The NFL draft brings a plethora of emotions to fans in Western New York. Excitement of another new beginning builds every offseason around this time, but fans have become wise to temper expectations of the always-popular draft.
First-round busts are commonplace during the 14-year playoff drought the Buffalo Bills have brutally endured, but the team has looked to turn that page in recent years. C.J. Spiller, Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore have proved to be cornerstones of the future as the last three first-round selections of the team.
With a fair share of draft disappointments, Buffalo has had to endure plenty of negative press from draft analysts over the years. Risky or safe, the Bills have consistently ignored the media-hyped needs of the team and marked their own path.
From Mel Kiper Jr. to Pete Prisco, Buffalo is often among the teams in the dredges of their annual draft grades. Sometimes their harsh remarks are fair, while other times the team does not get the due diligence for going beyond a simplistic ranking system that draftniks tend to use.
Drafting EJ Manuel in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft did the team no favors with its media critics, and despite posting impressive pickups in their remaining seven picks—the conclusions had already been reached.
Let's look at a couple of analysts' 2013 NFL draft grades from around the web.
I was hard on the Bills for the Manuel pick, but I think they rallied to do some good things, getting Goodwin, Robert Woods, linebacker Kiko Alonso and safety Duke Williams. But they will be defined by the Manuel pick.
Pete Prisco has been one of the more notorious hard graders on Buffalo and this year was no different after the perceived gaffe in the first round. Prisco's initial disdain about the Manuel pick was felt when he gave the Bills an F in his first-round grades article on Thursday evening.
Prisco warmed up to the Bills as the draft progressed, including giving them an A for drafting Marquise Goodwin in Round 3.
The praise of Goodwin was interesting because the speedy receiver from Texas is one of the riskier picks Buffalo had in the 2013 draft. Buffalo's new coaching staff selected Goodwin after he showed up with strong efforts at the Senior Bowl and the combine. However, the team picked T.J. Graham in the third round last year, who possesses similar track speed to Goodwin.
Still, Prisco's grade came down to the low score for Manuel, which can be understood, especially considering how widespread the hate of the pick was across multiple platforms. The Bills tied their success to a risky pick in the first round, but I have a feeling they knew what they were getting themselves into.
The Bills were all about going back to the drawing board with their passing game. The centerpiece is Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, but coach Doug Marrone and his staff have their work cut out to turn him into a polished, athletic passer. They also will try to get Manuel on the same page with the receivers they took for him, USC possession-typeRobert Woods and Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin. Their best pick for the present was on defense, Oregon inside linebacker Kiko Alonso. Offensively, there's a lot of potential but more shaky unknown.
The second set of grades have similar feelings about Manuel and his potential shortcomings at the NFL level. Vinnie Iyer—like many analysts—documents Manuel’s elite set of physical attributes, but marks off for the lack of polish.
Questions about Manuel's NFL-readiness is a fair point, and no knowledgeable Bills fan will discount the point, but no one quite knows the plan for Manuel. Buffalo has kept its moves this offseason much closer to the vest than in past seasons and showed little urgency to make moves in the free-agent market.
The Bills may be willing to let Manuel sit a year or two behind Kevin Kolb while the team continues to collect talent around him through the draft.
Iyer's analysis on Alonso was spot on, however. Many preferred Arthur Brown from Kansas State, myself included, to be the selection at pick No. 46, but Alonso ended up there for Buffalo.
Alonso's tape during his senior year was exciting, and he fits as a pass-rusher up the middle of the defense in Mike Pettine's defense. Alonso should slide into a linebacker spot as an immediate contributor, which Iyer mentions in his analysis.
Analysis (Only with ESPN Insider)
The Bills got a lot of value back when they moved down from No. 8 to No. 16 overall. That's the good. The bad is I just think the No. 16 pick was way too high for EJ Manuel. For me, there's simply too much projection here. He needs to prove that he's capable of getting through progressions quicker and getting the ball out....I'm surprised they didn't get a better guard prospect, given the departure of Andy Levitre. The Bills hit needs, I just think they made a major reach with the biggest need of all. But a year behind Kevin Kolb could be a huge help to Manuel.
Mel Kiper Jr. has been one of the Bills' bigger detractors over the years. He consistently ranked them among the bottom quarter of his grades from 2000 to 2010 because the team failed to draft a left tackle, which he considered the top need.
Buffalo has gotten more generous grades from Kiper since Buddy Nix took over general manager duties, but the Bills finished dead last in Kiper's rankings this year.
Analysts continue to harp on the pick of Manuel in the first round. Buffalo did a marvelous job to move down and still secure a guy that it felt was the top quarterback for its system at pick No. 16. Without that move down, Buffalo is not able to grab Kiko Alonso or Chris Gragg, which I believe is enough to warrant a better grade.
I was also surprised that Buffalo made no move to grab a cornerback or offensive lineman in the draft. The two spots were some of the bigger question marks heading into the draft due to personnel losses this offseason, but neither was addressed.
The team has since made a few moves in post-draft free agency to grab players at those positions, but it was still a bit puzzling to not grab at least one guard in the back half of the draft.
If Manuel works out, then this grade is meaningless because it is the Bills' first-round selection that continues to pull down their overall mark.
A high-risk, potentially high-reward draft. Top Bills personnel men Buddy Nix and Doug Whaley deserve kudos for pre-draft misdirection that convinced everyone Ryan Nassib or even perhaps Matt Barkley would be the No. 8 pick. Instead, they traded down to acquire more valuable choices and still came away with real franchise quarterback target Manuel. I'm admittedly skeptical of Manuel's NFL future, but Buffalo's execution was impressive. Woods, Alonso, Williams, and Gragg were solid value selections. The former two can help right away. The jury is out on whether Goodwin upgrades on in-house speedster T.J. Graham. Meeks and Hopkins were suspect picks.
Although his grading was no higher than Prisco's, Silva provides an interesting classification for each pick by the Bills.
Robert Woods, Alonso, Duke Williams and Gragg have been hailed picks by fans and analysts alike, but it is the other four picks that are the big question marks of the draft. For most analysts, including Silva, the questionable picks are severely outweighing the good things Buffalo did in the middle of the draft.
I am similarly skeptical about Goodwin's fit in the offense. It would not be as big of a deal if the team had not picked Graham last year, and this gives fans the opportunity to gripe about passing on Russell Wilson again. Wilson was picked by the Seattle Seahawks only a few slots after Buffalo traded up to get Graham in the third round.
Silva's analysis of the Bills draft was the best out there because of the way he honestly and objectively broke down the reasons for each selection.
This grade stems from the first-round selection of E.J. Manuel, who was my favorite quarterback prospect entering the draft. Both second-round picks (Southern Cal wide receiver Robert Woods and Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso) could be Week 1 starters.
Marvez's grade of an A- is a far cry from anything else on the web right now. In fact, his Fox Sports colleague Floyd Engel gave the Bills a D and wrote a predictably scathing review. Here is what Engel had to say:
I read a review of them that said “aside from the questionable (E.J.) Manuel pick.” There is no aside. When your first-round pick is used on a questionable QB in a draft short on them, you failed.
A review like that is a bit off point. Analysts sometimes get too tied up in the first-round status of a player rather than the body of work. If Buffalo comes away with three or four high-performing starters in a few years, then it can soften the blow if Manuel does not work out.
First-round picks are important for a franchise, but the overall draft process is far more important than one selection. I will give Engel's review a D for getting caught up in being too short-sighted.
Back to Marvez, it is interesting to see such a high grade for a team that is perceived as having the worst pick of the first round. Manuel was invited to the draft for a reason, and a few analysts, including Marvez, believed that he had the skills to be the best quarterback in a class that had no sure thing.
The best move of Buffalo’s entire weekend might turn out to be signing undrafted WR Da’Rick Rogers. That’s a low-risk gamble, one that pairs well with the selections of WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso and S Duke Williams. It’s also the opposite of using pick 16 on QB EJ Manuel. The Bills’ 2013 draft hinges on Manuel being able to shine.
Chris Burke is one of the more level-headed and enjoyable reads during NFL draft week. He gave the Bills a mark similar to many of his peers, but he provides a thoughtful big-picture response about the whole weekend.
Rarely do writers include the post-draft free-agency period in their analysis, so I appreciated Burke's above-and-beyond approach. Da'Rick Rogers was the biggest name on the undrafted list, and the Bills quickly scooped him up after the draft. I was hoping Buffalo would draft the troubled Rogers in the middle of the draft, but it got him at an even more discounted price.
If the talented receiver can get his head on straight, then the signing alone makes the Bills' draft weekend much more appealing.
Woods, Alonso and Williams continue to get the highest grades across the board and for good reason. The three players were easily the best value picks for the team and should be immediate starters at receiver, linebacker and strong safety, respectively.
Burke's final line in his analysis was the truest of them all. All eyes will be on Manuel, but I continue to believe that what the team did in Rounds 2-4 should outshine what it did in the first round.