought any hardware to western New York, his contributions will never be forgotten by Bills fans.

Round 4: Andre Reed, WR, Kutztown, Pick 86, 1985

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    Kutztown isn't exactly an NFL factory. But when the Bills selected Andre Reed with the 86th pick of the 1985 NFL Draft, they pulled off one of the biggest draft-day steals in history.

    Reed played 15 consecutive seasons with Buffalo, from 1985-99, and left Buffalo as the franchise's all-time leading receiver. With the Bills, Reed recorded 941 receptions for 13,095 yards and 86 touchdowns.

    He was voted into seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1988-94, has been inducted into the Bills' Wall of Fame, inducted into the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and was a starting receiver on the Bills' 50th Anniversary Team.

    Though the Bills were unable to capitalize on any of their four consecutive AFC crowns, Reed ranks second all time with 27 Super Bowl receptions, trailing only the great Jerry Rice. Reed played in 234 career games in 16 NFL seasons, showing his durability and toughness.

    Reed may be best remembered for his contributions on the January 3rd, 1993 infamous comeback against the Houston Oilers. Reed caught eight passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns, allowing the Bills to take a 35-3 deficit and turn it into the biggest comeback in NFL history.

    Reed has all the credentials needed for Canton and though he has been passed over since 2006, he will eventually be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

    When the Bills took a chance on the kid from Kutztown in 1985, they had no idea they were getting a franchise player who would be Canton-bound. His production has only been matched or exceeded by a few elite wideouts who will all find their name enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

    Reed's durability, clutch play and consistency doesn't only make him the Bills' best fourth round selection ever, but maybe the best fourth round pick in NFL history.

Round 5: Kyle Williams, DT, LSU, Pick 134, 2006

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    Kyle Williams has been one of the best finds by the Bills in the 2000s. Though he was overlooked in the draft and slipped far, he eventually started for the Bills as a rookie and hasn't looked back.

    Williams was added to the 2010 Pro Bowl as an alternate, named to the 2011 Pro Bowl as an injury replacement, named All-Pro for the 2010 season and was recently added to the 2013 Pro Bowl.

    Pro Football Focus was very high on Williams in 2010 and he eventually was named No. 3 on Pro Football Focus' top 101 Players of 2010.

    He now serves as one of the defensive captains and anchors a defensive of line with Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.

    The Bills haven't let Williams' play go unnoticed as they signed him to a six-year $39 million extension in 2011. The amount of faith put into any player is hard to earn and the fifth round pick has earned it.

    When the Bills drafted Williams 134th overall in 2006, they were hoping to add depth and a player with a lot of upside. Williams exceeded all of his expectations and has developed into one of the premier defensive tackles in all of football.

Round 6: Dusty Ziegler, C, Notre Dame, Pick 202, 1996

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    Though George Saimes was a sixth round pick in both the 1963 NFL Draft and 1963 AFL Draft, and played for the Bills from 1963-69, he was acquired and not drafted by Buffalo.

    This leaves Dusty Zeigler as the best sixth round pick made by Buffalo, which happens to be the lousiest of all seven rounds.

    Zeigler was drafted in 1996 and played in Buffalo through 1999. He was listed at 6'5'' and 305 pounds as a Bill, providing great size to the line.

    He started 44 of the 46 games he played with the Bills and started in both the 1998 and 1999 playoffs, though he was shifted to right guard during the 1999 season.

    The Bills picked Zeigler late in the 1996 NFL Draft and, instead of adding another camp body or scout-team player, they added a quality starter for a few seasons. In the sixth round of the NFL Draft, that's as much as you can ask for.

    Zeigler exceeded any expectations for somebody picked 202nd overall and made a name out of himself.

Round 7: Stevie Johnson, WR, Kentucky, Pick 224, 2008

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    Stevie Johnson was one of the greatest late found finds in all of the 2000s. The kid from Kentucky proved that he was more than a camp body and more than a one-dimensional receiver and etched his name into the Bills record book.

    Johnson became the only Bills receiver to have consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. That is a very impressive feat considering the likes of Andre Reed, James Lofton, Eric Moulds, Peerless Price and Lee Evans have thrived in Buffalo. Johnson even expanded that record to three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons with an impressive 2012 season.

    Though he has been controversial at times, Johnson's hard work was rewarded when he re-upped with the Bills on a five-year contract in 2012.

    Over the past three seasons, Johnson has 237 receptions for 3,123 yards and 23 touchdowns. He is a precise route runner who has quick feet and an elusive skill set. With new coach Doug Marrone taking over the team, Johnson's offensive potential is scary and he is primed for a career year in 2013.

    The Bills nailed their second to last pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and it's safe to say the seventh rounder has outperformed and outproduced every other Bill in that draft class.

    Though the Bills deserve a lot of credit for finding this diamond in the rough, Johnson deserves an enormous amount of credit for working to be one of the best receivers to ever don a Bills' uniform.