The first day of the 2014 NFL Draft is in the books and the Buffalo Bills made one of the biggest splashes in the opening round by moving up to select Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick.
It certainly cost them a handsome price, but Watkins is a player the Bills believe can be an immediate contributor to the team, and one of the true elite prospects from this draft class. What are some of the glaring takeaways from the first 32 picks as far as Buffalo is concerned?
Let’s dive right into it:
1) Sammy Watkins is a slam dunk as a prospect
- The Bills said it themselves at the pre-draft luncheon: they view Watkins as a Percy Harvin style of impact receiver that also possesses the ability to go up and get the jump ball against any defensive back. When asked if Watkins was on par from a talent level perspective with Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green and Atlanta wideout Julio Jones when they were coming out of school, the Bills agreed that the Clemson pass catcher indeed was along those same lines. Speed? Check. Explosiveness? Check. Great hands? Check. Physicality in both yards after the catch and to get off press coverage? Check and check. He is an instant impact type of player, so much so that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is likely doing laps of gleeful skipping around Ralph Wilson Stadium in excitement.
2) Watkins has always been their guy. No hyperbole
- Every team that’s drafting near the top tends to say the same thing about the player they ended up taking. “He was the top guy on our board.” The Bills said it too, however, they were being completely honest about that fact. For a long, long time Watkins has been the apple of Buffalo’s eye. They were enamored by his talents and his potential fit right from the start of the process, and pounced on the opportunity to draft him when the price became reasonable in their minds. While there were rumors out there that the Bills could look to move up all the way for either Jadeveon Clowney or Greg Robinson, league sources said not to believe that hype one bit. The only guy that they would make a dramatic move up the board for was Watkins. He got to the sweet spot for Buffalo in the range of picks four-to-five, and they capitalized on the opportunity. One league source said that if they had a chance to take Watkins, “the card was already written.” This was back in March, and the adoration for the wideout started even sooner than that.
3) EJ gets a new best friend, but a lot more pressure to produce now
- Once the Bills traded up and selected Watkins with the fourth overall pick, quarterback EJ Manuel responded with similar thoughts to many fans of the team on Twitter:
The 16 exclamation points (yep, we counted) signaled to Manuel not only that they got him the shiniest of shiny new toys for their offense, but that he could put to rest any lingering fears that the team would look to address the quarterback position in a notable way. However, it comes at a price. The clock for young quarterbacks is not nearly as long as it used to be. You can credit today’s win-now beliefs along with the rookie wage scale as reasoning, but the window for young quarterbacks is getting smaller as the league grows older. With Watkins, it removes any excuses for Manuel. He needs to take a step forward. The Bills know it, their fans know it and most importantly, he knows it. If they finish with a postseason berth or just outside the playoffs that will likely buy him more time as the man in charge. However, if they tank this season and Manuel is a key reason for that, safety will not be guaranteed to anyone.
4) The emphasis on 2014 is very, very real. The price to move up proves it
- The Bills think they’re close to getting back to the playoffs, and they put their money where their mouth is by trading away the first and fourth-round selections in the 2015 NFL Draft to go up and draft Sammy Watkins. Adding to the “go for it” mentality in 2014, the Bills kept their second round pick and will likely add a player on Friday that can have an immediate, and potentially starting impact for the team if all goes well. It’s playoffs, just barely missing the playoffs, or bust. Whether or not the notion of the trade being induced because the team could potentially have a new owner by the summer is accurate, we won’t know. But this trade up — only the second time the Bills have moved up in the order from their original first round pick in the past 32 years of drafts — signals that 2014 needs to be the year for a definitive step forward.
5) Want a QB on Day Two? Keep dreaming
- Echoing the points of the last paragraph, the “go for it” mentality also means those holding out hope for a second or third round quarterback can likely put those desires out to pasture. This is EJ Manuel’s team: both the trade and the player they picked signaled that more starkly than when Commissioner Gordon goes to the rooftop to put on the skylight for Batman. The absolute earliest the Bills would think about taking a quarterback would have to be on Day Three, and skepticism remains even in that premise. EJ Manuel certainly has his detractors, but, the one truth is that the Bills’ front office are not among them.
6) Too many cooks in the WR kitchen. 13, 11 on alert
- Nestled deep into yesterday’s report on WGR550.com regarding the Bills’ potential draft plans was the caveat that if the Bills went with a receiver in the first round, veteran wideout Stevie Johnson likely goes on the trading block according to a league source. The logic is very simple behind it: the Bills now have five receivers on their roster that demand playing time on offense. Four of those players were brought in by the current general manager and coaching staff, and only one has an astronomical cap hit for 2014 comparatively speaking. Johnson is signed for the next three seasons with cap hits of $8.5 million (2014), $8.85 million (2015) and $8.95 million (2016). Combine that with the clashing personalities of Johnson and head coach Doug Marrone, and it all adds up to the Bills doing what they can to try and move Johnson. The other casualty of the Watkins pick? Former third-round pick T.J. Graham, who was on thin ice even before they selected the Clemson wideout. It’s put up or shut up time in training camp for Graham on both offense and special teams.
7) What a Stevie Johnson trade might bring in
- It’s tough to gauge what a potential trade could bring in, so you have to base it off of how they constructed their deal to acquire Mike Williams. The teams that will likely be interested in acquiring Johnson is someone that believes that they are close. The inherent problem with that, however, is that most teams that feel they’re close to contending might also be close to the cap. With a relatively high cap number in 2014, a trade to a team of that level would likely take a restructuring of his contract, where they transfer the majority of his base salary into a signing bonus to lower the hit on their cap. For a good team, the price could be as good as a low fourth or low fifth-round pick. If they are dealing with a lower level team, it could be a high fifth or a high sixth-round pick.
8) Watkins doesn’t preclude them from taking a tight end as early as Round 2
- The Bills did what most of their fans wanted them to do and added a weapon to the offense for quarterback EJ Manuel, but you shouldn’t be convinced that they’re done adding offensive firepower. Tight end remains a need for the Bills with a long-term option in mind. If they do not feel comfortable enough with the offensive tackles, defensive ends or cornerbacks remaining on the board, a player like Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas could be a target for them in the second round. Even if they neglect it at 41, tight end still is a need at some point throughout the next two days.
9) Only 5 WRs in Round 1 is a great friend to Buffalo
- A very, very deep wide receiver class made many teams feel as though they could wait until the second and maybe even third rounds to address that need. Marqise Lee, Cody Latimer and Jordan Matthews all remain without a team heading into the second night of the draft, and you’d have to think that trio will start to come off the board quickly. Since the Bills picked a first round wide receiver, they will not be in the market for another one in the second round, which very well could push a player they covet down to them. A run on quarterbacks at the top of the second round would certainly help, too.
10) Want a tackle? Two main options for 41
- If the Bills couldn’t move up for Sammy Watkins, they would have hoped that Jake Matthews fell to them at ninth overall. As it turns out, Matthews went sixth overall and the Bills likely would have chosen North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. The interest in Matthews signals, and rightfully so, that they are in the market for an upgrade at right tackle. Luckily for them the second tier of offensive tackle prospects are not vanquished completely as it stands 32 picks in. Two players the Bills have to be holding out hope for to last until 41 are Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Nevada’s Joel Bitonio. Some will bring up Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, but the concerns about his knee issues and how long he can be a productive player in the league are very real.