Bills Report Draft Analysis

The buzz after the Buffalo Bills handed over three draft picks to the Dallas Cowboys in order to draft Tulane's J.P. Losman in the first round was that it sealed Drew Bledsoe's fate in Buffalo. GM Tom Donahoe warned not so fast.

While the Bills showed an incredible desire to pick up Losman with the 22nd pick, nine spots after spending their own first-round choice on Wisconsin receiver Lee Evans, Donahoe said the plan remains the same. Bledsoe will remain the starter in 2004 and if he's able to revive his career, it's his job to keep until further notice.

"Drew's our QB, this doesn't send any signals," Donahoe said. "Drew is like all of us, he's not going to play forever and at some point we have to start grooming a young guy when he decides he's had enough."

The reality is that Bledsoe's play and his contract will determine when his time is up. Bledsoe had his worst season in 2003 with 11 TDs and 12 interceptions to go with 12 lost fumbles and 49 sacks.

He's also due a $7 million option in November that will trigger the final three years of his contract. If Buffalo does not exercise it, it still costs the team $2 million to buy Bledsoe out.

On the eve of the draft last Friday, Donahoe attempted to renegotiate an extension with more favorable cap terms with agent David Dunn but talks got nowhere. Donahoe warned not to read anything into the talks but things should accelerate now that Buffalo was able to consummate its plans on taking a franchise-caliber quarterback in this draft. The team does not want to be paying two franchise salaries, so things will get complicated.

"It's been ongoing," Donahoe said. "We'll continue to talk with David and continue to see what we can do with the contract."

Losman has great skills but like many rookie quarterbacks would benefit from an apprenticeship, much like the Jets Chad Pennington under Vinny Testaverde.

But is Bledsoe ready to groom his replacement? So soon after the Tom Brady experience in New England?

"Knowing Drew he will be," Donahoe said. "He was a pretty good mentor in New England to Tom Brady and I'm sure he'll be a good mentor with J.P. Again, we still think highly of Drew and we still think he can bounce back and our team on the offensive side of the ball will bounce back. But we do have to prepare for the future and we said from January on, we wanted to take a young quarterback in this draft so that's what we did."

DRAFT REVIEW -- After finishing ranked 30th in yards and points, the Bills set a course for finding offensive players in the 69th NFL draft.

Five of its six picks addressed that side of the ball and the team made yet another draft-day splash by trading up from the second round to get another first round pick where it landed its quarterback of the future. Offensive-minded new head coach Mike Mularkey certainly had no complaints.

Wide receiver Lee Evans of Wisconsin, the fastest of the top-ranked receivers, has the ability to make an instant impact on a passing game that fell from fifth to 28th a year ago, and quarterback J.P. Losman of Tulane has the skills to be groomed as the eventual replacement to veteran Drew Bledsoe, 32.

It was just the second time since the draft was reduced to seven rounds that the Bills took five offensive players and now their cup runneth over.

Heading into 2004, Buffalo's roster can boast two franchise quarterbacks (Bledsoe, Losman), two franchise running backs (Travis Henry and Willis McGahee), two franchise wide receivers (Eric Moulds and Evans) and one franchise tackle (Mike Williams).

"You have a combination of threats here and you're going to have to do some extra work on Tuesday and pick your poison with the skill people we have on this team," Mularkey said.

"I don't know if we were trying to make statement. I know we were trying to get some needs filled, things to help us win this year and some are for the future, like J.P."

Four quarterbacks were taken in the first round and the Bills had all four with first-round grades: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Losman. They even had Losman rated higher for arm strength and leadership skills than each of the others.

With Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger off the board when Buffalo picked 13th, the brain trust debated taking a defensive lineman - all of the top rated players at that position were still there - but Evans, in their estimation, gave the Bills a player with the best chance to play immediately.

After taking injured running back Willis McGahee first overall last season, that was a concern. And taking Losman 13th would not have addressed it.

So they took Evans, then got on the phone.

"Our thinking prior to the draft was that we wanted to get a guy with that pick, an early pick, who we feel could come in and contribute whether it was offense or defense. We didn't designate that, but we wanted to get somebody in there," GM Tom Donahoe said.

"Then our feeling was, probably three of the quarterbacks would be gone, and one would be left, and were we willing to make an aggressive move to get back into the first round to get the quarterback? We were willing to do that, but you never know if it's going to work because trades are easy to talk about but harder to do. When we had the opportunity, we felt we wanted to do it.

"We think a lot of this quarterback. We think as much, if not more, of him as the other quarterbacks picked before him, but the only thing that's going to determine that is over time how they all play."

The Bills were instantly set up for second-guessing. Did they give up too much for Losman? Second- and fifth-round picks this year and next year's first rounder? Mularkey isn't losing sleep.

"I don't look at it as losing a draft pick, I look at it as gaining a quarterback for one year," he said. "That's what we're getting out of this whole thing. If you don't get one out of that first round, I'm not sure there is one you can groom to be that guy. Maybe there's that Tom Brady (a sixth-rounder) in this bunch, but I don't know that. You're banking on a guy, and to be honest, I don't know what's going to be available next year and I think you're going to be looking probably again next year in the first round for a quarterback. Instead of waiting for that one, we did it this year and we'll get him a year under his belt."

Three other picks have a shot at contributing as rookies: Defensive tackle Tim Anderson of Ohio State, a bull-strong interior lineman; tight Tim Euhus of Oregon State, a nice target with soft hands who will compete for the open No. 2 job; and wide receiver Jonathan Smith of Georgia Tech, whom the Bills like as a return man.

Offensive tackle Dylan McFarland is a project player but Buffalo's line is hardly rock solid coming off a 6-10 season.

"Coming in here, I felt this was not a rebuilding process," Mularkey said. "I feel very good about this team. And I think we addressed some things."

And good news for the rookies: Mularkey coaches with an open mind.

"The best player is going to play," he said. "The one who doesn't make the mental and physical mistakes, knows his role. If (a rookie is) better than a 10-year veteran in those regards, and he gives us the best chance to play, he will play."

BEST PICK: WR Lee Evans, first round. The Bills could've taken Rashaun Woods or Michael Clayton, both bigger receivers, with the 13th pick. But Evans is tailor made for what they needed - deep, raw speed to stretch the field and complement Eric Moulds after the loss of Peerless Price in a 2003 trade to Atlanta. Even after 2002 ACL surgery, Evans clocked consistent 4.35 to 4.41 times. He's a mature, fifth-year senior who can step in immediately and be a factor in the Bills three- and four-wide schemes. Nothing's a sure, but Evans is close.

COULD SURPRISE: TE Tim Euhus, fourth round. The one-time Oregon State basketball player walks into a great situation in Buffalo, where the No. 2 job behind starter Mark Campbell is wide open. Euhus, 6-5, 260, catches the ball like a wide receiver and will make a great target in the short zones and could develop into a red zone weapon. His deficiencies in blocking will be corrected by head coach Mike Mularkey, who played tight end in the NFL for nine seasons and coached the position with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. "His strength is pass catching. Our strength is teaching blocking so I'm excited about getting a chance to get together with him," Mularkey said.

A closer look at the Bills' picks:

Round 1/13 -- Lee Evans, WR, 5-11, 197, Wisconsin. The Bills liked Evans so much, they gave up chance at taking any of the top defensive linemen available, including Tommie Harris and Will Smith. Evans is Badgers' all-time receiving leader in catches (175), yards (3,468) and TDs (26) and his 19.9-yard average per catch is second-best. Missed all of 2002 with a severe knee injury, but proved his mettle by returned in 2003 and having 64 receptions for 1,213 yards and 13 TDs. Was two-time Wisconsin team MVP and a first-team All-Big 10 selection last year. "Rarely do you find guys with this kind of speed with hands as good as his are," said coach Mike Mularkey.

Round 1/22 -- J.P. Losman, QB, 6-2, 217, Tulane. The pick that will make or break GM Tom Donahoe's career in Buffalo. The Bills like the fiery Tulane flamethrower so much, they gave up second- and fifth-round picks this year and next year's first rounder to Dallas in order to jump back into the first round. Losman transferred from UCLA in 1999, then served as Patrick Ramsey's backup for two years before starting and serving as team captain in 2002 and 2003. Interception percentage of 2.73 was lowest in school history. Third in Tulane history in completions (570) and TDs (60). Losman's mechanics took a beating playing behind a poor line but Bills felt that his ability to make plays under duress was a plus for him, not a minus. "From the waist up, he's as good as it gets with the velocity and the delivery," said ESPN's Ron Jaworski, who thinks the Bills hit paydirt with this pick.

Round 3/74 -- Tim Anderson, DT, 6-3, 304, Ohio State. A classic run-stuffer and overachiever in the middle of the Buckeyes' line. Scouts said he struggles to get penetration, but among his 125 career tackles, 25 were for losses including 11 sacks. That's testimony to his high motor. Was an Ohio state wrestling champion in high school. A three-year starter who was all-Big 10 first team as a senior. "He's going to come in and compete and push everyone else to be better," said Bills scouting director Doug Majeski.

Round 4/109 -- Tim Euhus, TE, 6-5, 260, Oregon State. Right now, a better receiver than blocker but Buffalo is elated with his upside. Underwent reconstructive knee surgery following the 2001 season, but returned in 2002 to catch 22 passes for 385 yards and 1 TD. As a senior in 2003 he had 49 receptions for 645 yards and 7 TDs. Does not have great speed, but he provides a big target with above average hands. Also played basketball for two years at Oregon State.

Round 7/207 -- Dylan McFarland, OT, 6-6, 290, Montana. A project player but the Bills need to keep adding to a line that gave up NFL-most 51 sacks. Only the 25th player from Montana selected in the history of the draft, 13 of which have been offensive linemen. Helped his team rank 18th in Division I-AA in scoring with his dominating performances up front. Started the last 43 games of his college career. Does not have ideal size, but the Bills think he has the potential to gain productive weight to compete in the NFL.

Round 7/214 -- Jonathan "Freddie" Smith, WR, 5-10, 194, Ga. Tech. The Bills like Smith's value here and coach Mike Mularkey hopes he may have found his next "Slash." He was a multiple threat for the Yellow Jackets as a receiver, runner and kick returner. As a senior he caught 78 passes for 1,138 yards, both school records, and he scored 5 TDs, but what the Bills like best is his ability as a returner as he averaged 11.7 yards per punt return and brought back two for scores. On some plays he lined up at QB and RB because he was such a playmaker.

NOTES

--This marked the sixth time in team history that the Bills had two picks in the first round and it was the fourth time they spent both picks on offensive players. The other years were 1973 (TE Paul Seymour, OG Joe DeLamielleure), 1983 (TE Tony Hunter, QB Jim Kelly), 1986 (RB Ronnie Harmon, OT Will Wolford). DeLamielleure and Kelly are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

--Until the selection of Losman, Kelly had been the only quarterback ever taken in the first round by the Bills. The selection of Lee Evans was the sixth time a receiver was taken first overall, tied for second with running backs. The position most often chosen first overall by Buffalo? Cornerback, seven times.

--Veteran Pro Bowl WR Eric Moulds was elated with the selection of Evans. Moulds, who saw more double coverage after Peerless Price was traded to Atlanta and who caught just one TD pass last season, has been lobbying the coaching staff to take a receiver with raw speed. "I'm very excited," Moulds said. "It's going to be rare that I get single coverage, but if teams try to do that, we're in a position to make them pay. We needed more speed on the outside and now we have it. We'll be able to stretch the field vertically and create some big plays in the passing game."

--DT Tim Anderson, the Bills' third-round pick from Ohio State, was an Ohio schoolboy state heavyweight wrestling champion, a fact that endeared him to defensive line coach Tim Krumrie, himself a former wrestler who has been known to roll around with his players during practice. "I'm definitely expecting to have to (wrestle him), but if I don't, it's a bonus," Anderson said.

--TE Tim Euhus played two seasons of basketball at Oregon State but eventually gave it up to concentrate on football. The move paid off with the Bills drafting him in the fourth round, which is good money. "I played basketball my freshman year because growing up watching the Pac 10 I wanted to do what Tony Gonzalez had done," Euhus said. "I was down to 218 pounds playing basketball. Coach told me I could keep playing basketball and be mediocre at both or focus on football and have a chance at getting paid for it. It was an easy decision to make."

--Losman has been knocked for his in-your-face personality. He's been compared to Jim Kelly and Brett Favre and also Jeff George and Cade McNown. Bills QB Coach Sam Wyche loves Losman's way. "Players will be drawn to him," Wyche said. "I keep hearing the buzz word 'cocky.' There's an obnoxious cocky you just don't want to be around but there's also a confidence kind of cocky that kind of draws you in and you rally around it. I think that's what you'll find this kid is. He's engaging."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a flattering situation, but more important, it's not any added pressure than the pressure I put on myself. The organization is showing how much confidence they have in me and now much they believe in me, so it's my duty to step up to the plate and perform to the best of my abilities." -- QB J.P. Losman, commenting on the Bills giving up three picks in order to draft him.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL Even after the selection of J.P. Losman, the Bills still have not ruled out the possibility of signing a veteran backup to Drew Bledsoe before training camp opens in July. Kordell Stewart, who played for coach Mike Mularkey in Pittsburgh, is still on the team's radar screen but Buffalo will sit back and re-evaluate the No. 2 situation through June 1, when a batch of other names are expected to come on the market.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (1): DT Ron Edwards (tendered at $628,000; hard-nosed young veteran who missed the final 11 games after shoulder surgery).

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: QB Travis Brown (RFA; $628,000/1 yr); RB Joe Burns (ERFA; $380,000/1 yr); DE Keith McKenzie (UFA; $685,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2004 cap: $480,000); LB Dominique Stevenson (ERFA; $380,000/1 yr); OG Marques Sullivan (potential RFA; $2.955M/3 yrs, $500,000 SB/$100,000 RB; 2004 cap: $721,667); OG Ross Tucker (Potential RFA; $2.16M/3 yrs; $225,000 SB; 2004 cap: $575,000).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DT Oliver Gibson (FA Bengals; $1.625M/2 yrs, $200,000 SB; 2004 cap: $760,000); FB Daimon Shelton (FA; $1.22M/2 yrs, $20,000 SB; 2004 cap: $545,000); OG Chris Villarrial (UFA Bears; $11.3M/4 yrs, $2.875M SB; 2004 cap: $1.869M); CB Troy Vincent (UFA Eagles; $20.75M/6 yrs, $3.6M SB; 2004 cap: $2.775M).

PLAYERS LOST: OG Ruben Brown (released); FB Sam Gash (UFA Saints; $785,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB); TE Dave Moore (released); RB Sammy Morris (UFA Dolphins; $1.335M/2 yrs, $200,000 SB); LB DaShon Polk (UFA Texans; $615,600/1 yr, $75,000 SB); CB Dainon Sidney (UFA Lions; $560,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB); QB Alex Van Pelt (released/failed physical); CB Antoine Winfield (UFA Vikings; $34.8M/6 yrs, $10.8M RB).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


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