NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT
Turns out Florida State's EJ Manuel was the Bills' highest-rated quarterback in the draft - hands down.
Manuel, who is 6-4, 237 pounds, had the largest hands (10 3/8 inches) and longest arms (35 inches) of any of the quarterbacks that worked out at the NFL Scouting Combine. In listing their criteria for what it would take for a quarterback to be successful in Buffalo dealing with cold, wind and rain blowing in off Lake Erie, general manager Buddy Nix and coach Doug Marrone highlighted "strong arm."
But they took it a step further.
"We started talking about the quarterbacks, and we went back and researched all the teams that played in the Northeast in the bad weather and all the success they had with quarterbacks and the common traits that they had," Marrone told SiriusXM NFL Radio and reported via the team's website, buffalobills.com. "They were big and had big hands and were able to throw the ball in tough weather and that's what we were looking at."
Mother Nature even had a hand in helping the Bills scout Manuel.
When he worked out privately for team personnel in Tallahassee, it was windy and raining and Manuel did very well, Marrone said.
The Bills made Manuel the first quarterback drafted, 16th overall and the only passer picked in the first round. West Virginia's Geno Smith went to the New York Jets in the second round, 39th overall. Smith did not perform well in the Jets home stadium in poor weather against Syracuse's Ryan Nassib in the Pinstripe Bowl, but apparently the Jets aren't concerned.
Of course, Manuel brings much more than just impressive physical traits to Buffalo, which in the NFL era had used a first-round pick on a quarterback just twice, Jim Kelly in 1983 and J.P. Losman in 2004. He was 25-6 as a starter and statistically was extremely productive while buying time with his legs and throwing when flushed from the pocket. He's also capable of operating the read option.
"I don't know if I would specifically talk about being able to run the read option, but just the ability to make plays with his feet is what I would concentrate on and that is what we looked at," Marrone said on draft day. "Take him out on the perimeter, elude the rush, make plays down the field with his eyes down the field. That's what we appreciate and look for in a quarterback."
Marrone indicated that veterans Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson would continue to operate with the first unit when team workouts resume and that Manuel will be brought along. But the general consensus is that Manuel will be Buffalo's starting quarterback sooner rather than later. That's the expectation on young quarterbacks today.
"I expect to come in and compete, I expect to come in and learn," Manuel said. "To me, the biggest thing is coming in and earning the respect of my teammates. I think the best way to do that is not do a lot of talking, just come in and try and learn as fast as possible."
Big hands but not a big ego.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Bills think they upgraded their questionable linebacker depth and talent thanks to a one-for-one trade with Indianapolis in which middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, a third-round pick in 2012, was swapped for outside linebacker/defensive end Jerry Hughes, a former first-round pick (31st overall) in 2010. Hughes made six starts last year and finished with 41 tackles and 4.0 sacks. Hughes played as an undersized defensive end for the Colts but the Bills view him as a strong-side linebacker who can also rush on passing downs.
--The Bills won a bidding war for troubled wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, signing him to a rookie free-agent contract in the hours after the draft concluded. Rogers, 6-2, 216, failed multiple drug tests at Tennessee (marijuana related, he said) before transferring to Tennessee Tech. As a sophomore, he led the Volunteers with 67 catches, 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. Last fall at Tennessee Tech, he had 10 touchdowns and 893 receiving yards. Rogers has been honest about his past and vowed to NFL teams he was willing to "change" and had been "humbled." The Bills had a very high draft grade on Rogers but drafted two other receivers instead, USC's Robert Woods and Texas' Marquise Goodwin. But Buffalo has showed a willingness to take chances on players with some red flags, including Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso and Nevada safety Duke Williams.
--Also among 16 rookie free agents signed to round out their roster for training camp was quarterback Jeff Tuel of Washington State. Aaron Corp was released. The Bills scouted Tuel hard before the draft and like him as a developmental player. The 6-2, 221-pounder threw for 5,936 yards, 33 touchdowns and 25 interceptions in 26 college starts. Buffalo's three-day rookie mini-camp starts May 10.
--Bills president Russ Brandon, who talked of using sports "analytics" familiar more in baseball to help his club's scouting effectiveness, said such a department "per se" doesn't exist on the team. "It's another layer to any process when it comes to football," Brandon said. "But it'd be very focused on salary-cap management and everything we do on that front. It will never take away from the scouting process that we have in place now. It would be additional information that it will provide. As we move forward as an organization it's a priority for me. ... It's something that we've embarked on over the last couple of years and we have people that are focused on it but we don't have a complete department per se."
--The Bills turned some heads on draft day by using a sixth-round pick on a kicker, NCAA career scoring leader Dustin Hopkins of Florida State. Thirteen-year NFL veteran Rian Lindell is just 36 points shy of breaking Steve Christie's team career scoring mark of 1,011 points but it's clear he'll have to fight to keep his job.
"It means he's got to compete, I would say," said general manager Buddy Nix when asked what Hopkins' presence means for Lindell. Coach Doug Marrone said he's not opposed to keeping two kickers, one for kickoffs and the other for field goals and extra points, "if I didn't feel comfortable with someone being able to do both." The Bills started off last year with a kickoff specialist, John Potter, but he was eventually let go. The team also replaced their all-time punter, Brian Moorman, with rookie free agent Shawn Powell, who set the team's rookie punting average mark at 44.0 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not concerned. Obviously it's an opportunity, as I mentioned earlier, it's an asset (franchise tag) that we have in our holster. He has the opportunity to wait until he's comfortable. We'll continue that dialogue. You always want to have all your guys here, but we understand the situation and we'll just keep working through it." -- Team president Russ Brandon on whether he's concerned that FS Jairus Byrd won't be signed to a long-term deal.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Bills' picks:
Round 1/16 -- EJ Manuel, QB, 6-4, 237, Florida State
No team studied quarterback prospects as hard or thoroughly as Buffalo in what was considered a weak class. But in making Manuel their starter of the future, perhaps this season if he can beat out veterans Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson, the Bills get the biggest, fastest (4.55) and one of the smartest quarterbacks available. Manuel will need work, like developing the ability to read the entire field and make his progressions. But his size and versatility as a runner and passer gives new coach Doug Marrone a major building block.
Round 2/41 -- Robert Woods, WR, 6-0, 190, USC
On the heels of taking their quarterback, the Bills added one of the elite receivers in college football in Woods, who finished as USC's career receptions leader with 252. After a monster junior year (111 receptions, 1,292 yards, 15 touchdowns), his production dropped as a senior but that was more a product of team injuries and quarterback Matt Barkley's struggles. Runs a 4.43 forty and should be able to step right in and contribute in Buffalo's spread offense that will utilize three and four wides.
Round 2/46 -- Kiko Alonso, ILB, 6-3, 238, Oregon
The Bills desperately need to get stronger up the middle (31st vs. the run) and were willing to take a chance on Alonso, who wasn't a full-time starter until his senior year and has a history of off-field problems. Had 81 tackles including 14 for loss last fall. With his size and foot speed, Bills hope he can run and cover and be a three-down player while helping their run defense improve.
Round 3/78 -- Marquise Goodwin, WR, 5-9, 179, Texas
A very intriguing player who adds to the team's overall speed. Was the NCAA long jump champion who competed at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Clocked a 4.34 dash time for scouts and also impressed the Bills with his desire and ability to block, which will earn him playing time if he can do that at the NFL level. Was a four-year football player at Texas and wound up playing 50 games. Joins a team where jobs are open at wide receiver.
Round 4/105 -- Duke Williams, S, 5-11, 201, Nevada
A sure-handed tackler who appeared in 50 college games and recorded 292 tackles, including 18 that saved touchdowns the past two seasons. He has a very good chance of making the roster with Bills parting ways with strong safety George Wilson and because of his versatility. He can play either strong safety, corner or nickel corner. Plays with an "edge" and Bills' 22nd-ranked defense desperately needs to get meaner.
Round 5/143 -- Jonathan Meeks, S, 6-1, 210, Clemson
Another player to add to the competitive mix at safety, either free or strong. Has great foot speed (4.49) to go with his size. Notched 62 tackles and two interceptions at school where Bills scouts have a lot of connections.
Round 6/177 -- Dustin Hopkins, K, 6-2, 193, Florida State
NCAA career points leader with 466 who has the potential to replace veteran star Rian Lindell. Converted 88 of 112 field goals for the Seminoles, including 9 of 15 on tries from 50 yards and beyond. Strong on kickoffs with average hang time of 4.5 seconds. A freak athlete, who ran 4.71 and did 20 bench press reps at 225 pounds.
Round 7/222 -- Chris Gragg, TE, 6-3, 244, Arkansas
With veteran Scott Chandler recovering from ACL surgery, the Bills covered their bases by using a pick obtained in the Rams trade. Gragg was a top prospect entering his senior year but was limited to five games due to a knee injury of his own. Had a breakout junior year, averaging 12.6 yards on 41 catches and was a strong blocker. Can fill the H-back role in Buffalo's scheme. Very good value at this spot.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: S Jairus Byrd (tendered at $6.916 million).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (5)
--DE Spencer Johnson is a backup quality talent, who has just 14 sacks in nine NFL seasons, the last five in Buffalo. He has been a part of some of the worst defenses in Bills history. They can do better.
--WR Ruvell Martin is a 6-4 target who has just 24 catches over the past four NFL seasons bouncing between four teams. Not a high priority to retain.
--FB Corey McIntyre is a powerful blocker for the team's strong runnng game who does his job with no complaints. Should return for his sixth season.
--LB Kirk Morrison was a healthy inactive for 12 games before being released and re-signed. His career is at a crossroad and he's not likely to return.
--QB Tyler Thigpen has thrown just 13 passes in a backup role for two seasons. The team is revisiting its entire quarterback situation and Thigpen probably falls no better than fourth on the depth chart.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--C Colin Brown: Potential RFA; $1.445M/2 yrs, $25,000 SB.
--RB Tashard Choice: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Dorin Dickerson: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Tarvaris Jackson: Potential UFA; $2.25M/1 yr, $500,000 SB.
--CB/KR Leodis McKelvin: Potential UFA; $20M/4 yrs.
--LB Bryan Scott: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--DT Alan Branch: UFA Seahawks; $3M/1 yr.
--LB Jerry Hughes (trade Colts).
--QB Kevin Kolb: FA Cardinals; $6.1M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$1.25M RBs.
--LB Manny Lawson: UFA Bengals; $12M/4 yrs, $3M SB/$4.6M guaranteed.
--LB Nick Barnett (released/failed physical).
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (released/post-June 1 designation).
--DE Chris Kelsay (retired).
--WR Donald Jones: Not tendered as RFA/Patriots; $4.155M/3 yrs, no SB/$435,000 report/RB each year.
--G Andy Levitre: UFA Titans; $46.8M/6 yrs, $10.5M SB.
--CB Terrence McGee (released/failed physical).
--LB Shawne Merriman: UFA; retired.
--DE Kyle Moore: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR David Nelson: Not tendered as RFA/Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T/G Chad Rinehart: UFA Chargers; terms unknown.
--LB Kelvin Sheppard (traded Colts).
--S George Wilson (released).