Archive for January, 2012

Thin Receiver Turnout in Mobile

January 27, 2012

Dwight Jones, North Carolina: Jones is arguably the most highly-touted receiver prospect in Mobile this week and has the potential to sneak into the first round with a strong showing. He hasn’t done much to impress thus far this week and has been knocked for his inability to run fluid routes and create separation from defenders. Nevertheless, the talent is there with Jones and his mixture of size and speed is just terrifying. Jones has the prototypical build of a game-changing receiver. At 6’4, 226 he’s built like Dez Bryant but also seems to have some of the same issues Bryant had coming out of Oklahoma State. His route running needs some serious polish and if the practices earlier in the week are any indication, he needs to learn how to use his frame to break press coverage and adjust to the ball when it’s in the air. Jones seems to be a bit of a project, not unlike his former counterpart in Hakeem Nicks when he was coming out of UNC, but a strong performance in Saturday’s game could be enough to garner some serious interest in the early rounds of April’s draft. .

T.J. Graham, NC State: Graham being number two on this list should tell you that there aren’t many early round receiver prospects present in Alabama this week. That’s no knock against Graham because he is an explosive player who has the potential to be a game breaker for any team that drafts him. Graham’s explosiveness was mostly on special teams however, and caught a career-best 46 passes in 2011 for the Wolf Pack. There’s no doubt he’s a burner and will likely record a top end 40-time at the combine but his future in the NFL will likely never take him out of the slot. At 5’11” 176 he will struggle against press coverage and won’t be a threat to go across the middle. Depending on where he falls (projected 2nd to 3rd) he would be a nice replacement for Roscoe Parrish when he almost definitely leaves via free agency this offseason, but it would be a shock to see the Bills take a chance on another gadget player.

Brian Quick, Appalachian St: Quick is an interesting prospect. His size (6’3”, 222) is ideal and he’s done nothing but produce since the second-half of his freshman year. He caught 71 balls for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011 and has the potential to be a solid receiver at the next level. He’s a solid route runner (Stevie Johnson comparison anyone?) but needs work at getting stronger against press coverage. His biggest knock is the lack of competition in the FCS. Quick is definitely a guy to keep your eye on, on Saturday and could be an intriguing pick on the second or third day of the draft for the Bills.

Senior Bowl Loaded With Talent

January 26, 2012

The Buffalo Bills coaching staff had the opportunity to be front and center at the 2011 Senior Bowl as Chan Gailey and his crew coached the South squad. This gave the team a distinct advantage in recruiting and it really showed with their 2011 draft class. Gailey coached three of his nine picks on the South team in third rounder Kelvin Sheppard, fourth rounder Da’Norris Searcy, and sixth rounder Chris White. The coaching and scouting staff will have to recruit from the bleachers this year but they’ll have a talented crop of prospects in front of them at practice this week. Here’s a look at some possible fits for the 2012 Bills offense in Mobile, Alabama this week.

Quarterback:

Nick Foles (Arizona): Foles has the potential to sky rocket up draft boards with his performance this week. He has all the potential of a first round talent and is built like a NFL QB at 6’5” 244 pounds. There were questions on whether or not he would’ve actually been a first-round choice in the 2011 draft if he would’ve come out as a Junior. He didn’t do much to hurt his stock with an impressive senior season with the Wildcats, racking up 4,334 passing yards and tossing 28 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. Foles also has an extended body of work, starting as a sophomore and passing for 10,011 yards and 67 touchdowns in his three year career. His intangibles are exceptional and received praise by coaches and fellow players alike for his work ethic. He has great arm strength and very good accuracy, finishing the 2011 season with a 69.1 completion percentage and a career percentage of 66.6. His build makes mobility an issue at times however and he seems to have difficulty looking for his second and third reads when his first target is covered. He comes from a mostly spread offense which is always a red flag but has taken snaps from center in a pro-style offense. He missed one game in 2011 with a knee injury and a serious decline from a 7-4 record in 2010 to 4-8 in 2011 is somewhat troubling but can mostly be explained by an absolutely brutal schedule.

Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State): Being categorized in a class with Drew Henson and Chris Weinke is never a good thing when you’re talking about a NFL prospect. Everyone knows Weeden’s story at this point, he abandoned the dream of being an NFL quarterback for a paycheck to play for the New York Yankees. Weeden never made “the Show” and decided to go back to college in 2008 to see if there was any chance he could relive his dream of NFL stardom. His production over the last two seasons is unquestioned, throwing for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2010 and 4,727 yards and 37 scores in 2011. He’s a former pitcher so you know his arm strength is where it needs to be and he shows an almost effortless ability to fit balls into tight spots. His sidearm-type throwing motion does cause the ball to come out low in short passing situations which lends itself to batted balls and he does let the ball sail on longer throws so his accuracy is somewhat in question even though his 72.3% completion percentage wouldn’t indicated it. He too is built like a NFL signal-caller at 6’3” 217. Like Foles, he spent the majority of his college career playing out of a spread offense, which is always a big knock against college quarterbacks (except Cam Newton of course), and has very little experience taking snaps from under center. Weeden has impressed scouts during practices this week but the time it will take to make adjustments to the NFL game could prove costly for the 28 year old and will certainly be a red flag for many teams.

Kellen Moore, Boise State: “System quarterback”, “spread quarterback”, “too small” If you haven’t heard it yet, you will hear an assortment of these descriptions of Moore over the next three months. He lacks ideal size (5’11”, 195), arm strength, and overall skill of most quarterbacks in this class. His production in college is unparalleled and he’s been a starter for the last four years for the Broncos. He holds the record for most wins be a QB in NCAA Division I FBS history and has never thrown for fewer than 3,400 yards and 25 touchdowns in a season. His intangibles, preparation skills and intelligence are second to none. Moore’s size and lack of elite arm strength will most likely outweigh his positives however. Even with a good Senior Bowl week, Moore still projects in the middle rounds but might be worth the Bills taking a waiver on if he falls in the right place.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: Wilson is almost a carbon copy of Moore in terms of size (5’10” 205). His production isn’t too far off either. He too has been a starter since his freshman year and although his overall production isn’t quite at the level of Moore he too is no slouch in any statistical category. He was named first-team All-ACC Quarterback in his freshman year at NC State (he transferred to Wisconsin after his junior year) after tossing 17 touchdowns compared to just one interception. Although his touchdown to interception ratio over his four year career is tremendous (109 to 30) Wilson’s accuracy in his first three years of college was anything but impressive (57.4 average completion percentage). He curbed that trend in a major way his senior year finishing the year with a 72.8% completion percentage, breaking Colt Brennan’s passing efficiency rating (186.0) with a 191.8 QB Rating in the process. Like Moore, Wilson’s biggest detractor is his size and it may be difficult for teams to overlook that. He does seem to have a bit more upside than Moore however and a strong Senior Bowl Performance could land him in the second or third round in April’s draft.

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: Cousins fits more of the prototypical build of a NFL QB (6’3”, 208) as compared to Wilson and Moore. The production is there and like the majority of the class he has an extended body of work, starting since his sophomore year. He’s smart (three-time All-Big Ten Academic) and was the unquestioned leader of the Spartans for the past two seasons. He has some trouble making plays outside the pocket and throwing on the run. He shows good patience but is able to step up when the pocket collapses. Has decent arm strength and accuracy but tends to force balls on occasion. The best way to describe Cousins is steady. He isn’t spectacular at much and above average in several areas. He projects to be a mid-round draft pick and a decent developmental quarterback prospect. If given the choice however the Bills would probably be better suited taking a chance on a Foles, Wilson or Weeden before Cousins.

The Decimation of Hope

January 15, 2012

There are many names for it: optimism, promise, confidence, faith or hope. The ability to look forward to the future and know that tomorrow could be better than today and next year may be better than this. Tim Robbins may have put it best while portraying Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption” when he said “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” It’s true, hope may be the best of things, having an optimistic outlook on life and the future gives us reason to wake up and look forward to the coming day. For fans of the Buffalo Bills, the promise of hope may have finally run out.

The decimation of hope is nothing new for fans of a franchise that was on the wrong end of the “Music City Miracle” and “Wide Right”. In it’s now 52-year existence the organization has seen the playoffs a total of 17 times and boasts an overall record of 363-413-8. They currently hold the longest playoff draught in the NFL which currently sits at 11 years and will soon enter its 12th after this season officially ends. The long-held belief throughout sports that “we’ll get ‘um next year” has been vacant from Western New York for over a decade. The feeling of camaraderie and pride in “our team” has been swayed to the other major sports franchise in town for the better part of that decade and threats of the team’s uprooting to Toronto lingers more and more on an annual basis.

When the 2011 season began the belief was that the team would show some improvement from its 4-12 finish in 2010 but still be in place to either draft a developmental franchise quarterback of the future or a left tackle to bolster an unstable offensive line. This team drastically deviated from that plan however, starting the season 4-1 with a high-powered offense that hadn’t been seen since the days of Kelly, Thomas and Reed. In the process the combination of Fitzpatrick, Jackson and a rag-tag crew of receivers staged a thrilling comeback to end a 15-game, 8-year losing streak to the hated New England Patriots. That feeling of pride and hope was, at least for a moment, reborn throughout the community. As quickly as it had come, it was just as swiftly ripped away.

When the Bills knocked off the “dream team” Eagles to hit the 4-1 mark the general feeling in Western New York should’ve been uninhibited jubilation. Although excitement mounted, there was a still a general consensus of cautious optimism throughout the fan-base. This unanimity of a vigilant approach can be circled back to the 2008-2009 season when the team reached the same plateau. To the die-hard fan this approach might’ve been seemed pessimistic and juvenile considering the fact that Trent Edwards was not the signal caller, Fred Jackson was on pace for an All-Pro year, and the defense, although filled with holes, had an uncanny knack for taking the ball away from opposing offenses in clutch situations. This team looked to be the exact opposite of an ’08 team that lacked heart and playmaking ability. This team looked poised to actually make a run at ending that league-worst playoff draught. So what happened?

The logical explanation for the Bills mid-season collapse can be attributed to an onslaught of injuries. During the team’s 7 game skid the Bills lost their heart and soul on both sides of the ball. Kyle Williams was lost for the season after the victory against the Eagles with a mysterious foot injury. Mid-season First Team All-Pro Eric Wood went down with an ACL tear running down a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception against the Cowboys and team MVP Jackson was lost in the embarrassing defeat to the Dolphins. It would make sense that losing your top three players would undoubtedly lead to a downfall but their collective loss exposes a much bigger issue that this organization has dealt with for the better part of the last decade.

Since the beginning of the new millennium and the start of the worst stretch in the organization’s history, the Bills have displayed an unprecedented ineptitude for finding sufficient talent in the NFL draft and free agency. Sure they made a few splashes with trades for Drew Bledsoe and Takeo Spikes and free agent acquisitions like London Fletcher, Sam Adams and Terrell Owens, but their complete ineffectiveness for finding talent in the draft has left the organization almost barren of talent.

Let’s take a look at the 2010 draft for a reference point. Buddy Nix’s first attempt at rebuilding resulted in the likes of CJ Spiller, Torell Troup, Alex Carrington, Marcus Easley, Ed Wang, Arthur Moats, Danny Batten, Levi Brown and Kyle Calloway. While it may be too early to judge Nix’s first draft class, the early signs are anything but encouraging. Of the nine picks, six remain on the current roster and with the exception of Spiller none have made much of an impact. Troup has had difficulty staying on the field, battling multiple injuries including a foot and back injury that made him a complete nonfactor in 2011. Carrington on the other hand has shown extremely brief glimpses of capability. At times it looks like he’s able to get into the backfield and put pressure on the quarterback but only has two career sacks to show for it. He has proved to be somewhat valuable on special teams with a blocked field goal and extra point this season. Easley has never seen a regular season down in the NFL, due in part to a heart condition that sidelined him for all of 2011. Moats seemed like he had some talent after effectively ending Brett Favre’s record consecutive starts streak and becoming somewhat of a presence in opposing backfields. He did however take a step back in his sophomore campaign, showing a lack of explosiveness with increased playing time this past season. Batten lost his whole rookie campaign to injury and didn’t show much when given a chance this season. Wang, Brown and Calloway are all out of the NFL.

Nix’s insistence on building a competitive team through the draft while avoiding costly free agents would seem like a massive failure after his first attempt. Spiller of course is the determining factor however. After a horrendous rookie season that barely saw the former Clemson Tiger on the field, Spiller proved that his explosiveness wasn’t a fallacy. Spiller showed tremendous explosiveness when given a chance after Jackson went down and restored some semblance of hope for Nix’s first class.

When it’s all said in done though, the Bills did what they’ve been doing for the last 12 years. They got our collective hopes up and before we knew it, they dashed any semblance of hope. To say that 2012 is a make-or-break offseason for the Buffalo Bills may be the understatement of the century but it’s also become second nature rhetoric to a demoralized fan base. In his post season press conference Nix let it be known that the front office would dull out some sort of cash in the free agent market to fill the multiple holes on both sides of the ball but to Bills fans it’s getting to the point where these empty promises mean nothing. As a diehard Bills fan for my 25+ years of existence on this blue marble, the doomsday clock has hit one minute to midnight and its put up or shut up time for this franchise.


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