Biggest Questions the Buffalo Bills Must Answer over Draft Week
The NFL draft is almost here. No, really.
EJ Manuel seems to have returned to full health, so the Buffalo Bills don't need to worry about finding their starting quarterback in this year's draft. That will allow them to focus on other areas that could use some upgrades.
The Bills don't have any glaring needs, which gives them the flexibility to go in numerous directions during the draft. However, general manager Doug Whaley still has some holes to fill if he wants to see his team break the league's longest playoff drought.
Because of all of their options, the Bills have been involved in numerous storylines heading into draft weekend. Will they trade up and look to add one of the elite prospects? Or could they trade back if moving up proves costly and none of their targets are available at No. 9?
Those are just some of the questions Whaley needs to answer to ensure he continues the draft success he had last year. Let's take a look at the rest of the questions facing the Bills as the draft (finally) approaches.
Will They Fill in the Offensive Line?
The Bills have a solid foundation on their offensive line.
Cordy Glenn is a promising young left tackle, and center Eric Wood just inked a four-year contract extension before last season. Anyone willing to autograph a ping pong paddle or eviction notice is worth having around.
Doug Whaley also brought in Chris Williams from St. Louis during free agency. Williams will likely seize a starting role at one of the guard spots.
But the Bills still need to add some pieces up front in the draft. Jake Matthews is a player the Bills would love to have if they stay put at No. 9, as he could likely step in and start at right tackle from day one. Per Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, Matthews' father, Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews, says the feeling is mutual.
Good. He's excited. Likes Coach [Doug] Marrone. It's funny because it's hard to even picture any scenario but the more you think about it, that would work.
If the Bills go a different direction in the first round, they will likely target a tackle somewhere in the draft. Morgan Moses or Ja'Wuan James could be options in the second round.
No matter how you slice it, offensive line is one of the main priorities. The unit ranked in the top five for most sacks and quarterback hits given up last year. Manuel is coming off a season rattled by injuries, so it's important to ensure he is protected. If he's constantly on his back or running for his life, there's no way he will be able to improve.
Will They Add More Weapons on Offense?
Speaking of Manuel, another way to aid his progression is to give him some more toys to play with in the offense.
He's got a good one-two punch behind him in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Steve Johnson, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin make up a pretty solid group of receivers, though whether Williams cleans up his act for his hometown team remains to be seen.
One thing the Bills don't have is a big, I'll-throw-it-up-and-you-go-get-it-type receiver who can create mismatches on the outside and in the red zone.
Players such as Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins or Eric Ebron could each fill that role for the Bills, but landing Watkins or Evans would require the Bills to move up in the first round and thus cost the Bills some draft picks.
During the Bills' pre-draft press conference, Whaley discussed how having such a player would help Manuel.
...he can find that guy anywhere and also EJ can basically throw up the ball and you’ve got a 6’5” guy with 35-inch arms and 30-plus vertical, that’s a big target that you can have down the field.
It's important to give a young quarterback plenty of reliable targets to aid his development. Adding a big receiver sometime during draft weekend could do just that.
Will They Make a Trade in the First Round?
According to WGR's Joe Buscaglia, the Bills could have there eye on Sammy Watkins to fill out their offensive arsenal.
Buscaglia cited a conversation with a league source that said the Bills could look to move up and grab him if he gets past the third or fourth pick.
As we know, doing so would cost draft picks, and losing too many picks would be counterproductive to what the team is trying to do. But Whaley wouldn't rule it out, per Buscaglia, saying it would be a "calculated decision" and that "it all depends on the deal."
Another option for the Bills is trading back if they don't like how the top picks shake out. The worst-case scenario is no quarterbacks going in the top eight, which would leave the cupboard pretty bare when the Bills go on the clock.
Trading back worked out for the Bills last year and it could certainly work again. Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram outlined how the Cowboys have interest in Johnny Manziel. Cowboys fans have even already started ordering custom Manziel jerseys.
So what if Manziel is on the board an No. 9, and all of the Bills' top targets are gone? Couldn't you see Whaley putting in a call to Jerry Jones getting him to give up the farm (or at least a few of the animals) to jump ahead of Tennessee and St. Louis and get Manizel? It sure seems like something Jones would do.
Moving back brings in extra picks, and the Bills could still land a player like C.J. Mosely in the first round. The Bills have a bevy of options in front of them. It will be interesting to see which direction they go Thursday night.
How Will They Fill in the Defense?
While the offense should take priority, the Bills still have a few holes to fill on an up-and-coming defense.
The Bills were second in the league in sacks and interceptions last year, so Jim Schwartz has a good foundation on which to build. However, the Bills are on their fourth defensive coordinator in as many years and have to deal with the loss of Jairus Byrd.
The switch to the 4-3 defense also necessitates finding another pass-rusher to complement Mario Williams. Scott Crichton, Trent Murphy and Demarcus Lawrence could all get a look from the Bills in the second round and compete to start opposite Williams.
And you can never count out the Jadeveon Clowney factor.
Besides defensive end, the Bills also could look to add another linebacker, and it will be interesting to see what they think of the state of their safety position. The ink is still drying on Aaron Williams' new contract, and Da'Norris Searcy got some time last year when Byrd was injured. Newly signed Corey Graham could also see some time on the back end.
The strength of the Bills right now certainly is the defense. With a few timely picks, the unit could make a leap from very good to great.
Will They Take a Quarterback?
We know that Manuel is the guy for the Bills in 2014, so don't expect them to take a quarterback early.
But we still don't know if Manuel is the long-term answer, and the options behind him on the depth chart leave much to be desired. "Rad" Thad Lewis was serviceable in Manuel's absence, and if nothing else, he helped the team sweep the Dolphins.
As for Jeff Tuel, well, maybe there was a reason he went undrafted last year.
The Bills won't go anywhere without the right guy under center. Manuel could get there, but it's still unknown as of now. So it couldn't hurt to bring in someone to compete for the backup job. If no other players knock their socks off in the later rounds, the Bills could look at, say, Aaron Murray out of Georgia. Murray's had knee issues of his own, but he was prolific in his four years in Athens.
For now, the Bills have their starting quarterback. But it never hurts to keep your options open at the most important position in sports.