Bills Must Think Twice

The widespread consensus is that the Bills will draft a wide receiver in the first round. But BFR's Tyler Dunne says Buffalo must think long and hard about taking a cornerback at No. 11, even after signing William James Monday. Here's the breakdown...

It was inevitable.

Signing William James to a two-year deal was a move the Buffalo Bills needed to make. Following the release of Kiwaukee Thomas and the loss of Jason Webster in free agency, Buffalo needed to add somebody, if not by default. James has been a NFL regular for seven years. The Bills' No. 2 and No. 3 corners, Jabari Greer and Ashton Youboty, combined? Six.

The acquisition was natural. Experience was added where there was none.

But adding James wasn't the ends-all to the Bills' shaky cornerback situation – a position in flux since Nate Clements left last off-season. Once upon a time – in 2004 – James was an above-average cornerback for the New York Giants. He has started 45 career NFL games, but has been rendered to ‘nickel' and ‘dime' roles the past three seasons. The 6-0, 200 lb. James has endured two serious back injuries and just last season, he was booted out of his nickel role by year's end.

The signs point to Greer and James duking it out for the starting job opposite of Terrence McGee, but around 2 p.m. on April 26, a conscience draft angel will pop onto Russ Brandon's right shoulder. More mind-bending that the "chicken or the egg" debate," a common dilemma general managers face in the NFL is whether a shutdown corner or a playmaking receiver is the better choice. In the innate one-on-one, on-an-island battle, which position is more important?

Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas, Mario Manningham and Limas Sweed compile the foursome most Bills fans are poking and prodding like lab rats right now. But maybe, the ultimate quartet the No. 11 overall pick will boil down to is Leodis McKelvin, Mike Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aqib Talib – all cornerbacks.

A "defense wins championships" mantra has guided Brandon's management team throughout free agency. Who's to say it won't spill into the first round of the draft? Buffalo's cornerback situation is just as unstable as wide receiver – regardless of James' signing. In five of the first 10 games last season, an opposing receiver had 100 yards against the Bills' 29th ranked pass defense. Two of which came against the one receiver Buffalo should be plotting a new scheme for 24/7. Randy Moss.

If the Bills' plan on realistically competing with the New England Patriots, the antidote isn't a receiver. It's a shutdown corner. Green Bay Packers' general manager Ron Wolf drafted three straight cornerbacks in 1999 after Moss' freakish rookie year ended Green Bay's 25-game winning streak at home and its stranglehold on the NFC Central.

First round: Antuan Edwards, CB. Second round: Fred Vinson, CB. Third round: Mike McKenzie, CB. A draft strategy on steroids.

Buffalo won't go to that extreme, but every general manager has that voice in his head, urging him to resist the skill position temptation. It will take more than a journeyman cornerback to slow Moss and New England's offense. James isn't a drastic upgrade over Greer and Youboty.

So on to April.

While the Bills have expressed interest in Oklahoma's Kelly, and surely aspire to surround second-year quarterback Trent Edward with young weapons to grow with, they must look at the numbers. First round wide receivers are notoriously unpredictable. It's the one position – more than any other – where athletic ability can be 100 percent artificially deceiving through college, the combine, personal workouts and interviews. It's a frustrating craps-shoot.

Of the 22 wide receivers drafted in the top 15 from 1997 to 2006, 14 can legitimately be labeled busts. Whether you're a fan of their particular teams or a diehard fantasy football player, it's a nightmarish list. Hold on tight…Troy Williamson (2005, seventh overall), Mike Williams (2005, 10th), Reggie Williams (2004, ninth), Michael Clayton (2004, 15th), Charles Rogers (2003, second), David Terrell (2001, eighth), Koren Robinson (2001, ninth), Rod Gardner (2001, 15th), Peter Warrick (2000, fourth), Travis Taylor (2000, 10th), David Boston (1999, eighth), Troy Edwards (1999, 13th), Ike Hilliard (1997, seventh) and Yatil Green (1997, 15th).

A 64 percent bust rate.

That conscience whisper extrapolates to a shout when breaking down the cornerbacks drafted in the top 15 (excluding the 2007 draft again). From 1998-2006, 11 cornerbacks have been selected in the top half of the first round and only one can rightfully be labeled a disappointment – for a miniscule bust rate of nine percent. And even the one black sheep may be the most talented player of the entire bunch. But Pacman didn't have a personal curfew.

Rodgers-Cromartie is the most intriguing of the cornerback crew. The cousin of Antonio Cromartie (who is the new position standard), "DRC" has flew up the draft charts since his Combine performance. Last season at Tennessee State, he picked off two passes, and both went for touchdowns (69 and 71 yards). As a junior he had 47 tackles and six interceptions.

The wiry 6-foot-2, 184-pound Rodgers-Cromartie was MVP for the South team in the Senior Bowl, and his stock has soared ever since. It's difficult to nitpick a flaw in DRC's game. His closing speed, bump-and-run skills, wingspan, instincts and playmaking abilities are all NFL-ready – much like his cousin.

Rodgers-Cromartie may not be a 6-foot-4 target to complement Lee Evans. But he's exactly what Buffalo needs to close the gap on the Patriots. A DRC-Donte Whitner-Ko Simpson-Terrence McGee defensive backfield has the potential to grow into one of the conference's best.

The Bills must treat the No. 11 pick with precious cautiousness – kind of like Chris Farley petting that bread roll in Tommy Boy .

Before investing a multi-million dollar contract to Kelly or another receiver, the ramifications must be clear. Far too often under former-G.M. Tom Donahoe, big-money moves backfired. Give Donahoe credit. He took chances, and threw conventional wisdom out the window. That's gutsy. But right now, the Bills have a good thing going. Ugly contracts have been cleaned out of the gutter. Two drafts have yielded six starters. And it's all been inside-out, starting at both lines and the defense.

Now the natural temptation is to branch out to the skill positions. But recent history has placed a huge, yellow "Yield" sign in the Bills' war room. Buffalo must be careful. Staying defensive may be the best investment. To prevent a bust, and to challenge the division bully.

Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at thdunne@gmail.com


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