Re-Grading the Buffalo Bills' 2011 NFL Draft Class

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Re-Grading the Buffalo Bills' 2011 NFL Draft Class
David Duprey/Associated Press
Marcell Dareus (middle) posing with former GM Buddy Nix (left), owner Ralph Wilson (middle) and former HC Chan Gailey (right) outside Ralph Wilson Stadium.

There's always a mad rush to grade each team's haul in the NFL draft. The opinions pour forth like an avalanche of snow, and when they've stopped, we tend to forget it all happened.

In truth, it should be the exact opposite. We should be waiting before rushing to place grades on the draft. There will always be grades given in the immediate "draftermath," but it's only fair to take a look back once we've seen the players in the league for a few years.

We now have a three-year sample size to look back at the 2011 NFL draft and see how teams really fared.

At the time, analysts were high on the Bills' selections. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Bills a B, saying that the Bills didn't do a good job of addressing needs but did a fine job of finding value. Adam Caplan of Fox Sports gave the Bills a B+ for similar reasons, saying, "For a change, the Bills actually drafted for value and don't appear to have made any real reaches." Steve Serby of the New York Post gave them an A.

How did the Bills' haul actually turn out after three years in the league? Let's take a look and see.

Note: Late-round picks count less on the final grade than early-round picks.

 

First Round, Third Overall—DT Marcell Dareus

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Marcell Dareus (99, left) celebrates a sack in his first-ever trip to the Pro Bowl.

The Bills have flipped back and forth between a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense. Fortunately for them, they used the third overall pick in 2011 on one of the most scheme versatile defensive linemen that was available in that draft. 

Dareus has played all over the line in both schemes. He was a nose tackle and a defensive end in a three-man line, and lined up as the 1- or 3-technique defensive tackle on the inside of a four-man front. He has the skill set to carry out either role: the strength to sustain a stranglehold on multiple gaps, and the quick twitch to split gaps when he's asked to get into the backfield.

With an average salary of $5,101,825, Dareus is the 10th highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, according to Spotrac. That's just for his rookie deal, but it's actually a fair value considering his talent level relative to the league's other highest paid defensive tackles.

The Bills could have also had A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones or J.J. Watt with this pick. Considering all the changes the Bills have been through over the years, Dareus is the best pick they could have made here.

Grade: A

 

Second Round, 34th Overall—CB Aaron Williams

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

It's a good thing we've waited a few years to look back at this draft, because for a couple years afterward, it looked like Williams may be a total bust. He had the size at 6'0" and 204 pounds, but he didn't have the ball skills of an elite corner, and his instincts needed some work as well. He was supposed to contribute in man coverage, and in the slot. He didn't run a blazing fast 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds, but he had quick feet to keep up with shiftier receivers over the middle.

In a scouting report on Williams, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller repeatedly uses the phrase "if he wants to stick at cornerback," which alluded to what eventually happened. Williams struggled to find his groove at cornerback, and he switched to safety with Jairus Byrd injured to start 2013.

Williams earned the confidence of the front office in that role. He did so well at safety, that Bills general manager Doug Whaley had just one word to say when asked whether he felt Williams could replace Byrd as the No. 1 safety.

"Absolutely," Whaley said, via BuffaloBills.com.

Not only was he calling signals for the defense, but he was also able to hold his own in deep coverage. Because of his experience as a cornerback, he can also hold his own in man coverage. It remains to be seen whether Williams can play to Byrd's level, but he is trending in the right direction.

Grade: B-

 

Third Round, 68th Overall—LB Kelvin Sheppard

Elsa/Getty Images

The Bills drafted Sheppard to be one of two inside linebackers in their 3-4 defense. When they switched schemes, he was no longer deemed a fit. He has the look of a scheme versatile linebacker at 6'2" and 256 pounds, but looks are deceiving. While Sheppard could hold his own in zone coverage, he was never enough of an athlete to match up with NFL tight ends over the middle. He struggled even more against the run, where he'd often get blocked out of the play.

After two years in which he struggled to find a fit, the Bills traded him to the Colts for defensive end Jerry Hughes. It was a reclamation swap at the time, with both players looking to turn the tide on their careers.

In the end, the Bills landed a former first-round pick for their former third-round pick, and ended up with a talented pass-rusher for their trouble. They stumbled into a fortunate trade, but that does not change the fact that this was a bad pick, made worse by the Bills' constant changing of defensive schemes.

Grade: D-

 

Fourth Round, 100th Overall—DB Da'Norris Searcy

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills clearly wanted to fortify their defense in this draft, spending their first four selections on that side of the ball. 

Searcy was regarded as a stout in-the-box strong safety with good zone coverage skills, but lacking the speed and quickness to keep up with receivers in man coverage. The Bills have done a good job of playing to Searcy's strengths when he is on defense—particularly last year, when defensive coordinator Mike Pettine sent him on a pass-rush on 50 snaps. Searcy ended the season with four sacks.

He played almost all the Bills' defensive snaps in the first six weeks of the season, while Byrd was still dealing with plantar fasciitis. Schematically, Searcy was the one who replaced Byrd as the free safety in most situations. Regardless of his role on defense, he's been contributing on special teams ever since entering the league.  

Grade: A-

 

Fourth Round, 122nd Overall—OL Chris Hairston

Bill Wippert/Associated Press

At 6'6" and 326 pounds with 35.25-inch long arms, Hairston came straight out of Clemson with the frame of an offensive tackle. Scouts saw his length and upper body strength as tools that would help him as a run-blocker and in re-routing edge defenders around the quarterback, but but a little lacking in athleticism and quickness. There were also questions about whether he could hold up on the left side against quicker defensive ends.

Flash forward to 2014 and Hairston has yet to earn a legitimate starting role. He started 10 games at left tackle and five games at right tackle from 2011 to 2012, filling in for injured starters in that time. He was competing for the starting job on the right side in 2013, but the Bills placed him on the non-football injury list in August and he missed the entire season.

Hairston has been a valuable member of the offensive line as the top backup tackle, and he has played well in his limited time when healthy. If he can stay off the injury report, the Bills might find him to be a capable starting right tackle. For now, his grade is docked for his inability to stay on the field.

Grade: C+

 

Fifth Round, 133rd Overall—RB Johnny White

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

It took awhile for White to find his true position during his time at North Carolina. He bounced back and forth, playing both running back and cornerback. He finished his career on a high note, though, with 130 carries for 720 yards (5.5 YPA) and seven touchdowns, adding 24 catches for 288 yards in the process.

Scouts raved about his vision, burst and ability to make defenders miss in tight quarters, but the one knock on him was his game speed. He timed well, running a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, but overall, did not show the necessary long speed to make big plays. For a team willing to take a chance on a developmental prospect, though, he had a nice foundation to eventually be a role-player among a stable of backs.

His skill never translated to the NFL, so while it's hard to knock the Bills for taking a shot on him, they gave up on him after less than two years. He spent 2013 out of the NFL.

Grade: D-

 

Sixth Round, 169th Overall—LB Chris White

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Chris White was productive in college, logging 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in his final season at Mississippi State. Still, some scouts regarded him as a product of the system.

At 6'3" and 240 pounds, he had the size to be a middle linebacker, and his lack of speed would have forced him to play that position anyway. What he lacked was the strength to shed blocks against NFL linemen and the athleticism to keep up with receivers and backs in coverage. NFL.com's scouting report was rather scathing:

Does not show the ability to line up over the tight end and set the edge, or play off the line, find the football and pursuit with sound technique. Can get to the quarterback when guessing the snap count on blitzes, but doesn't possess a refined pass rushing skill set. Not capable of holding up in man coverage against receiver threats. Zone coverage is only adequate but does exhibit some playmaking ability.

He was injured early in the 2011 season and placed on injured reserve. Since then, he has bounced around as a member of the practice squad with the Lions and, now, the Patriots

Grade: F

 

Seventh Round, 206th Overall—CB Justin Rogers

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

The Bills obviously did not have high hopes for Justin Rogers, drafting him in the seventh round. However, he gradually ascended up the depth chart. He earned a part-time role in the defense in his rookie season, and then an even bigger role as the team's primary nickel corner by Week 2 of his second season, and finally won a starting job headed into Week 1 of the 2013 season. 

His coverage, however, was always suspect. He's a little undersized at 5'11" and 180 pounds, but his instincts and quick twitch ability were seen as strengths for him, but he allowed completions on 66.1 percent of the throws into his coverage in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and 61.5 percent in 2013. His lack of long speed made him a burn victim at the NFL level, and he allowed an average of 13.9 yards per reception into his coverage through his career.

His final game with the Bills was a perfect example, as he allowed two big touchdown catches to Jets wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill. He was waived two weeks later, then picked up and waived by both the Texans and Dolphins.

Grade: D-

 

Seventh Round, 245th Overall—OL Michael Jasper

David Duprey/Associated Press

Michael Jasper was seen as a ball of clay that could be molded into one of the most physical run-blocking interior offensive linemen the league has ever known. Scouts were intrigued by Jasper's freakish athleticism at 450 pounds while at Bethel University in 2011, and he measured in at 6'4" and 394 pounds at the combine.

He was never able to cut the weight though, getting down to 375 a year later and saying that his weight was no longer an issue, but it wasn't enough. He never played a game before finally being released by the Bills during his second training camp with the team. He's bounced around from the Titans to the Panthers since leaving Buffalo, but has yet to play a single snap in the NFL.

Grade: F

 

Overall Grade: B

How would you grade the Bills' 2011 draft haul?

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The Bills totaled eight selections in the 2011 draft, and came away with at least one full-time starter and three top backups who have played well when asked to fill in. Any of those three could eventually step into a starting role.

The selections of Williams and Hairston have not yet fully panned out, and the Sheppard pick proved to be a costly one (until they traded him), so that leaves some room for improvement from this group.

With the potential loss of Byrd, Williams and Searcy could both see an increased role. With right tackle Erik Pears entering the last year of his contract, Hairston may finally get his opportunity as a starter. Depending on how those moves pan out, or don't pan out, this grade could even change in another year or two.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases. All measurements obtained via NFL.com.

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