NFL Nation: Tom Modrak
The Tar Heels won eight games, including their first bowl victory since 2001. But they were peppered with substantial problems throughout the season.
Illustrative of the Tar Heels' remarkable collection of talent was how much they populated the NFL draft.
Eight North Carolina players were selected within the first 171 slots and four players inside the first two rounds. The only positional group not represented was tight end.
The Buffalo Bills snagged Tar Heels with consecutive picks, taking strong safety Da'Norris Searcy in the fourth round and running back Johnny White in the fifth.
"We were stacked with talent," White said on a conference call with reporters. "I'm just happy for all those guys and feel blessed to be a part of that."
North Carolina's pro day was like a scouting festival. Droves of personnel evaluators converged on Chapel Hill because so many players hadn't produced in-season game film.
"It was unbelievable evaluating those guys," Bills regional scout Tom Roth said. "I mean, there were 15, 16, 17 [scouting reports] I wrote. Then with all the drama going on there and the injuries, there were about 150 people there. ... Some teams had their whole coaching staffs there."
The Bills sent four evaluators: general manager Buddy Nix, vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak, regional scout Darrell Moody and Roth.
"We felt like if we had all our guys and were healthy and eligible that we could go as far as we could take ourselves," White said.
Searcy was prevented from playing three games while the university investigated a class paper that had been called into question. He was cleared.
"Of all the kids at North Carolina that were involved in the academic stuff," Moody said, "he was a kid -- to put it bluntly -- he got screwed. ... There was something there they wanted to check and had questions about.
"He shouldn't have missed any games at all."
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 ...
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.
Draft 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.
Some of the highlights:
Nix reiterated the Bills don't want to trade out of the No. 3 pick.
"I wouldn't rule out anything, but there'll be a guy there we really want, I think," Nix said. "Probably wouldn't move down. It would have to be a rare situation, I think."
The Bills love Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
One of them should still be on the board when the Bills pick. Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have praised Newton for the past couple months, but the front office talked up Gabbert a little Tuesday.
Nix said Gabbert didn't shoot up the Bills' draft board after the season -- as he did in many mocks -- because Modrak had Gabbert rated highly since a few games into last season.
"His stock hasn't risen with us," Nix said. "It's always been high."
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett still is on their draft board.
"There are issues that we've talked about," Modrak said. "They're there. We interviewed him at the combine. We've done our due diligence. We know [the issues] are there. Are they a deal-breaker? Not necessarily. It's not cut and dry, where 'You're outta here.' But it is a part that we've talked about.
"We'll see how we feel about it. We're reasonably OK with it, but that's as vague as I can think of. ... But I don't know if it's a game-changer."
Said Nix: "We think we know some people there [at Arkansas], like everywhere else when you've done it this long. We think we got pretty good information on him."
The Bills didn't bring Mallett to One Bills Drive for a visit like they did Newton, Gabbert and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.
Nix offered another version of his quote about drafting a quarterback when you already have one.
The Bills consider quarterback a priority even with incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster. Nix was in the San Diego Chargers front office when they acquired Philip Rivers even though they already had Drew Brees.
"We think we're in a good position," Nix said. "Actually, as hard as it is to say that when you got other needs, it's probably a perfect time to take a guy.
"I go back to San Diego, and I have to draw from that. But if you can do it that way, with the way we did it, with Drew Brees ... That makes it easier if you got Drew Brees, now. But if you can take a guy and sit him a year or two until he's hungry and knowledgeable and ready to play, the success rate is going to be pretty high."
Nix indicated stopping the run was more important than rushing the passer.
They need help in both areas. Only three teams recorded fewer sacks than the Bills last year, but they also ranked dead last in run defense.
"The highest-paid guys are the ones that rush the passer," Nix said. "But with us, it's more important probably to stop the run. I don't think you're going to get where you want to be unless you stop the run. Then you rush the passer."
Nix dismissed the notion the Bills won't draft an outside linebacker at No. 3 because of money.
The Bills already have invested a lot of dollars in the position, giving Chris Kelsay a new deal last season, Shawne Merriman an extension and, of course, Aaron Maybin his lucrative rookie contract.
Nix said there was "no merit" to speculating they would steer away from using a premium pick on another outside linebacker. Texas A&M's Von Miller perhaps?
"You can't have too many good players," Nix said. "If you go into a year -- and I've had this happen a lot of times -- where you think 'This is a strong position. We don't need anybody here.' And you wind up with two or three injuries and you're always glad you got the guy."
Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams' position isn't set.
I asked Nix and Modrak where they envision Williams and how it will affect what other D-line positions to focus on in the draft. The answer was ambiguous.
"No matter how many [defensive linemen] we get, Kyle will find a place," Nix said. "He's a good football player for us, and he was every Sunday. He'll be in the 3-technique. He'll be shaded on the nose sometimes. He'll be in there on nickel. He won't get out much.
"If the best player was a defensive end or a guy that could play first or second down at defensive end and then you move him inside on nickel on third down, he'd be one and Kyle would be the other."
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.
This will be the second draft for general manager Buddy Nix, assistant general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Chan Gailey. Vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak is back for his 11th draft. Bills founder Ralph Wilson has been known to get involved on draft day, but Gailey recently said he hasn't seen the Hall of Fame owner meddle. "He is the boss," Gailey said. "He has all influence, every bit of influence. He says 'Take this guy,' we take him. But he's smart enough not to do that. He hired people to do a job. He lets them do their job. He's letting us do our job. That's what I've seen."
For the first time since general manager Jeff Ireland joined the club in 2008, he will run the show without Bill Parcells watching over his shoulder. Parcells stepped away from the Dolphins a few days before the 2010 season opener, leaving his hand-picked GM at the controls. Head coach Tony Sparano also would appear to have a bigger voice with his contract extension. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made the move to make amends after an embarrassing flirtation with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is entering his 12th draft with New England. He remains in control of every personnel move and hasn't missed without Scott Pioli, who departed for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Belichick receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. The Patriots' draft room must be a sight to behold. On the first two days of last year's draft, they made a series of trades in which they acquired 10 picks (including a 2011 second-rounder) with an average value of the 69th pick and peddled eight picks with an average value of the 85th pick. So these minds somehow accumulated more picks and higher in the order.
New York Jets
General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan enter their third draft together. Top college scout Joey Clinkscales is highly respected in the business, but Ryan has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris.
They own the third overall selection. One might think they'll only need to identify three franchise players they'd be satisfied with, accounting for the prospects who'd be taken first and second.
"That's a very simplistic way to put it, and that is very true," Bills coach Chan Gailey said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "But you've got to have the whole thing worked out because if somebody calls you in that 15 minutes with an offer you can't refuse and gives you No. 9, you better have nine."
Gailey also provided some insight on how Buffalo's draft room operates at such a time.
He said general manager Buddy Nix "makes the decision on whether it's best to move up, move down, all that kind of stuff." Gailey suggested he and vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak provide input as required, but that it's Nix's show.
"I try to make sure he understands what I think we need for our football team," Gailey said, "where we need the most help, and if he asks my opinion about the players that are in the draft, I've watched them and how their abilities might fit into what we're doing."
I asked Gailey what would happen if the Bills were on the clock and a player was on the board he truly coveted.
"Me? I have a guy?" Gailey said. "I don't have a guy. It is our guy."
Gailey then broke into an imaginary debate that would take place among scouts and coaches in a draft room.
"This guy would bring this. This guy would bring this. This guy would bring this," he said. "Whichever one we choose, that's our guy.
"I've been in rooms where the best arguer got his way. Whoever could argue the best or the loudest or was the most persuasive ... I've been in rooms like that.
"But Buddy and I, when we started this whole thing, we said, 'If somebody is trying to persuade us, we're going to put him out the room.' I told the coaches, 'Don't try to talk us into anybody. Give us information. Then let Buddy make a decision.' "
And what kind of vote does owner Ralph Wilson have?
"He is the boss," Gailey said. "He has all influence, every bit of influence. He says, 'Take this guy,' we take him. But he's smart enough not to do that. He hired people to do a job. He lets them do their job. He's letting us do our job. That's what I've seen."
NFL.com personnel analyst Gil Brandt blogged his thoughts on Newton's workout. Brandt mentioned Newton and his agents, Bus Cook and Tony Paige, had dinner with the Bills the night before.
Throughout Newton's impressive workout, Nix could be seen in the background chatting with Brandt. Bills vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak also was in attendance at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Bills own the third overall draft choice.
Brandt, however, believes the Carolina Panthers should select Newton with the top pick.
Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix and vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak were in Jordan-Hare Stadium for Newton's pro day workout. They had to walk away impressed.
Newton rebounded from a disappointing performance at the NFL scouting combine nine days earlier to complete 50 of his 60 passes in scripted drills. Three of his 10 incompletions were dropped. He then took requests from NFL coaches who wanted to see him make a few more specific throws.
At the combine, Newton connected on only 11 of his 21 throws to a collection of receivers he didn't know.
Newton was in a comfort zone Tuesday. The Heisman Trophy winner had to deal with a steady wind, but he had his own receivers in his home stadium. Personal coach George Whitfield Jr. ran the drills.
"For those that were really curious about that acclimation to a five-step game, coming out from under the center," Whitfield said, "I think he really answered the question if you had one choice in this year's draft of getting a quarterback to anchor your franchise for years to come -- whether you're an outdoor city or you're playing in a physical [division] -- he really, really pushed that needle in that direction today just with sheer power, sheer velocity. He was accurate. He was consistent."
Before every throw, Newton took a direct snap from Auburn center Ryan Pugh to demonstrate how he would look in a traditional pro-style offense.
Many of the throws were high-percentage. Some were designed to showcase his footwork in the pocket before passing to stationary targets.
A few of his passes sailed like they did in Indianapolis, but he wasn't nearly as wild. He zipped tight spirals time and again and connected on his first 19 attempts before a ball hit the ground.
"I just wanted to come out here and be more consistent," Newton said afterward. "That's what me and George have been working on since Day 1, working on my craft to be better. Today was another day to get better."
Skeptics viewed Ginn as a luxury, while the Dolphins had visions of unleashing the speedster as a versatile threat in the passing game and special teams.
Last week, the Dolphins dumped Ginn for a fifth-round draft choice.
The Buffalo Bills made an unexpected decision Thursday night reminiscent of the Ginn pick, eschewing significant needs and taking Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall.
The Bills don't view Spiller as a Ginn-style specialty player. They imagine him as a multifaceted weapon along the lines of Reggie Bush or Percy Harvin, the type of player who can invigorate an offense that has ranked 30th, 25th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 25th and 30th the past seven seasons.
"He's a playmaker, a guy that creates field position and scores points, and he's exciting," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "We need some excitement, somebody that can make a big play and create some things on their own."
The immediate question, though, is whether the Bills can maximize Spiller's talents. As the Dolphins learned with Ginn, a highly skilled player -- no matter how electrifying -- needs a supporting cast to get him the ball and give him some room to operate.
Spiller has star power, but will he have a legitimate chance to shine?
The Bills went into the draft needing a quarterback, a left tackle and a nose tackle for the conversion to a 3-4 defense. When they went on the clock, still available were Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga and Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams.
Most analysts projected Bulaga to be off the board by the time Buffalo picked. Williams was assessed as the best nose tackle prospect in this year's class.
The Bills' front office jolted the prognosticators by taking Spiller. He's the best running back in the draft, but the Bills already had two 1,000-yard backs on their roster. In fact, they have two more 1,000-yard running backs than they have clear-cut starting quarterbacks, left tackles or nose tackles.
"Need is important," Nix said, "but it had to be a guy that we thought was the player that can come in here and start immediately.
"Not to say that some of those guys couldn't. Maybe they could, but we also think we got a chance to get that position filled later on in the draft, and to be honest with you, there was only one Spiller."
Skill-position players were at a premium this year. Spiller was one of only three taken in the first 20 picks, the fewest since the NFL and AFL merged their drafts. The only other time that happened was 1977.
"He's the same size as Chris Johnson, and he's just a fuzz faster as far as the recorded time we had," said Nix, who added the Bills clocked Spiller at 4.32 in the 40-yard dash. "Chris Johnson gained 2,000 yards. He had to get some of them inside."
Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson noted the problem with drafting Spiller is that he's most dangerous on the outside, and the Bills' tackles were miserable last year. Left tackle Demetrius Bell was in over his head and is coming off a knee injury. Opening-night right tackle Brad Butler retired.
Perhaps everybody should be picturing Spiller's impact not for 2010 but two or three seasons from now. Realistically, the Bills are going to struggle to compete in the AFC East this year. But as the Bills continue to assemble their roster and identify pieces for their offense, Spiller should look increasingly more like a difference-maker in the win-loss column.
In 14 games for Clemson last year, Spiller rushed for 1,212 yards and 12 touchdowns, caught 36 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns, averaged 32.8 yards per kick return (with four touchdowns) and 26.3 yards on punt returns (with one touchdown).
That's a career for a lot of college players.
The Bills' backfield looks loaded. Fred Jackson started just 11 games and rushed for 1,062 yards last year. Third-year back Marshawn Lynch rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and went to a Pro Bowl.
Spiller will have to compete for touches.
"But those touches can be big touches," Bills vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak said. "Big touches.
"He's got a lot of ways to get you."
Spiller wasn't concerned with the depth chart. He declared he will play any role head coach Chan Gailey has in mind.
"Whatever my role is," Spiller said, "my main focus is just winning the Super Bowl, getting to the Super Bowl, bringing back the glory days that used to be up in Buffalo. I'm not worried about how I'll be used in the offense or how many touches I'll have. My main focus is 'What can I do to help this team reach the Super Bowl?'
"I'm very excited that they made the decision. It's one they're never going to regret."
The Dolphins dealt their 12th pick to the San Diego Chargers for the 28th and 40th selections in the draft.
The Spiller selection likely played a role in the Chargers' decision to move up.
In need of a running back to take over for LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers selected Fresno State's Ryan Mathews.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: The decision-makers.
Several key members of the Bills' front office will be in unfamiliar roles for the draft. Rookie general manager Buddy Nix has been a consigliere for decades, but he has never overseen a draft. Assistant general manager Doug Whaley will be in Buffalo's war room for the first time after handling pro personnel for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chan Gailey hasn't gone into a draft as the head coach for 11 years. The most prominent holdover is vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak. The Bills fired pro personnel chief John Guy after last season.
This will be the third Dolphins draft for football operations boss Bill Parcells, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano. There's little doubt whose voice is most authoritative in the command center. Parcells handpicked Ireland and Sparano. Each is beholden to him. But that doesn't mean they're "yes" men. One of the qualities Parcells values most from his support staff is the ability to proffer a dissenting opinion. With that in mind, it's interesting Miami's director of college scouting is Chris Grier, son of former Patriots and Texans executive Bobby Grier. Parcells eventually left the Patriots after a disagreement with Bobby Grier about drafting receiver Terry Glenn. Parcells didn't want Glenn. Grier did. Patriots owner Robert Kraft sided with Grier, instigating Parcells' infamous "buy the groceries" lament.
New England Patriots
Patriots overlord Bill Belichick is entering his second draft without right-hand man Scott Pioli, who is now running the show in Kansas City. Belichick manages every personnel move within the organization. He receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese (the former Tennessee Titans general manager) and director of player personnel Nick Caserio, but Belichick has the first, second and final say. We've already noted Kraft reserves the right to get involved. But he won't go against a coach who has brought him three Lombardi trophies.
New York Jets
Parcells protégé Mike Tannenbaum is entering his fifth draft as general manager and his second with Rex Ryan. The opinionated coach has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris. Tannenbaum and Ryan lean on top college scout Joey Clinkscales, who interviewed to be Dolphins general manager before Ireland got the gig.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.
Buffalo's draft decision-makers have changed and morphed so often over the past decade there's no track record to suggest their strategy this year. Buddy Nix has been influential in past Bills' drafts, but this is his first go-round as general manager. We're not sure how much input new assistant GM Doug Whaley or new head coach Chan Gailey will have. But the front office is exuding a sense of direction it hasn't had in years. In their previous four drafts, nobody really knew who made the decisions and nobody would admit it. Former head coach Dick Jauron, top college scout Tom Modrak, former pro personnel director John Guy and former chief operating officer/GM Russ Brandon all were involved, but to what degree? Of that muddled group, only Modrak remains in his role.
Maybe they're ready to loosen up now that a foundation has been established, but the Dolphins' modus operandi was pretty simple for the first two years under football operations czar Bill Parcells. They were coming off a 1-15 season and needed to be rebuilt carefully. Parcells, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano set out to make the safest picks. Because left tackles are surer things than quarterbacks, the Dolphins chose left tackle Jake Long first overall in 2008 and not Matt Ryan, for instance. Then the Dolphins came back in the second round for quarterback Chad Henne. In the first three rounds of the past two drafts, the Dolphins drafted a left tackle, two quarterbacks, two cornerbacks, two defensive ends and a wide receiver.
New England Patriots
Perhaps no club drafts with value in mind more than the Patriots do. Unlike the Jets, who'd rather shoot up in the order, the Patriots are more content to backpedal and collect more picks. In last year's draft, they started out with the 23rd selection, backed up to 26th and eventually ended up with the 41st, 73rd and 83rd. Dissatisfied with the talent pool and reluctant to invest first-round money in anybody on the draft board, the Patriots traded out of the first round completely and took four players in the second. The Patriots have an embarrassment of bargaining chips this year. New England is the only team with four choices in the first two rounds and already holds two selections in the 2011 first round. New England also led the league in compensatory picks, but those cannot be traded.
New York Jets
The Jets own the 29th selection of the draft, but it would be a stunner if they actually pick there. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is intrepid when it comes to making trades, famously moving up to nab cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris, quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene within the past three drafts. Tannenbaum, however, might abandon the maverick approach this spring. The Jets have traded away so many draft choices, they need to replenish their depth for developmental purposes. That could mean moving back into the second round to collect more picks, or, at the very least, holding onto the ones they have. But if presented another chance to pounce, it'll be interesting to see if Tannenbaum succumbs to temptation.
Now they're trying to give their new football-oriented GM a football-oriented assistant GM.
In his blog on NFL.com, Jason La Confora writes the Bills have asked Pittsburgh Steelers pro scouting coordinator Doug Whaley to be the assistant general manager to Buddy Nix.
Whaley presumably would fill the void created when the Bills fired vice president of pro personal John Guy two weeks ago.
Whaley has been with the Steelers for 13 seasons, the past 10 as pro scouting coordinator.
A bit of trivia for Bills fans: The previous men who held the pro scouting coordinator for the Steelers before Whaley?
Tom Donahoe and Tom Modrak.
The Bills hired Donahoe as general manager after the 2000 season and fired him in January 2006. The experience soured Bills owner Ralph Wilson so much that he didn't hire another general manager until Nix.
Modrak is the Bills vice president of college scouting, but has been the target of fan disdain for drafts that have produced zero playoff teams for 10 years running.
New York Jets
- Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News reports the Jets are involved in trade scenarios for Jason Campbell and Brady Quinn.
- Bergen Record columnist Ian O'Connor insists the Jets need to find a way to draft Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez.
- Newsday's Erik Boland tries to wade through some Jets rumors heading into the draft.
- Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan writes the pressure is on Bills veep of college scouting Tom Modrak to come through on Saturday.
- Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan writes how Modrak and pro personnel chief John Guy have kept their jobs is "one of the confounding mysteries in Bills Land."
- The Toronto Globe and Mail's David Naylor sees the Bills drafting an offensive lineman in the first round.
- Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun looks back at recent history and thinks the Bills can get a franchise-changing star with the No. 11 pick.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Ethan J. Skolnick writes the Dolphins are wise to know their shortcomings.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Edgar Thompson explains why it's so hard to find a nose tackle.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero writes the draft is a crapshoot even for certified geniuses like Bill Parcells.
New England Patriots
- Ron Borges of the Boston Herald says the Patriots will not trade for Julius Peppers.
- Boston Globe reporter Christopher L. Gasper writes "coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been futures traders" -- and incredibly savvy at it.
- Glen Farley of the Quincy Patriot Ledger sees the Patriots trading out of their No. 23 slot.
- If the Patriots keep the No. 23 pick, WEEI.com's Christopher Price has the Patriots selecting Cincinnati linebacker Connor Barwin.
- Providence Journal columnist Jim Donaldson doesn't like draftniks.
- Hector Longo of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune declares the Patriots need "an absolute impactful game-breaker."
New England Patriots
- Hector Longo of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune goes through the NFL's third-toughest schedule and sees the Patriots going "at least 14-2."
- John Tomase of the Boston Herald trots out five prospects the Patriots could draft in the first round.
- CBSSports.com senior writer Clark Judge thinks Jason Peters still might force the Bills to trade him before the draft.
- Bills executives Russ Brandon and Tom Modrak defend the team's character amid several offseason brushes with the law, Allen Wilson writes for the Buffalo News.
- Bobby April was named special teams coach of the year for the second time in four seasons.
- Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington takes a look at draftable cornerbacks the Dolphins might be interested in.
New York Jets
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|If Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin slips to No. 11 in the draft, you could see Buffalo taking advantage.|
Team needs: Offensive line, pass rusher, tight end.
Dream scenario: Buffalo's situation is fluid. Positional needs today might not match their wish list when the front office gathers in Orchard Park, N.Y., for the draft on April 25.
The Bills have holes on their interior line, at tight end and with their pass rush. They cut high-priced left guard Derrick Dockery and tight end Robert Royal early in free agency, but didn't replace them.
The Bills' biggest weakness on their 4-3 defense was their inability to pressure quarterbacks, especially when Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel went down with a foot injury. There was no help. They registered a paltry 24 sacks.
But the Bills have a brewing situation at left tackle. Jason Peters, a two-time Pro Bowler, held out of all offseason workouts, training camp and preseason games last year because he wants a new contract. He's expected to do so again, with the sides far apart in negotiations. The Bills might be forced to trade him, meaning they could need to fill the second-most important position in football at the draft.
For the second straight year, the Bills own the 11th overall pick. Unless they make a trade, they'll have to wait until the 42nd slot to select again and then 75th. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, will have drafted six times when the Bills have drafted thrice.
But the Bills will conduct a successful draft if they can come away with a pass rusher and a couple of starting offensive linemen. Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin could slip to No. 11, but if he's not there, then Florida State defensive end Everette Brown should be there for the taking.
The Bills should have opportunity to draft a top-three center at No. 42 and move versatile free-agent signee Geoff Hangartner to left guard. California's Alex Mack and/or Oregon's Max Unger probably will be off the board, but the other could be available and too tough to pass up. Louisville's Eric Wood also projects as a second-round talent.
The Bills also have a chance to snag the best guard in the draft. None are expected to be taken in first round. The best of the bunch include Oregon State's Andrew Levitre and Oklahoma's Duke Robinson.
Plan B: Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew is the best player at his position in this year's draft class. He's a strong run blocker, has prototypical size at 6-foot-5 and 263 pounds and has soft hands.
Consensus among scouts, though, is that Pettigrew is not worth the 11th pick. If the Bills want him, they have a valuable asset they can dangle to a team in need of a quarterback, especially if Southern California's Mark Sanchez still is on the board. The Bills can move back a smidge, select Pettigrew and gain a later pick or two.
Scouts Inc. take: "The defensive end need has been put on the back burner by some people, but I think it's huge. This defense is one prominent pass rusher away from being a pretty strong group. I think they'll move that direction on draft day. A guy like Everette Brown will be hard to pass up." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Owner Ralph Wilson signs off after input from chief operating officer Russ Brandon, top college scout Tom Modrak and head coach Dick Jauron.
Now On the Clock: San Francisco 49ers, April 7.
7:30 PM ET Carolina New England 7:30 PM ET New York New York 7:30 PM ET Jacksonville Detroit 8:00 PM ET Oakland Green Bay 10:00 PM ET Chicago Seattle
4:30 PM ET Tampa Bay Buffalo 7:00 PM ET Dallas Miami 7:00 PM ET Tennessee Atlanta 7:30 PM ET Washington Baltimore 8:00 PM ET New Orleans Indianapolis 8:00 PM ET St. Louis Cleveland 8:00 PM ET Minnesota Kansas City 9:00 PM ET Houston Denver
4:00 PM ET San Diego San Francisco 8:00 PM ET Cincinnati Arizona