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Doug Whaley: QB drop-off in draft not as steep as believed

4/1/2015

Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota ... and then who?

The 2015 NFL draft features two top-tier quarterback prospects -- Winston and Mariota -- who are virtually guaranteed to come off the board early in the first round later this month. After that, the picture becomes more muddled.

The next quarterback off the board could be Brett Hundley, but he might not be selected until the second round. Bryce Petty and Garrett Grayson are also considered possible second-day picks at quarterback.

In any case, it's a drop-off after Winston and Mariota. However, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley doesn't believe the cliff is as pronounced as some believe.

"I would say that there is a drop-off. I don’t think it’s as steep as a lot of people are saying," Whaley said at the NFL owners meetings last week. "And the way the system is, with the new CBA and everything, and that position being so important, guys are going to get drafted higher. Because you might as well try to hit on a guy, and it’s not that big of a financial commitment, as in years past.

"So I think there will be a run on some guys maybe in the second and third round that are a little lower. But, again, I don’t think the drop-off is as big as a lot of people are saying."

While Winston or Mariota aren't coming to Buffalo, the anticipated second-day "run" on quarterbacks could have implications for the Bills. With a long-term need at quarterback, would Whaley take a swing on Hundley in the second round or Grayson in the third round if he felt another team could scoop either up?

I asked Whaley last week if it would be realistic to add another quarterback in the draft even as the Bills are set to enter training camp with a three-way competition among EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor.

"It could [be realistic]," Whaley said. "It’s one of those things the way we’ve set it up in free agency, it helps us as personnel guys, because we’re going to set the board in the truest sense because we really don’t have a need.

"Some people will say, ‘Look at the O-line.’ Well, if you look at some of the young guys, we’re expecting them to take a step. Chris Williams is going to come back from the back [injury] and you add Richie Incognito. Your tackles are already set. Your center is set. So we have some competition there. We could add, absolutely.

"But with us, when we’re setting the board as personnel guys, it’s not that one glaring need where, ‘We gotta get it.’ That’s where you start pushing guys up."

Whaley's comments clearly leave the door open for the Bills to select a quarterback in the second or third round. Could it be misdirection? Possibly. But Whaley also dropped a hint last week that his selections at No. 50 and No. 81 might not be immediate-impact players.

"The way our team is now -- and maybe I'm just trying to get it out there -- our second-round pick, our third-round pick, they're going to be contributors. But there's not too many open spots for them to come in and start," he said.

Drafting a quarterback would give the Bills options down the road at quarterback but also clog that position this summer.

One option would be to keep four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, which is rare in the NFL. The more likely scenario, if the Bills add a quarterback, would be for Manuel to be traded or Cassel to be released -- depending on which doesn't win the starting job.

At a time when offensive linemen and tight ends are being connected to the Bills for their second- and third-round selections in the upcoming draft, it would seemingly be a mistake to rule out a quarterback coming to Buffalo with one of those picks.