AFC East: Terrence McGee

Bills want new WRs with Steve Johnson

February, 24, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills are continuing their makeover in the image of new head coach Doug Marrone.

First, the Bills cut defensive veterans like safety George Wilson,a linebacker Nick Barnett and cornerback Terrence McGee. Now, Buffalo turned its attention to its offense. The Bills will not tender restricted free agent David Nelson a contract this offseason, making Nelson an unrestricted free agent.

Nelson joins Donald Jones as two significant receivers Buffalo will not bring back. When completely healthy, Jones and Nelson were the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers in Buffalo, respectively. But both were fits in former head coach Chan Gailey's offense. It also didn’t help that both receivers have been injured.

Marrone is coming to Buffalo with a different offensive system, and after watching the film of last year, it's clear he wants different receivers to play with Steve Johnson. The Bills have struggled in recent seasons to find someone consistent enough to take the pressure of Johnson, who's had three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

Buffalo, which holds the No. 8 overall pick, has plenty of options in the draft to improve at wide receiver. The group is not top heavy, but there is value for the Bills in the first three rounds. Free agency also is an option.

In other Bills news, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith confirmed on the NFL Network that he’s met with Buffalo at the combine. The Bills have been scouting Smith during the college football season and could be a target if they take a first-round quarterback.

Bills continue changes on defense

February, 14, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills continued their mass exodus of defensive players this week. Buffalo cut its third player in the past few days by releasing veteran cornerback Terrence McGee.

McGee spent nearly a decade with the Bills. He was a consistent player during a lot of lean years for the Bills. But injuries have plagued McGee the past three seasons. He played just seven games and recorded eight tackles in 2012.

A new coaching staff, led by rookie head coach Doug Marrone, is looking to make changes this offseason. He's started by cutting Buffalo's leading tackler and linebacker Nick Barnett, starting safety George Wilson and now McGee.

Morning take: Bills hurting at CB

November, 7, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East:
  • The Buffalo Bills put veteran cornerback Terrence McGee and left tackle Erik Pears on injured reserve.
Morning take: Buffalo takes a shot with both players out. The cornerback spot is particularly thin, with McGee done and second-year player Aaron Williams out approximately 2-3 weeks.
Morning take: Spikes is injured often, but he makes an impact when he’s on the field. He’s a hard hitter who brings physicality to the defense.
Morning take: Miami allowed 516 total yards of offense to the Indianapolis Colts. It was not typical of Miami’s defense. Let’s see if this group bounces back against the Tennessee Titans.
Morning take: New York needs depth at receiver. So they brought back Hill to see if he can contribute.

Observation deck: Bills-Steelers

August, 25, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills had their third and most important game of the preseason Saturday night. The Steelers won 38-7.

Here are some notes and observations:

What I liked: The Bills finally started fast, and they did it against a good team. Buffalo took its second drive 49 yards on five plays and briefly showed the kind of offense it can be in the regular season. Fred Jackson capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams also showed by the Bills gave him a $100 million contract with a pair of sacks. It's good momentum for Williams heading into the regular season.

What I didn’t like: Preseason or not, I don't like the fact that Buffalo gave up 38 unanswered points at home. I know these games don't count, and I know it was 14-7 at halftime with the starters. But the Bills should have more depth and pride than to let it get this out of hand. The Steelers pounded the Bills after Buffalo's only touchdown. Pittsburgh forced three turnovers and had 21 points off turnovers. The Bills are winless this preseason, which might not matter. But at times, the Bills have appeared to play as though they know they can turn it on when it matters. That's a dangerous game. The Bills haven't proven they know how to win.

Inconsistent Young: Buffalo backup quarterback Vince Young did a great job in the second preseason game to establish himself as the favorite to backup starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Young took a step back against the Steelers. Young was 12-of-26 for 103 yards and two interceptions. He had a passer rating of 25.0 and made some mistakes a veteran with plenty of starting experience should not make. Young had a chance to finalize his backup status but didn't. He left the door open for Tyler Thigpen to try to make another push in the final week.

McGee makes his case: Buffalo cornerback Terrence McGee was concerned this summer that his knee might not be healthy enough in time to show he deserves a roster spot. But the veteran is feeling better and had a good performance against Pittsburgh, making four tackles and two for a loss. He can help Buffalo’s young corners if he stays healthy. But the Bills have to make a tough decision in the next week due to the injury risk.

What's next: The Bills play their final preseason game Thursday against the Detroit Lions. This will be just a survival game, one Buffalo hopes to escape without major injuries ahead of the regular-season opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 9 at MetLife Stadium.

Morning take: Dolphins' depth chart

August, 14, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC East: Morning take: There are not many changes, with the exception of quarterback David Garrard being injured and receiver Chad Johnson being released. Otherwise, you shouldn't take Miami's depth chart too seriously at this stage of training camp.
Morning take: Both are important players, so that's always alarming. But it doesn't appear to be anything serious. Gronkowski and Hernandez are expected to play this weekend.
  • Buffalo Bills cornerback Terrence McGee continues to slowly work his way back from knee surgery.
Morning take: Buffalo has gone through a youth movement at corner, and I’m not sure McGee makes the team. He’s a solid leader and player, when healthy. But I’m not sure McGee will be healthy enough to show the coaches what he can do before roster cuts.
Morning take: It's no secret Tim Tebow will be spearheading the formation, but the Jets don't want anyone to know how they will use it. New York feels it will be a big success against Buffalo on Sept. 9.
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

Last year Buffalo was 19th against the pass. It wasn't all on the cornerbacks, but that position was certainly part of the problem. Safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd had solid seasons, but the cornerback play was mostly uneven. There were a lot of penalties, missed assignments and injuries at the position.

Enter hidden treasures Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams. Gilmore was taken in the first round this year, and Williams was a second-rounder in 2011. Both are expected to contribute right away and could be Buffalo's starting tandem in 2012. Gilmore wasn't a big name in this draft but is considered an NFL-ready player. The South Carolina product has been impressive in offseason workouts. Williams was in and out of the lineup last year due to injuries. But when healthy, Williams showed flashes of being a solid and athletic corner. Ten-year veteran Terrence McGee also will compete for a starting job.

Keep in mind that Buffalo's not-so-hidden treasure -- its pass rush -- should be a tremendous boost to its cover corners. The team spent more than $100 million to add pass-rushing defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to the defense. Both players should set the edge and make it uncomfortable for quarterbacks. Teams will have less time to throw against the Bills, and that means less time for the corners to worry about coverage. This could result in more turnovers and more aggressive play.

Gilmore, Williams and McGee are not a trio of corners many are thinking about in June. But the mixture of youth and experience could pay off for the Bills this season if all three players stay healthy and productive.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday morning in the AFC East:
  • Will wide receiver Chad Ochocinco learn the Miami Dolphins' new playbook?
Morning take: This was an issue with the New England Patriots. But I think Miami’s West Coast system will be easier. Ochocinco is a freelancer by nature, though, and that's something Miami must work through.
Morning take: Tebow was already big. But he's getting even bigger to take on the rigors of running the Wildcat offense. Tebow doesn't get enough credit for his strength and athleticism, and the Jets want to take advantage.
Morning take: McGee is a solid veteran corner, but he hasn't played more than 10 games in a season since 2009. The Bills continue to stick with McGee, which could pay off this year.
Morning take: Dowling is a highly-drafted player for the Patriots, but it's going to be a gradual process. In the practice I attended Wednesday, Dowling was beat on a few routes.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East: Morning take: And both teams recently pummeled the Bills, setting up Thursday’s matchup. Something has to give. We will tell you who wins this game in our prediction blog coming up next.
  • New York Jets backup quarterback Mark Brunell gets some first-team reps over starter Mark Sanchez in practice this week.
Morning take: This is a ploy by Jets head coach Rex Ryan to get a reaction out of Sanchez, who is struggling. Sanchez won’t be benched but this should get his attention that he needs to play better.
  • The New England Patriots are preparing for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vince Young, as well as starter Michael Vick.
Morning take: Young subbed for the injured Vick last week and earned a big victory over the New York Giants. Both quarterbacks have similar skills, which helps with defensive preparation.
  • Buffalo Bills receiver Donald Jones (ankle) and cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) were put on injured reserve and are out for the season.
Morning take: Neither is a big surprise. But this team is lacking depth in a lot of positions. Depth is something Buffalo needs to aim for in the draft and free agency next year.

Bills' defense not holding up its end

October, 16, 2011
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Ahmad BradshawChris Trotman/Getty ImagesBuffalo could not stop Ahmad Bradshaw as he scored three touchdowns and rushed for 104 yards.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With the game tied and 4:02 remaining, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an untimely interception deep in New York Giants' territory.

It was an awful mistake by Fitzpatrick. But it also provided a golden opportunity for Buffalo's defense to pick up the offense, which had carried the team all season.

Instead, the Bills' defense allowed the Giants to march 76 yards in nine plays to set up the winning field goal during a 27-24 win for New York. Buffalo's defense offered little resistance when it mattered most and allowed 400-plus yards for the fifth straight game.

"If you want to be a good team, those are the drives where we have to come up with stops," said Bills veteran cornerback Terrence McGee, who had a game-high 11 tackles. "We did the best we could [to hold New York to a field goal]. But we want it to be where they don’t score anything."

Here is the harsh truth: Buffalo's defense is not at that point where it can carry the team. Keep an eye on this development the rest of the season. It could be the difference in the upstart Bills (4-2) making the postseason or watching the playoffs from home.

The numbers were once again ugly for Buffalo, which entered the weekend with the 30th-ranked defense. The Bills allowed 414 total yards, 24 first downs, three rushing touchdowns by Giants tailback Ahmad Bradshaw and didn't force a turnover for the first time all season. New York's five scoring drives were for 69, 84, 89, 75 and 76 yards.

Buffalo's offense was good but not great. The group registered 374 total yards and a respectable 24 points on the road. But every offensive mistake is magnified, because Buffalo's defense hasn't dominated an opponent since a 41-7 win against Kansas City in Week 1.

It is easy to look the other way when the offense outscores opponents, or the defense allows 400 yards but forces several big turnovers. But that is not happening often in Buffalo, and the spotlight is now on the defense after the team lost for the second time in three weeks.

"We have to improve," Bills safety George Wilson said. "If we expect to be able to get a playoff spot and expect to be able to win consistently, we have to. We're going into a bye week. We have some guys banged up and some things to work on. And we gotta get those things accomplished."

Here is how I rank the Bills' three biggest issues on defense:

1. Not winning individual battles: Buffalo rarely wins its one-on-one matchups -- whether it is a pass-rusher trying to beat an offensive lineman, or a defensive back making a key tackle in the open field to prevent a bigger play. The Bills, as a whole, do not have a lot of star power and it is showing every week. The biggest names on the defense are defensive tackle Kyle Williams and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. Both were injured and didn't play against the Giants.

2. The blitz doesn't work: The Bills are last in the NFL in sacks. They have just four sacks in six games, including zero against New York. Part of this goes back to winning individual battles. But Buffalo has tried to turn up the blitzes in recent weeks, and it still has not disrupted offenses. Giants quarterback Eli Manning looked very comfortable in the pocket against Buffalo. He threw for 292 yards and had a 94.8 passer rating.

"We do have a problem. No bones about it," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "And we tried to come after [Manning] with five on a lot of third downs in the first half: we still didn't get there. We're going to have to figure something out to generate some kind of pass rush."

3. Up-and-down corners: No group summarizes Buffalo's defense better this season than its cornerbacks. Drayton Florence and Leodis McKelvin have taken turns with bad performances. This week, it was Florence's turn to struggle. He had troubles with penalties and in coverage against Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks (four receptions, 96 yards). Nicks beat Florence for a big, 60-yard catch before halftime that led to a touchdown. Florence also had three pass-interference penalties for 45 yards trying to keep up with Nicks and fellow Giants receiver Mario Manningham (five receptions, 56 yards). McKelvin also had some inconsistent games earlier this season. Buffalo hopes the return of McGee will add depth and stability to this group.

If Buffalo's defense was marginally better and more consistent, who knows? The Bills might be 5-1 or even 6-0 right now. But six games in, you wonder if Buffalo's defense has the potential to drastically improve.

The Bills have a lot to fix during the bye. They won't take the field next until Oct. 30 against the Washington Redskins in Toronto.

But in the big picture, Buffalo is 4-2. Any Bills fans would have taken that record at the beginning of the season. Whether Buffalo continues winning at this pace will come down to the team's ability -- or inability -- to strengthen its weakest link.

AFC East update: Cromartie vs. Brady

October, 6, 2011
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Here are the latest happenings Thursday evening in the AFC East:

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 15, 2011
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Nick Barnett knew bad news was coming this summer, and he still couldn’t fully accept it. Despite his eight seasons with Green Bay, the speculation was that the Packers had to trade or release him this offseason. Barnett had been placed on injured reserve in both the 2008 and 2010 seasons, and his heir apparent, Desmond Bishop, already was in place. It was a no-brainer move to most observers, even though Barnett was still thinking about the possibility of helping the Packers repeat as Super Bowl champions. “If you read my tweets,” he said, “that’s all I kept talking about.”

These days Barnett is talking about something different -- how he can help the Bills transform one of the league’s worst defenses into a sturdy, reliable unit. No team in the NFL was worse against the run in 2010 (Buffalo allowed 169.6 yards per game), and that was one key reason the team signed Barnett so quickly after the Packers released him in late July. At 30, he still has the quickness and playmaking ability that allowed him to amass 787 tackles, 15.5 sacks and nine interceptions during his Green Bay career. He’s also aware that his energy and leadership will be invaluable to a team that lost its top tackler, Paul Posluszny, in free agency.

Bills assistant head coach and linebackers coach Dave Wannstedt said Barnett already is the team’s best linebacker. Head coach Chan Gailey has raved about his new player’s approach. “He brings experience and speed to this defense,” Gailey said. “He’s a guy who always plays fast.” Added Barnett: “I’m just trying to be myself. I haven’t played since Week 4 [a dislocated wrist ended his season] so I’m still finding my way. But the biggest thing I wanted to bring to this team was an attitude. I want to help the younger guys relax and have fun out there because that’s what I do.”

Though Barnett needed some time to accept his release from the Packers -- “I’ve never been fired from anything before,” he said -- he quickly sensed that Buffalo was the right place for him. He liked the team atmosphere, the family environment and the die-hard fans who are the city’s trademark. In many ways, Barnett felt like he was going to a place quite similar to Green Bay. “The talent level is there,” Barnett said. “But like everything, it’s going to come down to communication and attitude. If we do those things, we’ll be productive.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Will Ryan Fitzpatrick be better? Yes. Fitzpatrick was a decent quarterback in 2010 -- 3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns, 15 interceptions -- especially considering that he was basically thrown into the job after the Bills gave up on former starter Trent Edwards. Fitzpatrick also has far more advantages coming into this season, despite not having an entire offseason to work with coaches. The major areas that he needs to improve? Accuracy and consistency. What he doesn’t have to worry about any longer? Proving to his teammates that he can lead this team and knowing whether the job is his alone. “Last season was interesting, but my whole career has been about being ready to show what you can do when the opportunity comes,” said Fitzpatrick, who spent his first five NFL seasons as a backup before getting his shot as a full-time starter three games into 2010. “One of the good things we have as an offense is that we have a lot of guys who’ve spent an entire season playing together and getting familiar with each other. When you look at the offenses in New England and Indianapolis, that continuity is what makes them so successful, and now we’re one step closer to that.”

[+] EnlargeShawne Merriman
Richard Mackson/US PresswireBuffalo defense is relying on Shawne Merriman to return to Pro-Bowl form.
2. Can Shawne Merriman return to an elite level? As long as he’s healthy. Right now the three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker thinks that the strained Achilles that limited him to only three games last season won’t be an issue. The bigger challenge for him is finding a comfort level after registering only four sacks over the past three seasons. The Bills are banking on his getting up to speed in a hurry. For a team that tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks last season (with 27), having a rejuvenated Merriman harassing opposing quarterbacks would be a much-needed blessing. “I don’t feel like I need to respond to people who’ve been counting me out over the last couple years because all you have to do is watch me practice,” said Merriman, who had 43.5 sacks in his first 60 career games. “It’s definitely been hard [not playing] but I also feel like I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do to get back. I can see good things happening this season.”

3. What role will C.J. Spiller play in the offense? One of the more disappointing aspects of the Bills' offense in 2010 was the lack of productivity from Spiller. Drafted ninth overall in last year’s draft, he was supposed to bring breathtaking speed and elusiveness to the Bills. Instead, Spiller wound up with only 283 rushing yards and 24 receptions in his rookie season. Those numbers should increase now that Buffalo has a less crowded backfield (the team traded Marshawn Lynch to Seattle midway through last season) and a greater sense of urgency about involving Spiller. “We need to get him more touches,” Gailey said. “We need to find more ways to get him in space so he can use that speed. He’s already grown as a runner because he’s better at running inside, and he’s shown more patience. The one thing I’d really like to see him improve on now is ball security. He had some problems with fumbles last year [Spiller had five fumbles and lost three], and we can’t have that.”

WELCOME SIGHT

Roscoe Parrish: The Bills' offensive players know that Parrish has developed into a valuable receiver after being used mainly as a returner early in his career. They realize it even more now that he’s healthy. After missing the last eight games of 2010 with a broken wrist, Parrish has been impressing teammates with his trademark speed and quickness. The explosiveness he brings to the offense after sitting out half a year also hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Now that he’s back, you remember how much he means to this offense,” Fitzpatrick said. “He really adds another dimension.”

PLAYER TO WATCH

Brad Smith: Don’t be surprised if Smith becomes a more dangerous playmaker in the Bills’ offense. He made his name as a kick returner/wide receiver/Wildcat quarterback with the New York Jets, and rule changes should allow him to increase his playing time in Buffalo. The NFL agreed to abolish the rule requiring teams to determine a third quarterback on game-day rosters -- that player could participate only in emergency situations, and his presence would prevent the team from using any other quarterback during a game. Now a player like Smith can be used far more often in Wildcat situations. Even if Smith appears as a quarterback in three or four plays a game, his involvement won’t limit his coaches’ options. “We were going to use him in a similar role anyway, but that rule really helps,” said Gailey, who has gained a reputation for finding creative roles for versatile players. “Now you don’t have to wonder about whether he needs to be listed as a third quarterback who can only play in emergency situations or if he can be used as a Wildcat quarterback whenever we like. It’s going to make a big difference.”

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeMarcell Dareus
    Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesFirst round draft pick Marcell Dareus has impressed his coaches in training camp.
    Rookie defensive end Marcell Dareus hasn’t needed much time to make a strong impression on his coaches. Wannstedt called him a “special kid with the right approach to the game,” and Gailey thinks it shouldn’t take long for Dareus to prove why he was worthy of the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “He’s a big, physical guy and he’s got an edge to him,” Gailey said of Dareus, who's 6-3 and weighs 323. “You have to like that about him.”

  • Even though the Bills lost their second-best tackler from last season -- strong safety Donte Whitner -- the loss may not be as troubling as it looks. Though he was a strong presence in run support, the team thinks strong safety George Wilson can help the Bills more in the playmaking department. When Whitner was injured two years ago, the tandem of Wilson and Jairus Byrd gave the secondary a bigger boost with their pass defense skills.

  • The emphasis on stopping the run is going to put more pressure on the Bills cornerbacks this season. Gailey believes he has the personnel to handle the increased responsibility, and Terrence McGee is essential to this approach. He has spent more time covering slot receivers in training camp, which will allow Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence to handle outside receivers when the defense faces three-receiver looks.

  • Wide receiver Donald Jones is another player worth watching. When asked about teammates who have caught his eye early in training camp, Fitzpatrick said Jones had elevated his game in his second season. An undrafted rookie in 2010, Jones was a nice surprise in camp and finished with 18 receptions. This year he’s using his size and strength to make himself a tough receiver to handle at the line of scrimmage.

  • The Bills recognize that their biggest challenge this season will be learning how to change expectations. Gailey has talked about the difference between hoping to win and expecting to win, and his players believe they can make great strides. Fitzpatrick agreed that last season, too many players were worried about losing their jobs as the team transitioned into Gailey’s tenure. This year, there is far more comfort and a sense of purpose on a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. “We definitely need to take the approach that we deserve to win,” Fitzpatrick said. “And we have a chip on our shoulders. We hear all the people talking about how tough the AFC East is, and nobody mentions our name. That can be fuel for our fire, and we have to believe we can surprise people.”

AFC East links: Baby steps for Plaxico

August, 12, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

During a radio interview Thursday, GM Buddy Nix didn't deny that Lee Evans is available on the trade market.

The New York Times' Andy Benoit has a season preview for the Bills.

The Bills still have some needs to fill, but with veterans Drayton Florence, Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin in the secondary, the team is set at cornerback.

Miami Dolphins

Coach Tony Sparano admitted the Dolphins will stick to a rudimentary game plan for the team's preseason opener. Sparano on expectations for the offense: "I don’t want to use the term vanilla, but that’s kind of where you’re going to be.”

Considering what's gone wrong for the Dolphins over the past year, they could use an image makeover, according to TCPalm.com's Ben Becker.

More details are emerging about the April incident that left both Brandon Marshall and his wife Michi-Nogami Marshall injured. According to reports, the police "found a 13-inch kitchen knife laying next to a magazine clip from a firearm on a table outside of Marshall’s office. Both were covered in blood."

New England Patriots

Receiver Taylor Price, a 2010 third-round pick, impressed Bill Belichick with his performance in Thursday night's preseason opener. Belichick on Price: "Taylor had some good plays, made a couple good catches. ... But again, he’s done some of those things in practice over the last couple weeks. It’s good to see them happen in the game, but he’s been very competitive in training camp this year. The year’s made a big difference.”

Rookie running back Stevan Ridley didn't waste any time making a big impression in his first NFL action.

Tom Brady was among a number of New England's starters would did not see any action in the opener.

New York Jets

The Associated Press has a profile on Mark Sanchez and Scotty McKnight, childhood best friends who have been reunited as teammates on the Jets.

Center Nick Mangold was fine after leaving Thursday's practice early with what was later described as a stinger.

Rex Ryan said he plans to play Plaxico Burress for a few snaps in Monday’s preseason opener with the Texans, even though Burress continues to be limited in practice due to an ankle injury.

The Star-Ledger's Conor Orr looks at Dustin Keller and the Jets' depth at tight end heading into the season.

Bills stick with defense on 34th pick

April, 29, 2011
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With some sexy players still on the board at No. 34, the Buffalo Bills went with another safe defensive pick Friday night, taking Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.

Williams
Williams
Why the Bills took him: In a division with Tom Brady and some big, play-making receivers, Bills general manager Buddy Nix wanted to upgrade coverage skills with the 6-foot defensive back. Some scouts projected Williams as a safety, but Nix said they would keep him at cornerback.

How it affects the roster: Right cornerback Drayton Florence and backup Ashton Youboty are free agents. Although Nix wouldn't rule out re-signing Florence, the odds don't look good. Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin and Reggie Corner (nickel) are back, which will put Williams in a competitive mix.

Scouts Inc. says: Inconsistent but talented and most weaknesses can be improved. High in backpedal. Can allow some separation out of breaks and recovery burst is just average. Can give receivers too much of a cushion. Too quick to open and turn on comeback routes. Not as physical in press coverage as in run support and doesn't always re-route receivers with powerful stab at the line of scrimmage. On the other hand, has fluid hips. Can open and run with receivers in press-bail coverage. Quick feet and changes directions well for size. Closes quickly when receivers catch the ball in front of him and can limit production after the catch.

Tracking starters in recent AFC East drafts

April, 22, 2011
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While working on a feature about Tom Modrak's draft record as Buffalo Bills vice president of college scouting, ESPN researcher John Fisher dug up some interesting data.

The Bills actually were the AFC East's most efficient club when it came to drafting starters since Modrak came aboard in 2002.

Several factors certainly play into that from team to team. Importance of the position, holes that allow for immediate contributions and reliance on free agents to fill out a roster all make a difference. So do the number of players drafted.

But, in general, I thought it was an interesting snapshot to share. Because the research was done to put Modrak's tenure in perspective, numbers are from 2002 through the present.

Buffalo Bills

First through third rounds: 28 players; 804 starts (15th)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 45 players; 417 starts (eighth)

Analysis: Among AFC East teams, only the New England Patriots generated more starts within the first three rounds. No other division opponent found more starts from the fourth round and beyond. The Bills have whiffed badly on some early picks, as noted in Thursday's story about Modrak. But they have done well in locating solid help in the later rounds, namely 1,000-yard receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round), Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round) and top cornerback and Pro Bowl kick returner Terrence McGee (fourth round).

Miami Dolphins

First through third rounds: 25 players; 599 starts (31st)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 43 players; 333 starts (16th)

Analysis: The Dolphins have done well with their recent first-round picks. Although receiver Ted Ginn with the ninth pick in 2007 was controversial, they found keepers with tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey and running back Ronnie Brown. But the second and third rounds have been a wasteland: quarterbacks John Beck and Pat White, running back Lorenzo Booker, receivers Patrick Turner and Derek Hagan, linebacker Eddie Moore. Miami's best later-round pickups since 2002 have been franchise-tagged nose tackle Paul Soliai (fourth round), Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell (sixth round) and tight end Randy McMichael (fourth round).

New England Patriots

First through third rounds: 31 players; 823 starts (12th)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 50 players; 379 starts (11th)

Analysis: The Patriots have found their share of gems in the later rounds, including four eventual Pro Bowlers. They picked up cornerback Asante Samuel and kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round, center Dan Koppen in the fifth and quarterback Matt Cassel in the seventh. They've also done incredibly well with their first-round selections. Five of their past six first-rounders have gone to the Pro Bowl. Where the Patriots have been shaky is in the second and third rounds. They've gotten receiver Deion Branch, tight end Rob Gronkowski, tackle Sebastian Vollmer and safety Patrick Chung there, for instance, but they've also misfired with quarterback Kevin O'Connell, receivers Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson and cornerback Terrence Wheatley.

New York Jets

First through third rounds: 24 players; 766 starts (19th)

Fourth through seventh rounds: 32 players; 314 starts (18th)

Analysis: The Jets' start totals look worse because they haven't drafted as many players as the other AFC East teams. Their early round players average 32 starts, about 5 1/2 more than the Patriots. But the team that accumulated the most starts here -- the Jacksonville Jaguars with 1,172 -- averaged an extraordinary 43 per player. The Jets obviously failed with 2008 sixth overall pick Vernon Gholston and 2003 fourth overall pick Dewayne Robertson, but they've generally identified quality players inside the first three rounds, including All-Pros Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis and franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez.

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.

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