You know the NFL Draft is almost here when the Buffalo Bills meet with the media for their annual pre-draft luncheon in Orchard Park. Like any other year, the Bills attempted to say nothing and everything all at once, in hopes to deceive their 31 counterparts from knowing their draft day intentions.
How effective were Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley, Chuck Cook, Tom Gibbons and Doug Majeski? Well, if they're intending on drafting a quarterback with the eighth overall pick... not very.
Going back over all 45 minutes of audio and quotes, one thing seems perfectly clear: the Bills are talking like a team that is going to take a quarterback with their first round pick.
And as the old logic of the duck test tells us, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
And in this case, taking a quarterback at eighth overall seems to be that very duck. Here are some of the points that lead me to this:
First, I believe it's prudent to rule out some of the other positions the Bills were thought to be interested in. Although my safety argument made a lot of sense last week, that was before the Bills officially moved Aaron Williams to safety on Tuesday. That, to me, would take that position out of the equation.
As far as linebackers and pass rushers are concerned, Buddy Nix seemed content with his current group during his answers. At one point they alluded to filling a huge need with Manny Lawson and that they have more talent on their roster at linebacker than most are giving them credit for. As far as pass rushers are concerned? They're okay there, too.
"You know I think we would always be, you know, receptive to [adding a pass rusher], but I also think we're pretty good there."
Welp, that crosses off two more positions. So how about on offense? What about wide receiver, and maybe even offensive guard?
To me, when the term "deep class" is brought up for a position, it's primarily a strong indication that the team is more apt to waiting rather than splurging on that position with their first pick of the draft. When the topic of Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was brought up, Nix wasn't exactly complimentary of the one-year standout.
“It scares you. You have to think those guys might not help you out immediately if that’s who you take," he said on players with only one big season under their belts. "Those guys are raw. You’re going to have to groom them and be patient with them.”
Patience isn't exactly what the Bills will have with their wide receiver group. They need someone to step in and help very quickly. Then of course, there's Tavon Austin. Look at this interchange when talking about the West Virginia product.
Buddy Nix: He’s on everybody’s radar.
Doug Whaley: And high on the radar. For everybody. He’s a special player. He’s the type of individual that once he touches the ball he has a chance to make a prolific play every time. He scares a lot of defensive players and coordinators.
For the lack of a better term, that's a little forward for a pre-draft luncheon setting, don't you think? At least I do. There is some motivation for the Bills to show some public interest in Austin.
For one, they haven't brought him in for a pre-draft visit, which is a normal indicator of the Buddy Nix regime that the player is at least on their radar for the first round. Secondly, the New York Jets are hurting for offensive playmakers at ninth overall so perhaps they're trying to find a willing trade partner at eighth overall or to induce a trade by getting someone to move in the Arizona's spot to select him. Whatever the case may be, I found the adoration for Austin to be a bit ostentatious.
Austin also doesn't fit the form of an "open when he's not" receiver, which Nix confirmed is still the type of wideout they're looking for in the draft.
As for guard? Well, my continued belief has been that the Bills do not value the guard position highly enough to make it a first round need. They would have went harder after re-signing Andy Levitre, and they have had much success in finding talent at that position over the past three years in places that don't involve the top 10 in the NFL Draft.
"Our roster in house is better than I think we get credit for especially offensive line," Nix said Tuesday in response to needing a guard. "We’re pretty deep there."
A cornerback lingers as a need, but the depth of this class seems to be evident at the position as well. The Bills should be in a good position to add a player at that position either in the second or third round.
All in all, that brings us to quarterback, and why the Bills appear to be quacking their way to taking one with their first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
First, we have to bring up Nix's quote from his appearance on The John Murphy Show Monday night on WGR Sports Radio 550:
“I’ve said this before when everybody was beating this class up and they still are somewhat. I think there are two or three guys in this class that’ll be big time quarterbacks in this league and very successful guys."
Now, pair that quote with the very first question and answer of the draft luncheon at One Bills Drive. Is there a quarterback worthy enough to be taken at eighth overall?
"You know, I think there is," Nix said. "This is not a standard answer, I said this from the start that two or three of these guys will be franchise quarterbacks. I believe that."
With a certain degree of logic and historical perspective to how quarterbacks are treated in the NFL Draft, perceived "franchise quarterbacks" do not last until the 41st overall pick. If a team wants that player that they believe can be a franchise guy, they take him without any further delay. End of story.
One of your follow up questions might involve the idea of the Bills passing on the quarterback at eighth overall and then trading back in to the first round? I'm not a betting man, but that doesn't sound like the case here.
"I'd think you'd consider it, but it'd have to be really appealing to do it," the GM said. "I hate giving up draft picks. I hope in some way we get that seventh back, even though it is a seventh and go after college free agents, but you don't like giving up those picks. They're valuable."
So if it were to come to pass that they are indeed taking a quarterback with the eighth overall selection, who might it be? Assuming that Geno Smith is off the board by the time the Bills pick at eighth overall, I think it could be down to two men that fit their offense the best:
Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and Matt Barkley of USC.
The links to Nassib are obvious. The Bills have been watching him play even before Doug Marrone and company got to Orchard Park. With their added connections about knowing Nassib better than any team in the draft, it could make it a very strong case for the Bills to take that player for the smoothest transition possible. The Bills did nothing on Tuesday to remove themselves from being in the discussion for Nassib
Then there is Barkley, a player that has drawn some strong sentiments from the Bills' decision makers.
"He’s been on the big stage for a while," Whaley said. "He’s produced. I think the best thing about him is he knows how to get the ball to his playmakers. I think that’s one of the best qualities he has, and a good trait to have in a quarterback."
Then the subject of Barkley's arm came up, because so many draft analysts have made note of that as a weakness to his game.
"When you say ‘a lot of people say that’ I don’t know who that is," Nix said. "[Barkley] a year ago was the number one guy and then he got hurt."
"In our opinion, a guy that doesn’t have an outright cannon can still get away with having timing and being able to anticipate throws and being able to have knowledge of defenses and when to throw to a spot and get the most out of his throwing motion," Whaley remarked. "A perfect example of that is Joe Montana. Joe Montana didn’t have the strongest of arms, but he’s still arguably one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history."
So does Barkley have all that?
"We believe that he has a chance to be successful with his skill set," the assistant GM answered. In his defense, he'd be hard-pressed to try and liken a rookie to Joe Montana because that would be setting the player up for failure. But the fact that they're thinking along those lines about a West Coast system quarterback makes me believe they like Barkley a lot.
One other quarterback that may sneak in to the first round is Florida State's E.J Manuel. Nix didn't crush the player, but he didn't go as far as to defend the athletic quarterback.
"Yeah, I’ve seen him make NFL throws. He made them at Florida State. He’s maybe a little inconsistent with it, but he’s got plenty of arm and great athletic ability," he said. "It’s a matter of whether or not you can get him consistent in that part of it."
With Nathaniel Hackett's quick-paced offense that focuses on accuracy in the intermediate areas, Manuel's inconsistency may not be a particularly strong fit.
So all in all, if you had to take something away from the draft luncheon, it's that the Bills are poised to take a quarterback at eighth overall as long as the draft dictates it. If Geno Smith drops, perhaps the Bills would feel as though they could wait until their 41st selection. However, mentioning that there are two-to-three franchise quarterbacks and then putting themselves in jeopardy of missing out on one is something fans likely won't forget.
A team just doesn't fly all over the country conducting private workouts with the top quarterbacks in the draft without the intent to take one, and to take one early. It certainly could go another way, but the evidence is adding up to one thing:
It doesn't appear Bills fans will have to wait much longer to finally get their new face of the franchise.