Combine week is here, which means… something to the Bills, but not much to us outsiders that we’ll have the ability to extrapolate. On the bright side, the combine acts as something of a convention for the NFL, and Buffalo’s management have been doing the radio tours, so let’s see what insights we can glean:
-First up is Buddy Nix. No matter how Buddy’s legacy in Buffalo is remembered, I’ll always appreciate the way he did his interviews. His sharp wit, Southern affect, and (sometimes detrimental) honesty always made a Buddy interview well worth watching, and this week’s was no different.
Nix addressed the interview from a few months ago where he said that this would be a year the Bills would look heavily at a QB in the first round, said “sometimes I’m too honest” in reference to that interview, before finally upholding the statement as still true.
Buddy went on to say that the lack of consensus surrounding this QB’s class isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as often times the consensus is wrong (JaMarcus Russell comes to mind). He added that if you’ve found the right guy for your team, the worst thing the Bills will have to deal with is 6 months of a beating in the p0ress before the season starts. It’s easy to read too much into all of this, but Buddy’s statements tend to align with his decisions as the Bills general manager, so at this point it’d be wise not to rule anything out regarding a rookie signal caller. At the very least, it’d be a surprise if the Bills started round 3 of the draft without a new QB.
Regarding the looming free agencies of players such as Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre (along with a few others), Nix said that basically what they do is put a value on a guy and negotiate to that number, and if the player, or more accurately his agent, thinks that number will be bested by another team, the Bills will let them pursue that. Not necessarily a revelation, as that tactic is consistent with standard negotiating practice, but it is always reassuring to hear management say they are doing things properly. Also, both Nix and Brandon mentioned that the combine is sometimes a good atmosphere to negotiate as it is a rare chance to get face to face.
Asked about the coaching staff’s influence on the draft process, Nix said that both offensive and defensive staffs have expressed their intent to adapt scheme to players. This makes sense as both Pettine’s and Marrone’s resume have been shown enough of a variety of different looks that they should be able to utilize most players Nix is considering drafting. Marrone has said the more important aspects to him have been intangible things like “toughness,” a more concise version of Gailey’s “toughness and discipline” refrain. It makes you wonder if toughness isn’t just one of those buzzwords that all coaches (ehh, other than Jauron) talk about that don’t really mean anything, since the most recent Bills team isn’t a group I would consider particularly tough. Than again, Marrone was able to create a culture of toughness at Syracuse, so perhaps it is all a matter of getting the players to buy in.
Lastly, Nix mentioned that he thought wide receiver and offensive line were deep, while safety is deeper than he’s ever seen it. Nix finished by saying that there were many mid to late round capable linebackers, which is reassuring. Excluding hybrid/pass rush backers, linebackers are not premium players, so hopefully this can put any remaining Manti Teo or Alec Ogletree whispers to rest.
-Switching gears from personnel management to organization management, a very tired looking Russ Brandon gave Chris Brown a few minutes of his time. It seems that any time a Bills decision maker is asked if they’d be interested in this player or that position, the standard line is “we’ll look into anyway to improve our team.” Not much there. But Brandon did use a word to describe how they’ve done things in his tenure: “attack.” I think that’s appropriate, given the way team handled the Mario Williams courtship last year, the pursuit of Head Coach Doug Marrone (the Bills filled their position first, outmaneuvering Cleveland and others for HCDM), and the acquisition of Mike Pettine soon thereafter. Given the track record, I would expect the Bills to be aggressive about whoever their free agency targets are (my guess is tight end and receiver are the priorities).
One last leadership note, it seems that Russ Brandon has read the The Extra 2% (a Jonah Keri case study of the Tampa Bay Rays), studied the Dallas Mavericks, or both, as he made mention of his core idea of “empowering people.” The principle was central to both of the the aforementioned organizations and makes sense on a more basic level. People do best when they are the right individual for the job and have the autonomy and trust from their organization to make the right decisions. Again, time will tell, but so far I’m becoming a fan of Russ Brandon’s leadership style.
-Finally, Doug Whaley’s given us a little bit to talk about, with an inteview AND a live chat. Oh boy. Whaley said basically he runs the draft meetings, and organizes the scouts opinions into a formation of the draft board, which is in turn the framework for Buddy’s ultimate decision on who to draft.
With regard to the combine,Whaley said there are very few instances where a player will move much higher or lower on the board based on his performance. Basically the only time a player will get dinged hard is for flunking an interview or having a medical issue revealed, but that’s about it. So when EJ Manuel puts up awesome measurables this week, take a deep breath and remember that he wasn’t great at FSU this season, and that’s probably where the Bills are coming from.
One last note: during an online chat, Whaley responded directly to Buddy Nixon’s own inquiry about what type of receiver the Bills might be looking at, in both free agency and the draft. Whaley’s response, and really the one of the few substantive things he said during the half hour, was that they’d look for a guy who’s “open when he’s not open.” Again, that’s consistent with what we here at Buddy Nixon believe, so you’re welcome