It was the most star-studded NFL Draft of this generation.
The 2006 NFL Draft featured three Heisman finalists that battled in one of the greatest college football games ever (Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Vince Young), a freakish athlete at defensive end (Mario Williams), a classic Ohio State throwback linebacker (A.J. Hawk), a Vanderbilt gunslinger with completely unpredictable potential (Jay Cutler), a tight end that ran a 4.38 in the 40 – the fastest time ever for a TE (Vernon Davis), a billed franchise stalwart at offensive tackle (D'Brickashaw Ferguson), and a few running backs not named Bush (Maurice Jones-Drew, Joseph Addai and Laurence Maroney).
There had never been such a unique influx of talent across the board like this.
With the eighth overall pick, Buffalo was in prime position to pounce on a franchise linchpin. But even as the likes of Leinart and Cutler slipped to them, the Bills opted for safety Donte Whitner. The Ohio State safety has been solid, if not spectacular, for Buffalo. In two seasons he has 194 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups. A low ceiling, yes. But dependability guaranteed.
Should then-general manager Marv Levy have looked outside the box? Should he have taken Leinart, even with J.P. Losman anointed as the second-coming? Hindsight sure is clear, isn't it?
Here's a look back at who the Bills should have taken with their first few picks, in one of the deepest drafts ever. In retrospect, Buffalo should have been bolder and capitalized on a dynamic draft.
1 (8) Jay Cutler-QB
The actual pick: Donte Whitner-S
No, not the Mr. Olympia body-builder Jay Cutler. That's just unhealthy.
The risk-taking, quarterback Jay Cutler would have been the perfect pick. At the time, skeptics would have argued that the Bills already had a gunslinger on the team in Losman. But in his first full year as a starter, Cutler showed flashes of brilliance. On a lackluster team, with his top receiver (Javon Walker) injured, Cutler passed for 3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns, while completing 63.6 percent of his passes. He's gutsy and plays with an edge, a persona the Western New York fan base could have rallied around. Two years of Losman comical errors later and the Bills have a new quarterback in Trent Edwards. Going with Cutler may have cut back the rebuilding process.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie would be a top five pick if teams knew that he'd become such a ball-hawking force, but at the time, the 19th overall pick he was taken with even seemed high.
With the eighth overall selection, the Bills had an opportunity to cash in on a talent-rich draft, an opportunity to take a first-overall talent at an eighth-overall price. Cutler was a possible franchise cornerstone. He can bench press 225 lbs. 23 times – more than many lineman. His upper-body strength has created one of the strongest arms in the NFL. In the WNY weather with a deep threat in Lee Evans, Cutler was the perfect choice.
1 (26) Greg Jennings-WR
The actual pick: John McCargo-DT
Buffalo surprisingly jumped back into the first round, which wasn't a bad maneuver. But McCargo? Two injury-infested years later, this pick is looking careless. The Bills just swallowed Marcus Stroud's contract and shelled out a $17.5 million deal to Spencer Johnson at DT, so it's safe to say McCargo hasn't quite worked out.
The talent that was available for the Bills at this pick is mind-numbing and even more frustrating. Running back Joseph Addai was on the board. If Levy could have sensed Willis McGahee's attitude problem early than Addai would have been a great value pick. But even given the then-circumstances for the Bills, Jennings is the best choice. Somewhat unheralded through college, Jennings finished as Western Michigan's all-time leading receiver. In his second NFL season last year, he broke into his own, leading Green Bay to a 13-3 record and sending Brett Favre's career out with a bang. He caught 53 passes for 920 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Packers last year as arguably the NFL's best long-ball receiver, catching seven 40-plus yard passes.
A Cutler-Evans-Jennings trio in the passing game would have completely averted the sorry state Buffalo's passing game is in right now. Buffalo gave new contracts to Peerless Price and Josh Reed that offseason, instead. Yikes.
Trading up was genius. Levy just took the wrong guy.
3 (70) Elvis Dumervil-DE
The actual pick: Ashton Youboty-CB
The Bills' pass rush was non-existent last season, ranking 29th in the league in sacks (26 sacks). In the '06 draft, Levy and the front office had a pass rush specialist fall into their lap and – like most other teams – Buffalo turned the other cheek. Dumervil was picked by Denver with the 126th overall selection in the fourth round, and in two seasons he has racked up 20.5 sacks. It's not as big of a surprise really. At Louisville, Dumervil broke an NCAA single-game sack record with six sacks against Kentucky tied the NCAA season mark with 20 sacks.
Yet for some reason, many NFL teams shy away from lightweight pass rushers – Dumervil is 260 lbs. The Bills could have found the perfect complement to Kelsay's adequate run support in Dumervil.
Instead, Buffalo will try to hunt down a pass specialist in this year's draft after missing out on free agent James Hall.
While you can pretty much second guess any draft pick, the 2006 draft proved that teams must take chances. Cutler (played on a poor Vandy team), Jennings (played against inferior competition) and Dumervil (undersized) each carried an element of risk. But that shouldn't matter. Next weekend, the Bills must be bold and take a chance on the best available talent in front of them.
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org