Losing seasons in Orchard Park are about as common as Christmas falling on December 25 every year. Fans look to the bright lights of the spring draft to find comfort, and Buffalo's success rate at the top of the draft over the last ten years is usually the butt of jokes among the team's faithful fanbase.
Still, every year, as soon as the final seconds of the regular season tick off the clock, those fans flock to message boards and blogs alike to begin their quest to find the best fit for their ever-rebuilding Bills. The draft becomes a bit of obsession during the miserable winter months. Who can blame fans for putting so much stock in the event?
Quick fixes around the league have come through the draft in recent years, and it is easy to get jealous about the results those teams have conjured. Instead, Buffalo has botched pick after pick, focusing too much on secondary needs and not on positions that hurt the Bills' level of competitiveness.
A Look at Past Drafts
Willis McGahee, JP Losman, Lee Evans, Donte Whitner, John McCargo, Marshawn Lynch, Leodis McKelvin, Aaron Maybin, Eric Wood, C.J. Spiller, Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore.
That's a hodge-podge list of the Bills' first-round picks over the last ten drafts—and those picks provided a mixed bag of results. For every hit (Spiller, Evans, Wood), there is a miss (Maybin, McCargo, Losman) and also a variety of headaches like Lynch and McGahee.
At first glance, the list may not look like a ledger of historical failures. However, the common thread is that many of these players are no longer on the team; they failed to become part of the equation of success in the town that desperately craves it.
Buffalo has also had the tendency to reach on players who were considered late-risers in the draft process, and that includes their two most recent first-round picks.
Buddy Nix and his staff have put together a few solid drafts since they took over the helm right before the 2010 draft, although some players like Alex Carrington and C.J. Spiller have taken awhile to reap the rewards. Nix has stressed the need to combine a best-player-available and need-drafting approach, which means that Buffalo will not worry about "reaching" on a player they like.
Gilmore, who was drafted 10th overall by the Bills last year, saw his draft stock all over the place leading up to last year's combine. The South Carolina Gamecock blazed his way to a 4.4 40-yard dash, and the arrow pointed up the rest of the way leading up to the draft.
Luke Kuechly, Riley Reiff and Cordy Glenn, who eventually made it to Buffalo in the second round, were all favorites to go to the Bills at No. 10, but Gilmore started picking up steam in the week or two leading up to the draft.
Gilmore was firmly entrenched as a consensus first-round pick, but many draft experts had him slotted in the mid- to high-20s on their boards. Dan Hope, an NFL draft featured columnist, slotted the corner as the 24th pick to the Steelers and ranked Gilmore as his No. 23 player.
NFL.com writer and draft personality Mike Mayock did not have Gilmore listed in his top-five corners before the combine, but he later listed Gilmore as a player he loved leading up to the April draft.
Even with solid numbers at the combine, Gilmore was still considered a late-riser in the draft process, and was a bit of a surprise pick when he went off the board at pick No. 10. He flashed the potential of a top-flight corner at times during his rookie season, but the Bills need Gilmore to become a polished product at a faster pace due to the state of the franchise.
Taking a fast-rising prospect does not always work out in such a way.
Aaron Maybin showed a quick first step at the combine, which backed up his numbers during his junior season at Penn State during the 2008-09 college season. The Nittany Lion defensive end was a raw prospect coming in, but workouts led to Maybin flying up draft boards late.
Bills' fans were clamoring for Brian Orakpo, but instead got Maybin, who flamed out after only two seasons and zero sacks in Buffalo. He is now a camp body as a member of the Cincinncati Bengals.
Dareus trailed Nick Fairley in the defensive tackle ratings heading into the combine, but was a consensus Top 10 pick before ultimately going third. Spiller only ran the 40-yard drills at the combine because he was the clear-cut favorite to be the first running back off the board. The only mystery was which team in the top 15 would take a chance on the explosive back—and he ended up being Nix's first draft selection.
Late-Risers at Pick No. 8?
For the sake of definition, we'll say that late-risers are guys currently not in the Top 16 players according to Matt Miller's 2013 NFL Draft Big Board. Many of the guys on this list will probably not make it into the Top 10, but again we are going for possible last-minute surprises based on the workout process.
1. LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State Big Board Rank: 21
Brown is all over the board depending on who you ask, but for the most part the inside linebacker is being slotted in the 20s. Brown is a guy who put up outstanding numbers for the Wildcats after transferring over from Miami for his junior season. He was the top-ranked linebacker prospect in the 2008 high school recruiting class, but never developed under Randy Shannon in South Beach.
He will work out on Monday morning and should be a guy more on the radar once his workouts have been completed. Brown is an explosive athlete who should time fairly well in straight line speed and in individual workouts.
The main knock on him is his height, which players like NaVorro Bowman and Lavonte David have been penalized for in recent drafts. Bowman fell to the third round and David to the second round in the last two drafts despite creating a ton of buzz in college. With good marks during the combine, Brown could build upon his current draft stock because teams will be wary of ignoring similarities to top NFL linebackers of similar stature.
2. OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina Big Board Rank: 28
While Chance Warmack was the guard everyone was talking about coming into the combine, Cooper was the player who gained the most during workouts on Saturday afternoon. Cooper consistently manhandled players during the season and showed superior agility when compared to his peers during the workouts in Indianapolis.
Bills' fans may not like the thought of picking a guard at No. 8 when the team should be keeping Andy Levitre. However, if Levitre decides to take money elsewhere, then it may not be so bad of an idea.
Not trying to win any popularity votes with this pick, but Cooper's stock is one to watch over the next two months.
3. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia Big Board Rank: 29
Yeah, yeah—taking advantage of a name that was trending on Twitter at one point Sunday because of his unofficial 4.25 time in the 40-yard dash. Austin's official time was put back at 4.34, well short of Chris Johnson's combine record, though it landed him second for the receivers, behind only Marquise Goodwin.
Austin has similar track speed to the Bills' third-round pick from last year, T.J. Graham. The two players were only .01 seconds apart, with Graham running a 4.35 last combine. The main difference between the two is that Austin is the more natural football player, while Graham is more of a general athlete.
Graham ranked fifth on the team in catches in his rookie season, but Buffalo could use another difference-maker opposite Stevie Johnson. That need has been escalated even higher now that Donald Jones and David Nelson have both been told that the team will not tender them.
Austin can contribute immediately as a game-changing special teams player, while also filling the hole the Bills have in the slot now that Nelson is gone. His 5'9" frame may be worrisome for some people, but his speed and toughness translates to the NFL level in a big way.
Big wide receivers like Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen are popular mocks to Buffalo at No. 8, but Austin could be a name to linked more to the Bills as time goes on.
As I mentioned, Buffalo could stick to the status quo quarterback or big receiver mocks that we have been seeing since the end of season. Just don't be surprised if a name that looks like a flavor of the month finds himself in the Top 10 after the whole process is said and done.