The Bills' lost draft decade

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 PM ET

The question came up this week at the Buffalo Bills’ pre-draft luncheon in Orchard Park, New York.

How important is the draft to a football team? Can one draft, or even one pick, make or break a franchise?

For Bills fans, an honest answer can’t ignore the crushing fact this team has not made it to the playoffs in more than a decade.

Tom Modrak has been a constant in the Bills draft room since 2002.

The vice-president of college scouting has seen a lot in nearly 10 years.

“Certainly we’ve had our misses up at the top,” Modrak said.

“We’ve done pretty well in the middle and at the end, the non-glamour kind of picks. We’ve missed some that are regrettable, but we’ve tried to make up for it in some of our other areas. But there are a bunch of things that go into making a team what it is.”

Sure the draft can be a crapshoot at times, but over the past decade, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers have added the following roster of players through the draft: Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Greg Jennings, B.J. Raji, James Jones, Nick Collins, Jermichael Finley and playoff heroes James Starks and Jordy Nelson.

Oh wait. Did we say decade? That’s the past five years of Packers’ drafts.

While that might be enough to make any Bills fan physically ill, we will begrudgingly agree with Modrak that the draft isn’t everything when it comes to building a winner, but that said, we wouldn’t want the Bills draft department of the past 10 years making our picks for us.

In general the decade has been one of mostly misses at the top for the Bills and the odd hit through the middle or latter rounds.

It’s not that they draft duds with every pick, it’s that the last time they hit a home run — Youppi was still pumping up Montreal Expos fans at The Big O.

Here’s a look at the decade of drafting. Be sure to notice how one pick in one year can have a ripple effect the following year.

Keep in mind that hindsight makes us all experts and the misses we see now, we likely would not have seen on that particular draft day.

Not all of them, in any event, except maybe Donte Whitner ... and Aaron Maybin.

2000 — OH, WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

It’s only fitting that the first year of a forgetful decade of drafting for the Bills begins with the biggest miss of them all. Granted the Bills weren’t the only team to miss, but just think how different the decade would be had the Bills gone after Michigan’s Tom Brady with any of their six picks before Mr. Bundchen went off the board at 199. The mere mention of his sixth-round selection in a recent ESPN documentary had poor Tom in tears.

Can you imagine the inconsolable sobbing that goes on in Buffalo every time it comes up, Tom? Not only did they miss out on Brady but the consolation prize as well which wasn’t anything to sneeze at. Marc Bulger’s numbers in Buffalo would have been a real difference-maker too.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2006, Bills first-round pick Eric Flowers signed with the Toronto Argonauts but suffered a back injury and wasn’t able to report to training camp.

THE PICKS

(Top two rounds only)

26. Eric Flowers, DE

58. Travares Tillman, FS

THE MISSES

(Whoever hurts the most)

30. Keith Bullock, LB, Tennessee

44. Chad Clifton, OT, Green Bay

78. Lavernaues Coles, WR, N.Y. Jets

168. Marc Bulger, QB, New Orleans

186. Adalius Thomas, DE, Baltimore

199. Tom Brady, QB, New England

2001 — IF ONLY HE’D KEPT IT GOING

The 2001 NFL draft is the Nirvana of drafts in the 2000s for the Bills fan. It was also the first under GM Tom Donahoe and he never quite managed to measure up to it again afterwards. Aaron Schobel is one of only two Bills drafted in the 2000s to be named an All-Pro starter. Jairus Byrd is the other while a handful more have been named as injury replacements, including Nate Clements in 2005. Clements would go on to play six years for the Bills starting 91 of 96 games before moving on to San Francisco in 2007 where he became (for a time) the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Travis Henry was a gem in the second round going on to become the No. 4 among the Bills’ all-time rushing leaders. He is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for financing a cocaine-trafficking operation. Doh!

DID YOU KNOW?

As good as that draft was, the Bills had another “what if” moment in the war room. Then head coach Gregg Williams desperately wanted the Bills to move up from the No. 46 pick to get a crack at Drew Brees who went 42nd. It didn’t work out. When the Chargers took Brees, Williams told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King: “I almost pulled a hamstring in the draft room, jumping up and down because I was so mad.”

THE PICKS

21. Nate Clements, CB

46. Aaron Schobel, DE

58. Travis Henry, RB

THE MISSES

30. Reggie Wayne, WR, Indy

31. Todd Heap, TE, Baltimore

32. Drew Brees, QB, San Diego

34. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Ariz.

35. Alge Crumpler, TE, Atlanta

44. Kris Jenkins, DT, Carolina

61. Shaun Rogers, NT, Detroit

74. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina

2002 — ROCK BOTTOM

The 2002 draft is another that could have made a huge difference. Instead the Bills waste the No. 4 pick on Mike Williams who looks every bit the part of a long-term solution to their protection problems only to learn well after the draft that football really wasn’t this guy’s cup of tea. That’s a pity. To think the Bills could have had Dwight Freeney or even reached for safety Ed Reed at this spot hurts a Bills fan akin to those two tough words: Wide right. Other tackles that went in this draft included Bryant McKinnie (Min), Levi Jones (Cin), Marc Colombo (Chi now Dal) and Chester Pitt (Hou), who all went later and had much better careers than Mike “The Big Bust” Williams.

DID YOU KNOW?

Wide receiver Josh Reed was a serviceable pick but later in that second round but among the receivers taken afterwards were Antonio Bryant, Super Bowl MVP XXXIX Deion Branch and Antwaan Randel-El.

THE PICKS

4. Mike Williams, T

36. Josh Reed, WR

61. Ryan Denney, DE

THE MISSES

11. Dwight Freeney, DE, Indy

24. Ed Reed, SS, Baltimore

51. Clinton Portis, RB, Denver

91. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philly

2003 — EVEN WHEN THEY WIN, THEY LOSE

This was the draft that typified the Bills drafting for the decade. They get decent players with their first two picks — Chris Kelsey is still with them which is a bonus — but they leave franchise-altering talent on the board behind those picks. The Willis McGahee pick, which was not their own but came back in the Peerless Price trade isn’t terrible until you look at the next name on the board and it’s Indianapolis Colts’ stud tight end Dallas Clark. Kelsey has been very good for the Bills but how would Anquan Boldin have changed the receiving corps. These weren’t bad picks, but the Bills left the talent on the board.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bills appear to strike draft gold in the fourth round with CB Terrence McGee until you look nine picks later and see the Patriots grab the next corner off the board, 4-time Pro Bowler Asante Samuel who helped New England to two Super Bowl titles.

THE PICKS

23. Willis McGahee, RB

48. Chris Kelsey, DE

THE MISSES

24. Dallas Clark, TE, Indy

27. Larry Johnson, RB, K.C.

31. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland

54. Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona

56. Osi Umenyiora, DE, N.Y. Giants

68. Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago

69. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas

138. Robert Mathis, DE, Indy

2004 — SWING FOR THE FENCES AND MISS

If you want to circle a year most responsible this lost decade of football in Buffalo, this is the one. The Bills decide they must have J.P. Losman and trade up to acquire the 22nd pick in the draft to take the happy feet of Losman. The cost is, in hindsight, franchise-crippling ... but more about that in ’05. This draft marks the first of three draft picks the Bills will spend on quarterbacks in the decade. Not only was Losman not the answer, it made the Bills think they were set at QB. Also, Houston Texans starter Matt Schaub was there some 69 picks after Losman was scooped by the Bills. Lee Evans is another steady, but not spectacular pick by the Bills who get a serviceable receiver but leave plenty of defensive help with more impact on the board behind them.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bills do make inroads in this year however picking up Jason Peters as an undrafted free agent. Peters arrives as a tight end but eventually becomes a Pro Bowl left tackle easing the pain of what is to come in 2005 when they again miss a golden opportunity.

THE PICKS

13. Lee Evans, WR

22. J.P. Losman, QB

THE MISSES

14. Tommie Harris, DT, Chicago

21. Vince Wilfork, NT, New England

44. Bob Sanders, DB, Indy

81. Chris Cooley, TE, Washington

91. Matt Schaub, QB, Atlanta

126. Jared Allen, DE, Kansas City

2005 — THE HANGOVER

No first-round pick thanks to the Losman deal of a year ago means no chance at QB Aaron Rodgers who freefalls to the 24th spot where the Packers make yet another steal of a pick. The Cowboys, who owned the Bills first-round pick, fail to take full advantage as well using the pick on DE Marcus Spears at No. 20. Four picks later, Rodgers changes the future of the Packers organization. Even had they missed on Rodgers, there were franchise altering wideouts (Roddy White), tight ends (Heath Miller) to be had for the Bills. After Buffalo selected Roscoe Parrish in the second round, there was still WR Vincent Jackson and RB Frank Gore on the board.

DID YOU KNOW?

Rodgers was thought to be the No. 1-overall pick in the 2005 draft ‹ but the 49ers went with QB Alex Smith. Rodgers almost fell out of the frist round. Just reliving the Losman nightmare for Bills fans.

THE PICK

55. Roscoe Parrish, WR

THE MISSES

24. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

27. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta

30. Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh

32. Logan Mankins, G, New England

51. Nick Collins, FS, Green Bay

61. Vincent Jackson, WR, S.D.

65. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco

66. O.J. Atogwe, DB, St. Louis

2006 — OUTSMARTED BY THEMSELVES

If 2002 was the bottom of the barrel, 2006 is a close second. The Bills desperately needed some help on the defensive line. A monster of a man, Haloti Ngata, is sitting there for them with the eighth pick and the Bills go for Donte Whitner? Just as a Bills fan is thinking things can’t get any worse they trade up to get John McCargo, perhaps trying to make amends for the earlier oversight, and miss again. McCargo played his full five years with the Bills but likely won’t be back. Any of the next four picks that followed McCargo would have been an improvement. All four — DeAngelo Williams, Mercedes Lewis, Nick Mangold, and Joseph Addai — remain key players on their respective teams.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bills almost unloaded McCargo in 2008 dealing him to Indy only to have the Colts return him when he failed the physical. He’s been on the roster since, but has done next to nothing.

THE PICKS

8. Donte Whitner, SS

26. John McCargo, DT

THE MISSES

11. Jay Cutler, QB, Denver

12. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore

19. Antonio Cromartie, CB, S.D.

25. Santonio Holmes, WR, Pitts.

27. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carol.

28. Mercedes Lewis, TE, JAX

29. Nick Mangold, C, N.Y. Jets

30. Joseph Addai, RB, Indy

52. Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay

57. Devin Hester, DB, Chicago

60. Maurice Jones Drew, RB, JAX

2007 — FANTASY DRAFT GONE BAD?

At first glance a draft that produces Marshawn Lynch and Paul Posluszny in the first two rounds isn’t that bad, right? Well, the Bills had their eyes on beastly linebacker Patrick Willis with the 12th pick. When the 49ers scooped Willis with the 11th pick, the Bills reacted like the fantasy football player who has his pick scooped by the guy beside him.They panicked and took the next running back on the board. Is that exactly what happened? We’re not sure, but it sure seemed like it. Lynch started his Bills career off with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons before attitude problems soured his relationship with the team. Posluszny is a solid second-round pick but the Steelers got a better player 12 picks later when they chose LaMarr Woodley.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bills spent a third-round pick on Trent Edwards here they wouldn’t mind having back. Bills fans can take solace in the fact that the entire QB draft class was suspect led by No. 1 bust of all time JaMarcus Russell. Outside of Kevin Kolb (36th) there was no QB to grab in this draft.

THE PICKS

12. Marshawn Lynch, RB

34. Paul Posluszny, LB

THE MISSES

14. Darrelle Revis, CB, N.Y. Jets

15. Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pitts.

26. Kevin Kolb, QB, Philly

38. Zach Miller, TE, Oakland

44. Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota

46. LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pitts.

2008 — THE HANGOVER ... PART 2

Although the Bills made a decent pick with Leodis McKelvin at No. 11 had they not spent a high pick on a running back in 2007, they might have scored one of a handful of stud runners available in this draft. Chris Johson, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall and Ray Rice were on the board. Oh yeah, had they not picked Trent Edwards the year before, 6-foot-6 Joe Flacco would have looked pretty appealing to the Bills. The second-round pick of James Hardy joins a growing list of Buffalo draft busts in the decade. Hardy barely played (he had two touchdowns as a Bill). Of course the receiver picked immediately behind him Eddie Royal is still producing while the guy eight picks later (DeSean Jackson) is among the elite at the position.

DID YOU KNOW?

Hardy may have been a bust, but the Bills saved some face later in the draft grabbing Steve Johnson with the 224th pick. They also got tackle Demetrius Bell at 219 as a silver lining on this draft.

THE PICKS

11. Leodis McKelvin,CB

41. James Hardy, WR

THE MISSES

12. Ryan Clady, T, Denver

13. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina

18. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore

23. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pitts.

24. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee

42. Eddie Royal, WR, Denver

49. DeSean Jackson, WR, Philly

55. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore

73. Jamaal Charles, RB, K.C.

2009 — MISS THE TWO-INCH PUTT, MAKE THE 10-FOOTER

When is it too soon to label a first round pick a bust? With Brian Orakpo’s bulging muscles nearly splitting his draft-day suit, the Bills decide to pass up on the instant difference-maker and select another linebacker, Aaron Maybin. Two seasons into his career, Maybin has yet to record a sack and worse yet is so deep in Chan Gailey’s doghouse he may never find his way out. Typical of the Bills drafts of the decade, there were no shortage of good quality linebackers picked after Maybin including Bryan Cushing by Houston and Clay Matthews by Green Bay. Once again, the Bills rebounded somewhat in the same draft to come up with a few keepers, but wasting the first pick is a definite recipe for mediocrity.

DID YOU KNOW?

The draft “experts” went on and on that the Packers gave up too much when they exchanged a second- and two third-round picks with the Patriots to move back into the first round and select Matthews. Who is having the last laugh now?

THE PICKS

11. Aaron Maybin, LB

28. Eric Wood, C

42. Jairus Byrd, DB

51. Andy Levitre, G

THE MISSES

13. Brian Orakpo, DE, Washington

15. Bryan Cushing, LB, Houston

17. Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay

23. Michael Oher, T, Baltimore

26. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay

2010 — HEY, WE’LL SEE

By rights we should give the Bills the benefit of the doubt here. C.J. Spiller has barely got his feet wet. He wasn’t necessarily used a lot in his rookie season and there’s still the belief of a huge upside there. Still, we are pretty confident that somehow, some way, the Bills screwed up this draft too.

DID YOU KNOW?

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Pro-Bowl Center Maurkice Pouncey’s twin brother Mike Pouncey is expected to be a first-round pick this year.

THE PICKS

9. C.J. Spiller, RB

41. Torell Troup, DT

THE MISSES

(But hey, it’s early)

12. Ryan Matthews, RB, San Diego

18. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pitts.

24. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas


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