AFC East: Derek Schouman

Bills draft record not as bad as you think

April, 21, 2011
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Kyle Williams and Steve JohnsonUS PresswirePro Bowler Kyle Williams (left) and receiver Steve Johnson were both drafted in the later rounds.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills fans have pondered some persistent questions over the years.

How would life have changed if Scott Norwood made that kick?

What will happen to the team when Ralph Wilson passes away?

Was the Music City Miracle really a forward lateral?

How on earth does Tom Modrak still have a job?

Modrak is Buffalo's vice president of college scouting. Modrak, formerly a Pittsburgh Steelers scout during their Steel Curtain years and director of football operations with the Philadelphia Eagles, has held the Bills' top scouting job since May 2001 and worked his first draft for them in 2002.

In that time, the Bills' streak of seasons without a playoff appearance has extended to 11 and counting. Despite holding prime draft-order slots, they have repeatedly squandered them with maddening first-round decisions.

The list is enough to make the most optimistic Bills fan groan: pass-rusher Aaron Maybin (zero sacks) 11th overall instead of Brian Orakpo (19.5 sacks) two years ago; small-school cornerback Leodis McKelvin 11th overall instead of Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady in 2008; safety Donte Whitner with the eighth pick in 2006 and then trading up for defensive tackle John McCargo; trading up for quarterback J.P. Losman in 2004; useless tackle Mike Williams fifth in 2002.

"Certainly we've had our misses up at the top," Modrak said Tuesday at a news conference to preview next week's draft. "We've done pretty well in the middle and at the end, the non-glamour kind of picks. But we've missed some. That is regrettable."

There are additional selections one can criticize: wide receiver James Hardy in the second round; running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall even though the Bills had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers already ...

[+] EnlargeTom Modrak
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesDespite some high-profile misses, Tom Modrak's draftees have performed well on the whole.
OK. I'll stop now. That's enough to illustrate why there's frustration over Modrak and his scouting department's evaluation skills.

The fact Modrak joined the Bills to serve under former president Tom Donahoe -- an executive Wilson and Bills fans came to despise -- only adds to fascination of Modrak's continued employment.

Now that I've set the table, let's yank the tablecloth out from underneath the plasticware.

Data suggest the Bills haven't drafted much worse than the average NFL team since 2002.

ESPN researcher John Fisher -- he claims no relation to St. John Fisher, the namesake of the college where the Bills hold their training camp -- shuffled some spreadsheets and came up with some information that's not particularly damning when compared to the rest of the NFL.

  • The Bills have drafted five Pro Bowlers with Modrak in charge of scouting. That's tied for 14th in the league. One of those Pro Bowlers was Willis McGahee for the Baltimore Ravens, but Modrak was the chief scout who drafted him. What the Bills did with McGahee afterward that isn't his fault. Same goes for Marshawn Lynch.
  • Although a game started for the Bills isn't as impressive as a game started for the New England Patriots the past nine years, Bills draftees from the first through third rounds have started 804 games, 15th in the league.
  • Bills draftees from the fourth round or later have started 417 games, eighth in the league.
  • When it comes to individual statistics accumulated with the teams that drafted them, Bills taken from 2002 onward have ranked third in 1,000-yard rushing seasons, tied for seventh in 1,000-yard receiving seasons, 20th in total sacks and 19th in total interceptions.

While the Bills have missed badly on several of their prominent selections, they have done quite well in the latter part of the draft with gems such as cornerback and Pro Bowl kick returner Terrence McGee (fourth round in 2003), Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round in 2006), receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round in 2008) and left tackle Demetrius Bell (seventh round in 2008).

Top running back Fred Jackson and perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters -- traded to Philly two years ago -- weren't drafted at all.

"If you look at other teams, they do it. They miss at the top," Modrak said. "When you don't win, it's magnified. It looks bad.

"But I think from a strictly homer point-of-view [late-round success] is the work and the labor that goes into it and the detail that's paid to those kinds of things. That does not say that other teams don't do the same thing, but we have a good group, and we fortunately have done that."

The Bills have had some obvious blind spots in the draft.

A refusal to pick a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002 has hurt them. Peters' success as a converted tight end is a factor in that trend, but the Bills were having contract problems with him while he still was on the roster. Foresight would've been helpful. But that's an organizational philosophy more than Modrak's domain.

The Bills' track record at tight end is miserable, too. They've drafted five: Tim Euhus, Kevin Everett, Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson. Everett was the lone selection sooner than the fourth round. A broken neck while covering a kickoff on opening day in 2007 ended his career.

That tight end quintet has combined to score five NFL touchdowns. Of the 143 tight ends drafted since Modrak joined the Bills, 43 of them have scored more than five touchdowns individually.

Some might also say finding a quarterback has been a failure. Starting quarterbacks, however, aren't easy for any team to locate.

Forty-seven quarterbacks have been drafted within the first three rounds since 2002. The only three teams not included in this pursuit have been the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. The Bills took two within the first three rounds, Losman 22nd overall in 2004 and Trent Edwards 92nd in 2007.

That league-wide group yielded nine Pro Bowlers, but just two of them -- 24th overall pick Aaron Rodgers and third-rounder Matt Schaub -- weren't selected in the top 11. Rodgers and Schaub served as backups for three seasons before they became starters.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix explained that scouting is only one of three critical phases that determine whether a draft pick explodes or fizzles.

"You've got to pick the right guy," Nix said Tuesday. "He's got to have enough athletic ability and enough intelligence, production to do the job, which is what you spend the year doing. We're scouts and personnel guys.

"The second phase, now -- and don't make light of it because it's just as important -- is coaching, strength coaches, trainers. That's the second phase, and both of those things have to be in place. If not, the development of the guy is retarded.

"I'm not going to name teams, but you can name teams every year that get top guys and they don't get any better. They actually may go the other way, and it's the developmental part."

Chan Gailey is Buffalo's fourth head coach -- fifth if you count interim coach Perry Fewell -- since Modrak came aboard. Coordinators have passed through a revolving door. The Bills also have overhauled their strength and conditioning program a couple times.

Nix then stressed that even if the precisely correct draft choice is made and the proper infrastructure is in place, a third phase still can torpedo development. The player can ruin his future if he's "not willing to be a professional and do everything it takes."

"You can go back and look at the so-called busts, and it's one of these three phases," Nix said. "You've got to have it all for them to be really good.

"So even though we put it all on one thing -- 'That was a terrible draft. That was a bust. Those idiots don't know.' -- that's just about a third of it."

Another element that must be considered when discussing Buffalo drafts is the question of who makes the final pick.

Nix and Gailey have been clear Nix makes the final call, although Wilson still can exercise his ownership privilege.

Before Nix became GM last year, trying to decipher who was to credit or blame for a Bills draft choice was like a "Three Stooges" scene. The irate boss hears a commotion, storms into the room and asks "Say! What's the wise idea? Who did this?" Moe pointed at Larry. Curly pointed at Moe. Larry pointed at Curly.

Modrak has been a constant since 2002, but there have been many voices in the Bills' draft room in that period, from Donahoe to GM Marv Levy to chief operating officer Russ Brandon to the various opinionated head coaches who lobbied for prospects they hotly desired.

The Bills' scouting department clearly needs to step its game up to help turn around the franchise. They'll never be the kind of team that lures top free agents because of their market conditions. Buffalo simply isn't as sexy as Miami or San Diego or New York and doesn't offer a perennial chance to win like New England or Pittsburgh does.

But, believe it or not, the Bills' drafts could have been substantially worse since Modrak arrived.

'07 draft class nearly purged from AFC East

October, 15, 2010
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After they dumped quarterback Trent Edwards and traded running back Marshawn Lynch in consecutive weeks, a lone member of the Buffalo Bills' 2007 draft class remained on the roster.

Just three years later, one keeper is a lousy return.

But consider how the rest of AFC East drafted in 2007.

Only six of 30 AFC East draftees from 2007 still are with the team that drafted them: two New York Jets, two Miami Dolphins, one New England Patriot and one Bill. (See chart below.)

[+] EnlargeDavid Harris
Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMIThe Jets traded second-, third- and sixth-round choices to move up and select David Harris.
The Jets were most effective. They drafted just four players. Their first two have been stars, and the last pick helped them acquire a standout receiver. They traded up to select star cornerback Darrelle Revis 14th overall and top inside linebacker David Harris 47th. Seventh-round pick Chansi Stuckey was sent to the Cleveland Browns in the trade that landed receiver Braylon Edwards.

The Patriots were the least efficient on nine picks, but they had only two selections inside the first four rounds. Their lone keeper was Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather in the first round.

The Dolphins made 10 selections in what was the final draft class for general manager Randy Mueller and the only one for rookie head coach Cam Cameron. They famously misfired on ninth overall pick Ted Ginn, who was traded for a fifth-round pick this offseason, and second-round quarterback John Beck. Still around are defensive tackle Paul Soliai and punter Brandon Fields.

The last man standing from Buffalo's seven-man 2007 draft class is second-round linebacker Paul Posluszny.

So that's a 20 percent retention rate for the AFC East on all draftees and a 40 percent rate for those selected in the top three rounds.

With help from ESPN researcher Keith Hawkins and the Elias Sports Bureau, I wanted to find out how those percentages compared leaguewide.

Poorly, it turns out.

Of the 225 players chosen in other divisions that year, 100 have remained with the teams that drafted them. That's 44.4 percent overall, more than twice the AFC East rate.

When narrowing the field to players taken within the first three rounds, 89 prospects were absorbed into other divisions, and 54 have stuck, a success rate of 60.7 percent.

A few notes turned up by the research:

  • The Dolphins are the only team that has gotten rid of their top four picks.
  • Twenty-six teams have parted ways with at least one of their picks from the first three rounds.
  • Of the 19 teams that had at least one pick in each of the first three rounds, only the Pittsburgh Steelers retained all of them (Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Spaeth).

NFL suspends Bills TE Shawn Nelson

August, 20, 2010
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The NFL announced it has suspended Buffalo Bills tight end Shawn Nelson four games for violating its policy on substance abuse.

A four-game suspension means Nelson violated the policy multiple times. The first infraction puts a player into a confidential intervention program. A second violation brings a four-game suspension without pay.

Buffalo drafted Nelson in the fourth round last year. He started 12 games, catching 17 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown.

Nelson hasn't played in the preseason and had been overtaken by Jonathan Stupar for first-team reps on the practice field. Michael Matthews is Buffalo's other tight end after Derek Schouman suffered a knee injury in Thursday night's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 2, 2010
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 31

PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.

That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.

But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.

Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.

"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."

Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.

Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.

"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.

"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeEdwards
AP Photo/David DupreyTrent Edwards is being given the chance to win the starting quarterback job.
1. Can quarterback Trent Edwards capitalize on another opportunity? Bills fans seemed to be pulling for Brian Brohm to emerge as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. A major reason is they haven't seen him truly fail yet -- unlike Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.

But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.

Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.

2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.

While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.

Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.

[+] EnlargeSchobel
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Bills have decided to move forward without linebacker Aaron Schobel.
3. What will happen with vacillating pass-rusher Aaron Schobel? He spent the entire offseason at his home in Texas, perhaps playing possum. He didn’t return to the Bills' facility to collect his roster bonus or participate in offseason workouts. He told some media outlets he was all but retired.

Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.

Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”

Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/ David DupreyChan Gailey is trying to learn as much about his team by working them out in full gear.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
  • Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
  • Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
  • The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
  • Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
  • Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
  • Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
  • Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
  • Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
  • After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
  • I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.

Tidying up the AFC East tenders

March, 5, 2010
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The Miami Dolphins were the lone AFC East club not to distribute a news release on the qualifying offers they tendered to their free agents.

After the free-agency signing period began at midnight, the NFL posted the official list.

So, for the record, I give you the Dolphins' tenders.

If another team signs one of the following restricted free agents to an offer sheet and the Dolphins decline to match, then these are the draft considerations the Dolphins would receive as compensation:


Also, the Buffalo Bills announced the players they tendered Thursday, but didn't reveal the picks. Here they are, courtesy of the NFL:

Buffalo tenders an RFA quartet

March, 4, 2010
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The Buffalo Bills announced they've tendered qualifying contract offers to four free agents, but didn't reveal what levels.

Buffalo News writer Mark Gaughan reports the Bills gave Wilson a second-round tender.

AFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
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Buffalo Bills

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Ryan Denney, LB Chris Draft, DB Todd Johnson, G Seth McKinney, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, S Bryan Scott, G Kendall Simmons, LB Josh Stamer.

Potential restricted free agents: LB Keith Ellison, QB Gibran Hamdan, G Richie Incognito, TE Joe Klopfenstein, TE Derek Schouman, T Jonathan Scott, S George Wilson, CB Ashton Youboty.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Bills are in a rebuilding mode and shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to sign their free agents. In fact, they took the unusual step of publicly announcing they wouldn't offer Owens, Reed or Denney contracts. The most attractive players are Incognito and Wilson. Most of the rest were bit players and injury replacements.

Miami Dolphins

Potential unrestricted free agents: NT Jason Ferguson, CB Nate Jones, QB Chad Pennington, OLB Jason Taylor.

Potential restricted free agents: RB Ronnie Brown, TE Anthony Fasano, OLB Quentin Moses.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Dolphins have a tough decision to make on Ferguson. He'll turn 36 during the 2010 season and is coming off a serious quadriceps injury. Without him, however, the Dolphins have a massive void in their 3-4 defense at a position that's difficult to replace. Pennington, Jones and Taylor all could be gone.

New England Patriots

Potential unrestricted free agents: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, OLB Derrick Burgess, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Jarvis Green, P Chris Hanson, G Stephen Neal, ILB Junior Seau, TE Benjamin Watson.

Potential restricted free agents: K Stephen Gostkowski, G Logan Mankins, OLB Pierre Woods.

Franchise player: NT Vince Wilfork.

What to expect: Several starters are about to go up for bids, and the Patriots can't keep them all. Expect Faulk to be re-signed without much fuss. Neal, Bodden and Banta-Cain comprise a group they'd have trouble replacing. All three could fetch offers the Patriots would rather not match. Don't count on Watson coming back.

New York Jets

Potential unrestricted free agents: LS James Dearth, DE Marques Douglas, K Jay Feely, LB Ryan Fowler, TE Ben Hartsock, LB Larry Izzo, FB Tony Richardson.

Potential restricted free agents: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, DT Howard Green, T Wayne Hunter, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith, RB Leon Washington.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: As a "final eight" team, the Jets have to window shop until one of their UFAs sign elsewhere. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is creative. Don't be surprised if the Jets use trades to upgrade. The key restricted free agent to monitor will be Washington, who received a second-round tender. His agent has been tweeting alarms the Pro Bowler could sign an offer sheet and dare the Jets to match.

Parsing the AFC East's tight ends

February, 19, 2010
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Getty ImagesThe tight ends in the AFC East -- including the Jets' Dustin Keller, the Patriots' Ben Watson and the Dolphins' Anthony Fasano -- are mostly afterthoughts in the passing game.
Note: Thursday and Friday, Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson is reviewing key aspects of AFC East teams. Thursday, he reviewed and ranked the division’s secondaries from best to worst. Today, he is examining the lack of prominence of the AFC East's tight ends.

The tight end position really seems to be an afterthought in this division.

One reason is three out of the four AFC East defenses play a 3-4 scheme, with the Buffalo Bills going that direction in 2010 to make it four out of four. Why should that matter?

The 3-4 emphasizes speedy outside linebackers, so these offenses feel the need to keep their tight ends in to block on pass plays. Along those lines, this is also quite possibly the most physical division in the league. In order to be physical on offense, a team needs a strong, inline blocking tight end to help the running game.

While the Bills and the Miami Dolphins have not used prime resources at this position, the same cannot be said for the New England Patriots and New York Jets. Each team has used first-round draft choices on tight ends: The Patriots selected Benjamin Watson, now a pending unrestricted free agent, in the 2004 draft; and the Jets picked Dustin Keller in 2008.

Keller is the wild card of the lot. The Jets have been able to use Keller as a pass-catching weapon. They can do this because their offensive line is strong and the Jets also have a good blocking tight end in Ben Hartsock. Although Keller is inconsistent, he has a chance to be an asset to quarterback Mark Sanchez's development. Keller can attack a defense from many different spots in the formation, giving him the opportunity to match up against linebacker coverage. Keller could break out in 2010.

The Pats and Watson are in a state of flux. Many believe that he will not return to New England. If that is true, the Patriots next option is Chris Baker, who is ordinary in all facets. Watson is very athletic, but he’s too much of a liability as a blocker, particularly in this division. Considering the uncertain state of the Patriots’ wide receiver position, upgrading at tight end would make a lot of sense for New England.

In Miami, I can live with Anthony Fasano. Of course he isn’t real flashy, but he does sure fit the Bill Parcells mold at the position. He is smart, tough, a hammer in the run game and has been productive near the goal line. The problem here is that Miami is just so weak at wide receiver that Fasano’s lack of big-play ability is exposed. But this is a solid football player. Backup Joey Haynos gets a lot of playing time, but his role as a blocker is pretty clear. He isn’t going to cause any mismatches in the passing game.

Buffalo gets so little out of their tight ends. The threesome of Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson were among the worst in the league, and Fine recently was released. The fact that the Bills offensive tackle position is simply horrendous doesn’t help the tight ends’ pass-catching potential. With the possible exception of Nelson, calling the Bills’ tight end corp underwhelming would be a massive compliment.

Bills' bloated IR list amazingly hits 20

January, 2, 2010
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Make it a full score for the Buffalo Bills.

They have sent 20 players to injured reserve, adding linebacker Nic Harris to the list Friday.

To illustrate how badly the Bills have been ravaged by injuries, I've put together a complete catalog. The rundown includes one player, receiver C.J. Hawthorne, who's on the practice squad IR.

The rest, however, are on the standard list.

Thirteen of them have started at least one game, as designated by an asterisk.

What you'll see here are players from the opening night starting lineup: both tackles, the right guard, a tight end, two linebackers and both cornerbacks. You'll also see am NFL defensive rookie of the year candidate.

You won't see quarterback Trent Edwards, who probably should be on the list. When he suffered a high ankle sprain two weeks ago, interim coach Perry Fewell said Edwards wouldn't play again. But the Bills have chosen to keep Edwards on the active roster rather than add an extra body.

Captain Checkdown doesn't go deep for Bills

October, 2, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Buffalo Bills fans have given Trent Edwards a derisive nickname.

  Edwards
"Captain Checkdown" they call him for his reluctance to throw downfield despite having a couple of deep threats in Terrell Owens and Lee Evans.

Owens and Evans have combined for 13 receptions through three games, while running backs and tight ends get Edwards' seemingly undivided attention.

As an old friend texted after Sunday's loss, in which Owens had his reception streak snapped at 185 games by the New Orleans Saints: "When do you think heads will roll at One Bills Drive? They didn't pay T.O. and Evans 15 mil to be decoys for Derek Fine."

Actually, Owens is getting paid $6.5 million and Evans a base salary of $4.6 million this year. But I understand the sentiment.

Running back Fred Jackson has 15 receptions. Tight end Derek Schouman didn't play last week and is out for the season, yet he has caught only four fewer passes than Owens and Evans together. Fine has started one game at tight end but has as many catches as Owens -- five.

To see just how much Edwards deserved his Captain Checkdown moniker -- "Trentative Checkwards" hasn't caught on -- I broke out some situational passing numbers provided by ESPN Stats & Information, which tracks every NFL play.

Short passing games have gained popularity in recent years. Many teams employ that strategy, and I thought maybe Edwards wasn't too far off the norm.

Turns out, Captain Checkdown is quite appropriate.

Edwards' average pass travels 7.7 yards in the air. That's tied for 26th in the league among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts.

As the accompanying chart shows, Edwards' stats plummet the farther his passes fly.

Trent Edwards' passing performance by distance
Distance Comp. Att. Pct. Yards TD Int. Rating Rank
Under 11 yards 49 70 70.0 424 2 1 89.2 (14)
11-20 yards 5 13 38.5 99 0 0 65.9 (23)
21-plus yards 2 8 25.0 75 2 1 66.1 (20)
All 56 91 61.5 598 4 2 86.2 (T-16)


Edwards throws 10 yards or shorter 77 percent of the time. He has thrown only 21 passes beyond 10 yards, and eight of those were longer than 20 yards downfield.

Edwards is 2 of 8 when throwing longer than 20 yards, but both completions went for touchdowns -- a 32-yarder to Evans and a 43-yarder to Owens.

Owens, Edwards among worst in hooking up

October, 1, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


A good debate: Who's having the more frustrating season, Terrell Owens or Joey Galloway?

Galloway's inability to incorporate himself into the New England Patriots' offense is bewildering. But he's not as prominent to his offense as Owens is to the Buffalo Bills'.
Lowest reception percentage (Min. 10 targets*)
Player Rec-Targets Rec. Pct.
Darrius Heyward-Bey 1-12 8.3
Chris Chambers 2-14 14.3
Joey Galloway 7-20 35.0
Nate Washington 7-19 36.8
Eddie Royal 6-16 37.5
Terrell Owens 5-13 38.5
Kevin Curtis 5-13 38.5
*135 players have at least 10 targets this season

Buffalo's inability to get the ball to Owens was obvious on Sunday.

For the first time in 186 games, he failed to catch a pass.

They haven't thrown to Owens much through the first three games, and the passes that have gone his way he hasn't been able to grab.

Owens, a future Hall of Famer who once caught 20 passes in a game, has been targeted only 13 times so far. That's about half as much as he was used to with the Dallas Cowboys -- and even that wasn't enough.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo targeted Owens an average of 8.2 times last year and 8.8 times two years ago.

ESPN Stats & Information researcher Alok Pattani points out 96 players, including 20 tight ends and 11 running backs, have been targeted more often.

Owens hasn't been able to do much with the balls that are directed toward him. He has five receptions, giving him and Bills quarterback Trent Edwards a 38.5 percent success rate.

Of the 135 players who have been targeted at least 10 times this season, five have a lower reception percentage, which factors not only drops (Owens has had a few), but also errant throws (Edwards has made a few).

Galloway has the third-worst reception percentage at 35 percent. Tom Brady has targeted him 20 times.

Five Bills have been targeted at least 10 times, and all of them have a higher reception percentage than Owens.

While it might not be fair to compare Owens to tight end Derek Schouman (81.8 percent) or running back Fred Jackson (75 percent) in this regard because Edwards often goes to them with higher-percentage attempts, Owens also ranks behind receivers Josh Reed (100 percent) and Lee Evans (47.1 percent).

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

September, 29, 2009
9/29/09
11:00
AM ET

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Falling

1. Chad Pennington, Dolphins: All the guy wanted to do was stay healthy for consecutive seasons, something he hadn't done since 2002-03. Sadly, Pennington didn't get his wish. Last year's Comeback Player of the Year and runner-up to Peyton Manning for league MVP probably is done for the season because of another injury to his throwing shoulder.

Pennington faces a potentially career-threatening situation. His right shoulder has been operated on twice already and likely will need to undergo the knife again. He will be 34 years old before the start of next season.

2. Terrell Owens, Bills: For the first time in 186 games, Owens failed to catch a pass in Sunday's lopsided loss to the New Orleans Saints. Fans went gaga over the Bills' decision to sign Owens. They gobbled up tickets. A crazed horde famously turned out at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where one lunatic dressed up as a popcorn box to welcome Owens.

Yet through three games, Owens ranks fifth on the team with five receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Running back Fred Jackson has three times as many catches. Tight end Derek Schouman didn't play Sunday and is out for the season, but he has almost double Owens' total.

3. Thomas Jones, Jets: In Week 1, the numbers looked appropriate for last year's AFC rushing leader. Jones ran 20 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. But 77 of those yards were gained on two fourth-quarter plays. Extract them, and he averaged 1.7 yards per attempt.

His next outings haven't been much better. Jones carried 14 times each of the past two games, gaining 54 and 20 yards.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Fred Taylor gives New England's rushing attack a much-needed jolt.


Rising

1. Fred Taylor, Patriots: Finally, the Patriots effectively ran the ball. After a couple of weeks in which quarterback Tom Brady aired it out 100 times, the Patriots insisted upon running against the Atlanta Falcons.

Laurence Maroney, the starter in Weeks 2 and 3, left the game with a thigh injury in the second quarter. Taylor carried the load by rushing for more yards in the first half than any Patriots back had gained in each of the first two games. Taylor finished with 105 yards and a touchdown.

2. Mark Sanchez, Jets: One solid game could be happenstance. Two solid games might be coincidence. But three in a row establishes a standard. I guess Jets fans should expect the rookie to perform well every week.

In a 24-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Sanchez demonstrated some youthful exuberance that needs to be reigned in a tad, but he once again played more like a four-year pro than a 22-year-old. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Sanchez also scored on a spectacular -- albeit reckless -- 14-yard run.

3. Brandon McGowan, Patriots: When the Patriots signed him as a free agent, he appeared to be a depth player and special-teamer. McGowan not only has been starting, but he also has been a factor.

With Sunday's game tied at 10, McGowan forced Falcons back Michael Turner to cough up the ball on the Patriots' 31-yard line. It was a key play that prevented the Falcons from asserting themselves. They didn't score again. McGowan also was a significant reason why future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez was limited to one catch for 16 yards.

Bills opt for project over O-line veteran

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
8:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Injuries forced the Buffalo Bills to execute three roster moves that make them younger and underscore a rebuilding effort.

Rather than sign some veteran help to replace injured right tackle Brad Butler, the Bills cherry-picked rookie Jamon Meredith off the Green Bay Packers' practice squad.

The Bills worked out veteran right tackle Jon Runyan before their season opener. Their starter the previous two seasons, Langston Walker, hasn't found work since they cut him three weeks ago. Eight-year starter Damion McIntosh, who didn't make the Kansas City Chiefs' final roster, also is available.

Meredith, despite being a fifth-round draft choice, wasn't good enough to make a very thin roster. The Packers selected him with the 162nd overall pick acquired in a trade with the New England Patriots along with the 26th overall pick for the Packers' 41st, 73rd and 83rd picks.

Meredith mostly played tackle at South Carolina but finished as a guard. Half of his 38 collegiate starts were at left tackle. He also started eight games at left guard his senior season.

The Bills also placed starting tight end Derek Schouman on injured reserve, rendering his season over.

Schouman is Buffalo's leading receiver after running back Fred Jackson. Schouman made nine catches for 103 yards in the first two games.

The Bills promoted Johnathan Stupar from their practice squad. In the preseason, he led the NFL with 19 receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown. But the Bills elected to keep Schouman, Derek Fine and fourth-round draft pick Shawn Nelson.

T.O. muted on, off field

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
8:32
AM ET

Elsa/Getty Images
Receiver Terrell Owens did not get off to a great start with the Bills. Owens was targeted on only three of Trent Edwards' 25 pass attempts.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Terrell Owens wasn't in a talkative mood after his Buffalo Bills suffered an esophagus-twisting 25-24 defeat to the New England Patriots on Monday night.

"You're all wasting your time," Owens said as he wheeled away from a crowd of reporters gathered at his locker stall. "I don't have nothing to say."

Owens was silent on the field, too. But the guy can't fling the ball to himself.

Bills quarterback Trent Edwards threw to Owens only three times. Owens caught two balls for 46 yards.

ESPN Stats & Information dug around and discovered Monday night was only the third game since 2000 that Owens was targeted so infrequently. He was thrown to three times against the Cincinnati Bengals in October 2008 and against the Kansas City Chiefs in November 2000.

In his two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, they targeted him an average of 8.5 times a game.

"Give a lot of credit to their defense," Edwards said. "They're well-coached, a well-oiled machine on that side of the ball.

"Those guys were sitting back there pretty deep, and a lot of the times we're going to look to the interior guys, getting Josh [Reed] and getting Roscoe [Parrish] and getting Derek Schouman the ball.

"I need to look and film and see where I can take my shots and when I can't."

Edwards' favorite option was running back Fred Jackson. Edwards threw his way seven times, connecting on five receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown.

Patriots receiver Randy Moss, meanwhile, had one of the better nights of his career. Moss caught 12 passes, tying a career-high, for 141 yards.

With the Patriots' triumph, Moss now is 3-2 against Owens.

Buffalo Bills: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
7:18
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Biggest surprise: The Bills lopped versatile running back Dominic Rhodes from their roster. The only free-agent signing more notable than Rhodes was receiver Terrell Owens. The Bills obtained Rhodes to provide depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who will be suspended for the first three games. The backs at their disposal are Fred Jackson, Xavier Omon and fullback Corey McIntyre.

Backup offensive lineman Kirk Chambers, who played all 16 games and started at right tackle, right guard and left tackle last year, was waived.

The Bills waived tight end Jonathan Stupar despite a great statistical preseason. He led the NFL with 19 receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown. The Bills opted to keep Derek Schouman and Derek Fine along with fourth-round draft pick Shawn Nelson.

Buffalo also cut a draft pick from this year, sixth-round defensive back Cary Harris.

No-brainers: The Bills placed James Hardy on the physically unable to perform list. He won't be allowed to work out with the team for six weeks. Last year's second-round draft choice suffered a knee injury in Week 15 and still is recovering. The Bills could afford to shelve Hardy because the have plenty of depth at receiver.

What's next: With Jackson and Omon the only viable runners on the roster who can play against the New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints, the Bills must be on the lookout for backfield support.

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