Buffalo Bills Go "Old School"

GM Marv Levy continued his "Old School" makeover of the Buffalo Bills in the NFL draft over the weekend with some unexpected moves that shocked the draft "gurus" and left many Bills fans, accustomed to the high-profile, "value system" approach to drafting that has been in vogue around the NFL in recent years, wondering if Levy really is as senile and out of touch as some in the media have dismissively portrayed him.

Now that the screaming and gnashing of teeth has died down a little and more information has begun to surface about what happened behind the scenes, it is time to take a more dispassionate view of the moves that Levy and the Bills' brain trust made and didn't make, their approach to the draft and the players that they drafted for the team.

Since taking over as GM of the Bills after the team's implosion during the 2005 season, Marv Levy has taken an approach to rebuilding the team that has been remarkably consistent with the "Old School" approach to assembling football teams that he outlined in describing his experiences as a coach in his autobiography, Where Else Would You Rather Be? In a manner consistent with the "Old School" adage that 'offense puts fannies in the seats, but defense wins championships", Levy told everyone that the Bills would be focusing on revamping their defense this off-season when he became GM and hired Dick Jauron to be the Bills' head coach.

With Jauron and new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell installing a new "Tampa Bay-style Cover 2" defensive system, the departure of veterans Sam Adams, Lawyer Milloy, Justin Bannan and Ron Edwards, and Nate Clements not signing his franchise tag tender offer, everyone knew that the Bills were going to need to draft a defensive tackle, a safety, and perhaps a cornerback during this weekend's draft. With the Bills having only four defensive tackles on their roster and the team showing interest in highly rated DTs Haloti Ngata and Broderick Bunkley, the fans, the media and virtually every one of the draft "gurus" anticipated that that would be the position that Levy and the Bills would address first at the top of their draft if top rated offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson did not miraculously fall to them at the # 8 pick in the first round. But, almost no one took into consideration the importance of the safety position in the "Cover 2" defense or Levy's "Old School" approach to the draft.

With the Houston Texans unexpectedly passing on Reggie Bush and teams having a wide variety of opinions about the top three quarterbacks in the class, possible trade rumors were swirling everywhere on the eve of what looked to be the most unpredictable NFL draft in years. There were reports that Philadelphia and St. Louis might be interested in trading up to get the Bills' # 8 pick in deals that would leave the Bills with the # 11 or # 14 pick. There was another rumor that the Bills were talking with Chicago about trading up for their pick in the first round. And, there was even a report by ESPN's Mike Mayock that was widely discounted as being ridiculous that the Bills were not as interested in Ngata and Bunkley as was being reported and might be interested in drafting Ohio State safety Donte Whitner, a player that the Bills were very impressed with and reportedly had a terrific interview with at the NFL Combine.

With all of the possible scenarios that were being talked about involving the Bills, Bills fans watched the draft begin on Saturday afternoon with great anticipation and excitement, hoping the Bills would be able to "steal" one of the highly rated and publicized players that they had been hearing about for months or, at the very least, expecting the team to "get the best value" for their # 8 pick in a trade-down scenario. When the expected trades for the top 7 picks in the draft failed to materialize and the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders passed on highly rated USC quarterback Matt Leinart to take Ferguson and top rated cornerback/safety Michael Huff of Texas, the anticipation and excitement only increased.

With Leinart and Vanderbilt's strong-armed QB Jay Cutler still available, Bills fans who have no faith in the abilities of JP Losman or Craig Nall to be able to develop into a quality starting quarterback in the NFL and who have not read Levy's book were hoping that the Bills would use their pick to draft one of these two young quarterbacks. Most Bills fans, however, seemed to be hoping that the Bills would be able to trade down with one of the teams reportedly interested in acquiring their pick and still get one of the defensive tackles that they had been convinced that the Bills would draft, while acquiring an additional draft pick that the Bills could use in the second or third round to acquire an offensive lineman or defensive back.

When ESPN's John Clayton reported that Philadelphia and Denver had contacted the Bills offering to trade their # 14 and # 15 picks respectively and a second or third round pick to the Bills to move up to the # 8 spot, many Bills fans were a-tingle with excitement, looking at their "value charts" and salivating over which additional prospect the Bills might acquire, certain that there was no way that Levy and the Bills could pass up a chance to stick it to their rivals by filling two positions of need for the price of moving down just a few spots in the draft. Now, that would be a draft day coup that they could be proud of and could rub into the noses of all of those "experts" and rival fans who were calling Marv Levy senile!

Nobody reckoned with Levy and the "Old School" approach that he has brought to One Bills Drive. With Ngata not really being the kind of defensive lineman that they were looking for and there being some questions about Bunkley's character, Levy and the Bills decided to address what they perceived to be the most pressing needs of the team in a different manner than expected. While they were certainly open to the possibility of taking advantage of any trade offers that might allow them to add more good young prospects, if it meant losing out on the players that they had targeted their priority positions and having to settle for players that they felt were not nearly as good a fit in their system, they weren't about to be swayed by the prospect of pulling off a draft day coup that might end up being nothing more than a public relations ego massage when all was said and done.

Bills fans everywhere gasped in horror and their hearts sank as NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that, with the eighth pick in the draft, the Bills had selected Donte Whitner, safety, from Ohio State. Chris Mortensen, a good friend of former Bills GM Tom Donahoe, and the other "experts" at ESPN could hardly disguise the scorn in their voices as they castigated the Bills for "reaching" for Whitner and missing out on the opportunity to trade down with Denver and still acquire Whitner with the # 15 pick in the draft.

Many Bills fans were livid. Maybe the "experts" were right, maybe the game had passed Levy by. Maybe Marv really was senile. How could Marv pass up the opportunity that was staring him and the Bills in the face? What could he possibly have been thinking? Surely the Bills could have still gotten Whitner with Denver's # 15 pick! How could they pass on Bunkley, who Philadelphia drafted at # 14 and would reportedly have drafted at # 8 if the Bills had accepted the trade offer that ESPN's Clayton had offered? The Bills could have gotten Ngata or Whitner if they made a trade, never mind that Cleveland drafted Ngata or that Detroit had been interested drafting Huff to play safety or that Miami was reported to be interested in drafting Whitner and might have jumped ahead of the Bills if they had traded down to the # 15 spot. "Marv blew it! That's it!" they thundered!

Things only got worse when, after the Cowboys drafted LB Bobby Carpenter who the N.Y. Giants reportedly had targeted and the Giants subsequently traded down to the end of the first round, Levy and the Bills gave up their second round pick and a third round pick to acquire the # 26 pick in the first round from Chicago. And worse yet when the Bills used that pick to select defensive tackle John McCargo, from North Carolina St., a player who had been injured much of the past year. Many Bills "draftniks" could hardly be contained as they heard ESPN's resident "draft guru" pronounce that he had McCargo rated as going in third round or later. While McCargo was not entirely unknown, for the Bills to give up a "high value" draft pick to acquire a player like THAT—surely Marv Levy MUST be out of his mind! Senile or stupid or both! Definitely out of his depth!

While some of the most irate Bills fans finally began to calm down a little after the Bills drafted Ohio State cornerback Ashton Youboty, a player who had been projected before the draft to be taken late in the first round, with their remaining third round pick, others were inconsolable. Nothing that anyone could say could convince them that there was even the slightest possibility that there had been some method behind this apparent madness. And, the fact that the Bills had not selected any offensive linemen or additional defensive linemen as the first day of the draft came to an end and most of the "draft experts" were panning the Bills' draft strategy only seemed to confirm their opinion that the Bills were now the laughingstock of the NFL.

But, as some observers began to study the course of the draft and stories of what was going on in some of the team's draft day "war rooms" began to emerge, it turns out that there was a method to the seeming madness. Additionally, the Bills' draft choices on the second day of the draft demonstrated that the Bills had approached the draft with a definite strategy that was just as consistent with the "Old School" approach to building a football team outlined in Marv Levy's book as the Bills' free agent signings this off-season and the changes that have been made to the roster since Levy became the team's GM.

Levy had said, upon taking over as GM, that the first thing that the team needed to address was defense. While also stating that the Bills needed to improve their offensive line, Levy had indicated prior to the draft that, aside from Ferguson, there were no offensive linemen available in this draft who were certain to be starting in the NFL this season—a sign that the team might be thinking that an offensive lineman who would need a year to develop could just as easily be taken at the bottom of the draft as at the top, especially after the Bills had signed Tutan Reyes on the eve of the draft.

He was true to his word: for the first time in team history, the Bills used their first five picks in the draft to select defensive players, while selecting offensive linemen with the team's three of the team's last four picks. Not only with the pick of Whitner and then of McCargo, but with the way that Levy and the Bills went about acquiring those two players, it was obvious that the Bills had made a commitment to not only focus on defense at the top of the draft, but target specific players that they felt would be the best combination of players to add to the team. This was something that most observers of the team had not anticipated and that harkens back to an era of football that is incomprehensible to those fans and observers who are only familiar with the recently popularized "value"-based approach to the NFL draft.

The Super Bowl may be won or lost on draft day, but "winning" or "losing" in the eyes of the draft "gurus" is not what determines who will win or lose the Super Bowl. Contrary to what the "draft gurus" and many fans would like to believe, the purpose of the NFL draft is not for a team to "win" or "lose" by getting the "best value" for the picks that it makes on draft day. For "Old Schoolers", like Marv Levy and many of the wiser heads around the NFL, the purpose of the NFL draft is for teams to acquire some of the talent that they need to build a football team that is able to compete every week during the season and win enough of its games to get to and win a Super Bowl championship game.

While the draft presents an opportunity for teams to get a significant infusion of talent onto their rosters, how many players a team may acquire in the draft , what their reputations were in college, or where they were taken on draft day is not nearly as important as whether they are the right players for the team, whether they are the best players available to fit the team's needs and requirements, and whether they the proper attitude and work ethic to fit in with the rest of the team's players and work with them and the coaches to not only get better as individuals, but as a cohesive and united team with the purpose of winning a Super Bowl championship as its goal every year.

Regardless of talent, not every player fits that mold or will be a fit with every team. It is the job of the GM, with the help of the coaching staff, personnel director and scouting staff, etc., to make a determination about which players they feel will be the right player at a given position for their own team. When their team has multiple positions that need improvement, it is not only their job to rank the players that they think will be the right players for the team at those positions and decide what priority to give to those positions on draft day, but to try to anticipate which players on their lists will be available when the team's turn to select will come around. Decisions are made about not just individual players, but combinations of players that the team may have the opportunity to select.

The problem that the Bills faced coming into this year's draft was that there were not that many defensive tackles in the draft pool who were projected to be a good fit in their new "Cover 2" defensive scheme. The top-rated DT, Haloti Ngata, really was not an ideal fit, physically, for the system. The physically gifted Broderick Bunkley did fit the system and had risen up the draft charts after a spectacular workout at the NFL Combine, but had only one very good season at Florida State and there were questions about his character and the consistency of his work ethic. Claude Wroten, from LSU, was perhaps as physically gifted as Bunkley, had had a good college career and was a fit for the system, but had been arrested for marijuana possession with intent to distribute just prior to the NFL Combine. John McCargo, the player that the Bills ended up selecting, was a very talented player who fit the system, but had missed the final six games of the 2005 season with an injury. Most of the other top rated DTs, like Ngata, did not fit the physical profile of the kind of player the Bills were looking for or had a reputation for being underachievers who did not work or play hard all of the time.

Because the list of defensive tackles that might fit their new defensive system was so short, almost everyone assumed that the Bills would have a hard time passing on Bunkley or Ngata with their first pick in the draft. Almost no one considered the possibility that, despite this short list, the Bills might decide that they had another position of need that had to be taken into consideration as well.

The talent at safety and cornerback in this year's draft pool was so deep that, after the supremely talented Michael Huff, the next ten or more safeties seemed to be interchangeable to many "draftniks" before the draft. But, to NFL GMs and coaches that was not the case. While most fans understand that there is a difference between the responsibilities of the strong safety and the free safety in the conventional NFL secondary, many fail to understand that, because the safeties in the "Cover 2" defense have different responsibilities than the safeties do in a conventional defense, the requirements for that position are different. The kind of safeties who get the most headlines and rack up the best fantasy football statistics are generally the "in-the-box" strong safeties that play in a more conventionally aligned defensive system, like Lawyer Milloy, Roy Williams, etc. But, those safeties often do not have the speed necessary to excel in the "Cover 2" defense, which requires the safeties to have the speed required to cover wide receivers deep down the sidelines.

In this year's draft there were a number of highly-touted, well-known safeties who had played well in college in the more conventional defensive systems, but, aside from the safety prospects like Huff, who had experience playing cornerback or projected into the NFL as combination cornerback/safety players, there really weren't as many pure safeties who were projected as being able to play in a "Cover 2" defensive system. And, what most fans could not know was that, apparently, a lot of NFL teams felt that there was a big drop-off in how the players in that group were rated.

While it was reported before the draft that Miami was very interested in Donte Whitner, with all of the pre-draft attention on Michael Huff, who could play both safety or cornerback in the NFL, and where he might be taken in the first round, few seemed to consider how teams had rated the other safeties in the draft pool. With the Bills having such an obvious need at defensive tackle, almost no one seemed to imagine that the Bills might see the safety position as being just as much of a priority for them to address, even though the safety position is critical in the "Cover 2" defense. But, with Troy Vincent aging, Coy Wire a liability in pass coverage in even a conventional defensive scheme, and Jim Leonard not noted for having the speed necessary to excel in the "Cover 2" defense, Marv Levy and the Bills had to take all of that into consideration. They had to decide how they were going to go about filling the team's need at both defensive tackle and safety with players who would be the right players for the Bills and their new defensive system. If they could get an extra draft pick along the way or it cost them a draft pick to do so, they had to get the best combination of players to fit both positions, but they could not afford to take a chance that they would not fill those positions at the top of their draft.

After Whitner nearly matched Huff's 40 yard dash time during his pro day workout, he established himself as the top pure safety in the draft and was rising on the draft boards of other teams as well. After interviewing him at the NFL Combine, the Bills were obviously impressed with Whitner as well. At the same time, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Baltimore were all reportedly interested in drafting either Ngata or Bunkley, if the Bills did not. After the signing of Lavar Arrington, it was reported that the N.Y. Giants, who had been very interested in drafting Ohio St. LB B. Carpenter, were considering taking John McCargo to fill the spot in their lineup vacated when they lost Kenderick Clancy in free agency.

If they did not get Huff or Ferguson, the choice for the Bills came down to this: they could choose Bunkley in the first round, lose out on their top rated safety and settle for the next best alternative that they had on their draft board, probably the bigger, but less technically sound Daniel Bullocks from Nebraska or the troubled Jimmy Williams of Va. Tech, or they could draft Whitner, the best pure safety in the draft, first and, then, take the less-well known McCargo with their next pick. Contrary to the expectations of the "draft gurus" and Bills fans, they decided that the combination of Whitner/McCargo was the better combination of players for the Bills than the combination of Bunkley/Bullocks would be. These are the kinds of decisions that GMs in the NFL, like Marv Levy, are paid to make.

But, it wasn't just the selection of Whitner over Bunkley that upset many Bills fans, especially those who rate the success of a team's draft based on whether the team was able to select players considered to have higher "value" than the spot that they were drafted, it was the fact that, by taking Whitner with the # 8 pick in the first round, the Bills had passed up the chance to trade down and pick up another valuable draft pick while still getting Whitner. With Clayton and Mortenson from ESPN telling them that the Bills could have gotten another second or third round pick and that none of the teams who were drafting between their # 8 pick and the # 14 or # 15 pick that they could have had in a trade, they couldn't understand why Marv didn't do what seemed to be obvious to them. It didn't make sense…so, naturally, it had to be because Marv either froze, was out of his depth, is stupid or senile.

It never occurred to them that there might have been a reason why Levy and the Bills decided not to trade down, but to use the # 8 pick to secure Whitner. It never occurred to them that there was a reason why many of the very same "draft gurus" who were criticizing the Bills' pick of Whitner had projected that Michael Huff would be drafted by Detroit with the # 9 pick—the team that would select Bullocks with its pick in the second round. It never occurred to them that Cleveland, a team that had traded safety Chris Crocker, might be interested in selecting the top pure safety in the draft or that Miami might be willing to swap a low round pick to move a couple of spots ahead of Buffalo to take the guy that they reportedly wanted, Whitner, over Jason Allen, a less experienced cornerback/safety. No, the guys at ESPN had told them that the Bills had been offered a nice draft pick to trade down and there were no teams that were going to take Whitner before the Bills did at that lower spot, so it had to be the Gospel Truth!

Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. According to Mike Holbrook of Pro Football Weekly, it wasn't. Holbrook reported that, contrary to Clayton's reports, the Bills were trying to make a trade that would have allowed them to draft Whitner and acquire additional picks, but that they received word that there were other teams interested in Whitner that might take him before they could if they traded down. Depending on what teams the Bills were talking about a trade with, it is possible that, if they had made a trade at that point, they might have not only lost out on Whitner, but on Bunkley as well and would not have been able to switch from the Whitner/McCargo combination to the Bunkley/Bullocks combination of players that they needed to come away from the top of their draft with.

Now that may not matter much to the "draft gurus" and "draftniks" who see the NFL draft primarily in terms of "value"—so long as a team gets "value" out of a deal or a pick, it doesn't matter if they don't get the right players for their team at that point or later in the draft, it's all about the value of the picks and the value that the "draft gurus" have assigned to them! If a team takes a player a few spots before he has been projected to be selected, the team that has drafted him is a "loser". But an NFL GM can't be concerned with whether he is a "loser" in the eyes of the fans, let alone the draft "experts", his job is to acquire the players that his team needs to win football games on the field!

Once the Bills selected Whitner there was no turning back. The Bills had to make sure that they got McCargo or they would have an extremely difficult time addressing their pressing need for a defensive tackle that fit their system without being forced to select a player with questionable work habits or serious character issues hanging over him—not the kind of players that Levy and the Bills are looking to build their team with. At that point, McCargo was the key to their entire draft strategy.

But, that didn't matter to the "draftniks" and "draft gurus" who went ballistic when the Bills traded their second and third round picks to Chicago for their # 26 pick in the first round and then used it to draft McCargo. Mel Kiper told them that, while some teams had McCargo rated as a late-second or early-third round pick, he had McCargo going in the third round or later—so it didn't matter that he was the key to the Bills' draft or that there was a real possibility that the N.Y. Giants might take McCargo at the end of the first round. Mel had spoken and the Bills were again "losers" for giving up a third round pick to draft a player that they could have drafted with that pick. Mel Kiper couldn't possibly be wrong about the value of a player to a particular team or where some of the teams in the NFL might be prepared to draft a player because he rates players based on what he sees as their overall value at the position and not what system they are best suited to play or the value of that position and player in relation to a particular team's need. But, that's not how the GMs of NFL teams necessarily rate the value of a player to their own team or their team's draft.

As it turns out, Kiper was wrong about when McCargo was likely to be selected in this draft. When Bobby Carpenter was drafted by the Cowboys with the # 18 pick in the first round, the N.Y. Giants, who reportedly had still been interested in drafting Carpenter, almost immediately traded down out of the # 25 spot in the draft. That had to signal that, with Carpenter gone, the Giants were now possibly looking to address other positions of need in the draft than linebacker. And, at the top of that list was finding a replacement for the departed Kenderick Clancy at defensive tackle. There had been word in the media in New York that McCargo was a player that they were definitely interested in and there are reports coming out of New York that, indeed, the Giants were going to take McCargo with the pick that they traded to Pittsburgh, but had concluded that they could still get him with the pick that they acquired from the Steelers. What they didn't count on was what was happening at the same time in Buffalo.

In talking about what happened during the draft, Marv Levy admitted that, while he thought that the Bills would be able to draft McCargo with their second round pick, # 42 overall, he was convinced by the rest of the staff to make the trade up to Chicago's # 26 pick because the staff felt that the drop-off at the position was so great that they didn't want to lose out on McCargo. The trade with Chicago would not have netted McCargo for the Bills if the N.Y. Giants had stayed with their # 25 pick in the first round, but insured that they would not have a second opportunity to select him. Despite the fact that the Giants already have two fine pass-rushing defensive ends, they ended up having to select Matthias Kiawanuka, the pass-rushing DE from Boston College at the end of the first round and had to settle for the less than inspiring Barry Cofield from Northwestern in the fourth round as a possible replacement for Kenderick Clancy.

Of course, none of this matters to Mel Kiper or the crew at ESPN or the other "draft gurus" who didn't have to be concerned about the prospect that their team might be forced to go into training camp with Barry Cofield or a troubled Claude Wroten as one of its top three defensive tackles. Marv Levy and the Bills' brain trust did.

And, apparently there were more than a few GMs in the NFL who must have felt that the Bills were correct in their assessment that the drop-off in talent at the positions that they addressed between the player that the Bills drafted with their first two pick and the next best player available at that position was significant. In Whitner's case, there were 32 picks before Detroit, not coincidently, selected Danial Bullocks, the next pure safety.

Miami did select Jason Allen, a CB/S hybrid with its pick at # 16. Detroit and Miami were two of the teams that the Bills were concerned might take Whitner if they traded down out of the # 8 spot. In McCargo's case, there were 42 picks, more than an entire round, before the next DT--incidentally, the troubled Claude Wroten--was drafted (this despite the fact that the NY Giants, at the very least, were interested in drafting a DT early and made more than one pick during that interval). There were an additional 39 picks between the selection of Wroten and the next DT taken, Gabe Watson, a player with a reputation for not being the hardest worker, who went to Arizona in the fourth round. The drop-off in talent at the defensive tackle position was so bad that the Jets selected Div 1-AA standout Chris Gocong and the Bears, in a widely criticized pick, took Dusty Davoracek, both DE/DT 'tweeners, in the third round at with the # 71 and # 73 picks respectively, rather than go with Watson.

Mel Kiper, the other "draft gurus" and the Boys from Bristol (ESPN) may not think that the Bills got value with their picks, but GMs around the NFL certain seem to have. The Bills may have passed up a chance to get an extra second or third round pick and given up a third round pick to get Whitner and McCargo, but when more than an entire round goes by and teams that need defensive tackles don't draft one, it is pretty obvious that there was a pretty big drop-off between the last player taken at that position and the next one on most, if not all, of the NFL team's draft boards. If that's not an indication of a "value" pick, then it is hard to say what is!

Once the Bills had secured the combination of players at safety and defensive tackle that they needed to come out of this draft with, they could afford to take the best available player on their draft board with their subsequent picks. And, as it happened, two players who most of the "draft gurus' had rated as late-first to early-second round picks, CB Ashton Youboty and S Ko Simpson, fell to the Bills in the third and fourth rounds. The fact that Youboty gives the Bills insurance in case they cannot come to an agreement on a contract with Nate Clements and a bigger option at nickel-back this season added to Youboty's value and made his selection a "no-brainer". Despite being perhaps a little overvalued by his agent and the "draft gurus", Simpson is a still-developing, raw talent who fits the "Cover 2" system that the Bills can groom as a replacement for Troy Vincent without rushing him into action before he is ready. With Whitner, Youboty and Simpson joining Terrance McGee, the Bills have the makings of a solid young secondary corps for next few years, even if Clements and Vincent depart. Not bad for a team whose defensive system relies on solid play in the secondary.

Marv Levy and the Bills' brain trust were not done with their "Old School" rebuilding of the Bills defense. Despite the fact that there were still offensive linemen who had been projected to go in the second or third round remaining on the board, the Levy did something that no previous Bills GM had ever done before—he selected a defensive player for the fifth straight time at the top of a draft. After going after McCargo in order to be able to pass on the troubled Wroten, Marv and the Bills brain trust again addressed the Bills' weak spot at defensive tackle by selecting the player who played next to Wroten at DT for LSU, Kyle Williams, a hard-working, high-motor player who may not be the most physically gifted, but whose play reminds some of Chris Hovan, a player who has thrived playing on the Tampa Bay defense.

Levy completed the infusion of fresh, new talent into the Bills' defensive unit by selecting the undersized, but speedy Keith Ellison, an OLB from Oregon St. with the Bills' 6th Round pick after selecting his first offensive player, Brad Butler, an experienced offensive tackle from Virginia in the previous round. Like most of the defensive players acquired since Levy hired Dick Jauron and Perry Fewell was brought in to be the defensive coordinator, Ellison, a converted safety, brings more speed to the defense. Ellison is a player who is still developing and needs to get stronger in order to compete for a starting job, but he has played in a "Cover 2" defense and has the ability to contribute on special teams while he is developing.

With the selection of Butler in the 5th round and two massive offensive linemen, the 6'7", 329 pound offensive tackle Terrance Pennington from New Mexico and 6'3", 346 pound offensive guard, Aaron Merz out of Cal that the Bills selected in the seventh round, the Bills finally addressed their offensive line needs in the draft, much to the chagrin of many Bills fans who were anticipating that the team would finally select an offensive lineman on the first day of the draft. Levy's "Old School" decision to build up the Bills defense first in this draft undoubtedly played a role in the choice to wait so long to draft any offensive linemen.

It is also likely that Levy's equally "Old School" belief that it takes offensive linemen longer to develop and that, consequently, very few offensive linemen, no matter how highly rated or publicized, are ready to step in and play, let alone start as a rookie also influenced this decision as well. With the additions of Tutan Reyes, Melvin Fowler and Aaron Gibson to the offensive line during the off-season and the blocking skills of free agent acquisition Robert Royal at tight end, Levy and the Bills appear to have concluded that, while the offensive line may still be an area of concern, they had added enough potential young talent to the offensive line to give them the flexibility to focus almost exclusively on improving the Bills defense in this draft.

With even the NFL giving its teams charts assigning a numerical value to each pick in every round of its draft, it has become increasingly rare to see a team go into the draft with the single-minded purpose of improving itself on one side of the ball, knowing which players are the best fit for the system that they are running and determined to get the best players for their team and their system rather without regard for the "value" that has been assigned to the spot that they feel that they must acquire a given player with. But, that is what many successful NFL teams used to do in the years when Marv Levy was coaching and learning how to build a good NFL team while working with men like George Allen, Dick Vermeil, Bill Polian and others who have been part of successful franchises around the NFL. And, that's what he and the rest of the Bills' brain trust decided to in this weekend's draft. They came to the "Old School" conclusion that a team with a good defense and a mediocre offense has a better chance of being competitive than a team with a mediocre defense and a good offense. They decided that they needed to improve the Bills defense in this draft. And, they did it in a big time, "Old School" way.

Regardless of what Ralph Wilson or Marv Levy or anyone who is part of the Bills organization may say about "winning now", realistically, most Bills fans certainly realize that it is going to take Levy at least two full off seasons to transform the malcontented mess of a team that he took over in January into a team that is good enough to compete for a Super Bowl title and not just a playoff berth. The process began with cleaning out the locker-room—getting rid of some of the most prominent veteran players who were responsible for last season's debacle. Time will tell if that job has been completed or needs to still be on-going. The process continued with the acquisition of a dozen young, experienced players who have had their ups-and-downs elsewhere and are being given a chance to prove that they are now ready to be the kinds of players that they have the ability to be. Like some of the young players who were on the Bills' roster when Levy and Jauron took over, it is up to them to show that they can get the job done. Some will, some won't. Those who don't won't be around very long. That is a part of the process that will probably continue to be a prominent part of every off-season, to a greater or lesser extent, as long as Marv Levy is the team's GM.

The Bills have addressed their defense in a big way in the draft in an effort to give the coaching staff the players that they need to build a defense that can win a championship. It is an area that will, undoubtedly, require continued attention until the Bills can lift the Lombardi Trophy, but this weekend was a good start in that direction. While the Bills have some talent at the skill positions on offense, they need to find out what they have at the critical quarterback position this season and it will take at least on off-season for them to address the needs on that side of the ball that they are not going to be able to address this year.

But, it is obvious now that Marv Levy does have a plan for how to rebuild the sad-sack, waste-of-talent team that embarrassed itself and the franchise last season. The plan may or may not work, but it is based on an approach that may be considered "Old School" that has been, in various guises, successful in the past for other teams. To some Bills fans it will look like Marv Levy doesn't have a clue because what he's doing is not what they are used to seeing done in the NFL these days. Still, building a successful NFL franchise is a lot like putting a puzzle together: very often the pieces of the puzzle look strange and insignificant and you can't tell what the picture is really going to look like until all the pieces are in place.

After watching what the Bills have done this off-season and during the draft this weekend, it is apparent that Marv Levy has begun to sort out the pieces of the puzzle and is beginning to try to assemble them in a very deliberate manner. Bills fans may be frustrated because they cannot see the picture yet and may not be able to recognize where or how all of the pieces are going to fit together, but they should now be able to take some consolation from seeing that Levy has a definite plan for completing the puzzle and he's not going to be deterred from following that plan by what the "draft gurus" or the media think of what he is doing or to make an "ego-massaging" grandstand play for personal glorification. And, after what we have seen with the Bills over the last few years, that's refreshing. I think of it as "Old School"….

(Billszone.com )

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