Bills toughened up
No doubt about it. Buffalo's front office went into draft weekend with a distinct plan to beef up its offensive and defensive lines. They won't announce such a preconceived plan publicly, but the Bills clearly needed to change the way they're building this team. Tom Donahoe didn't get it. Neither did Marv Levy. Building a team in the modern era requires a year-in, year-out commitment to the trenches.
The flashy Marshawn Lynch, J.P. Losman and Leodis McKelvin picks may put a twinkle in fans' eyes, but it's just been one lingering, superfluous pork project. Meanwhile, Buffalo's infrastructure crumbled and the team hasn't made the playoffs since Monica Lewinsky was dominating the news.
So this year, things changed. Aaron Maybin, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre could all start this fall. All three are gritty, nasty players that give the Bills an edge. Visions of plus-sized offensive linemen getting blasted backward (think: Mike Williams, Derrick Dockery) should slowly cease. In a division full of strong interiors, the Bills made some ground in this year's draft.
There is no such thing as overkill on the offensive and defensive lines. The New York Giants – already loaded on the front four defensively – aggressively signed Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard in free agency. So what if there are better receivers at FedEx than on the Giants' roster. G.M. Jerry Reese, amidst the signature New York heckling, has built the best defensive line in all of football.
Drafting Wood and Levitre was not overkill. It was a baby step toward a larger theme...or at least should be.
Stroke of luck in the fourth
After bypassing tight end Brandon Pettigrew for Maybin at No. 11 overall, the Bills played the waiting game at tight end… all the way to the 121st pick to address what many considered their No. 1 need. Luckily, a starting candidate was still available. Southern Miss tight end Shawn Nelson should be the frontrunner to start as a rookie, ahead of holdovers Derek Fine and Derek Schouman. Nelson may be a tad lithe to make an impact in the rushing game but he's a bonafide vertical threat that should assimilate perfectly with Terrell Owens, Lee Evans and Josh Reed in the passing game.
Nelson was the third-ranked tight end on Scout.com's big board. Here's what our resident draft expert, Chris Steuber, had to say about Nelson:
"Nelson is an athletic, pass-catching tight end who creates mismatches with his unique blend of skills. He gets a fluid release off the line, runs good routes and uses his frame to pull in receptions and adjust to errant passes. He plays with great focus and concentration and has a passion for the game. He's a solid blocker who displays good technique and strength. He could add more bulk and improve his strength."
It was awfully risky for Buffalo to take a defensive end, a pair of guards and a defensive back before securing a tight end. Smart, though. The dropoff from Pettigrew to the next best tight end was steep. Like a liter of Pepsi in a batch of RC Cola. So it was smart not to jump at Nelson prematurely. Buffalo was able to get tough inside and wait at tight end. For whatever – probably, suspect blocking – Nelson was on his sofa for 4+ rounds. And the Bills lucked out.
Sure, Nelson may flop, but his athleticism alone suggests that this could have been grand larceny – a steal for a team that hasn't had a dangerous tight end in a decade.
Trent Edwards is a happy man
Don't reserve me a ticket aboard the T.O. bandwagon quite yet. The Bills would have been better served for the long haul to go elsewhere at receiver (Torry Holt, anyone?). Owens still carries the stench of a splattered skunk in any locker room – Edwards should call Donovan McNabb for a good shrink ahead of time. It is a scientific fact that Terrell Owens obliterates team chemistry. The Bills are banking that it won't happen over this one-year contract.
But for a moment, let's be eternal optimists. For one moment, block the T.O.-situps-in-the-driveway for the T.O.-gutting-out-Super Bowl XXXIX. In one offseason, Russ Brandon has effectively supplied Edwards with a freakish wide receiver, a completely new offensive interior (Wood, Levitre and Geoff Hangartner), a vertical threat at tight end and – above all – a loud vote of confidence by signing Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of another veteran to compete for the job.
For the first time since high school, Trent Edwards is surrounded by – cough, cough – talent.
Good thing because the seat only heats up every season. With another young quarterback now in the division (Mark Sanchez), Edwards will need to bust out in Year Three of his development. Look for the ball-patting and indecision to wane with the reinforcements Buffalo applied this offseason – especially in the draft. Wood and Levitre should neutralize the inside push that rattled Edwards last season, allowing his field vision to shine.