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Draft More Important Than Ever For Bills
With off season purge, more draftees will need to contribute now.
by Steve Saslow
Wednesday April 12, 2000

As the Bills brass continue to prepare for this weekend's selection draft in New York, the club is at a major crossroads. The many off season losses to the salary cap and free agency has left the Bills in an unenviable position where they must draft for need. The good news is (if you can call it that) they have a few different positions where they need players that will make an impact now. GM John Butler says the Bills will take the best available player on the board and not draft by need. I can almost guarantee that when the 26th pick in the first round comes around the best available player will come from the defensive side of the ball.

The offense comes back virtually intact with the re-signings of Ruben Brown and Jay Riemersma. The losses on Offense are easily replaceable from within but the defense has some glaring holes in the starting lineup as well as the front line reserves at almost any position.

The Bills will be looking for a starting free safety, nickel back, outside linebacker, and a pass rushing defensive end. They will probably use 5 or 6 of their 8 picks on those positions. It is hard to predict which of those four areas the Bills will address first, but that may be where the best available player theory comes in to play.

I would think they will take their 6th defensive back in the first round in the last 11 years since there is two glaring holes there. There is only one safety worth taking in the first round and that is Tennessee's Deon Grant. If he is still there expect the Bills to grab him. If he's gone, the Bills can draft a cornerback who can be converted to free safety or who can step in and play right corner on passing downs so last year's top pick Antoine Winfield can move back to the nickel back spot. One possibility here is Winfield's old teammate at Ohio St. Ahmed Plummer. Don't get excited if he's still there after 20 or so picks because Minnesota and San Francisco may have their eyes on him and they pick just before the Bills. If both Plummer and Grant are gone the Bills may decide to wait on defensive backs until the 2nd and 3rd rounds since their are many players at those positions projected to go in those rounds.

The club may turn to defensive line or outside linebacker to get a pass rusher to help replace Bruce Smith. One player I like at this position is from Smith's alma mater Virgina Tech. John Engelberger is a player who can step right in on passing downs to rush the quarterback. An outside backer who may be of interest to the Bills is Syracuse's Keith Bulluck.

The Bills will hope one of those players will be available in the first round when they pick, and chances are at least one will be left. Depending on who they pick in the first round sets up the rest of the draft. Expect them to take at least two maybe three defensive backs out of their eight picks. They will definitely come away with a outside linebacker and a defensive end. That leaves them three picks for other positions. They should use one pick in the middle rounds on a wide receiver since they plan on using multiple wideout sets again and don't have much depth at the position. They may be able to find a diamond in the rough who can step in and be the third or fourth receiver and return kicks and/or punts. One player in the third or fourth round who I like is Texas A&M's Chris Cole.

The only other offensive player the club may take, is a quarterback in the middle to late rounds. They may be looking to groom someone now that Alex Van Pelt won't be coming back and Doug Flutie is 38.

The draft is always a crap shoot and it is more important than ever for the Bills. A bad draft this year can set the club back a few years at least. History may be on the Bills side though, they are perhaps the best drafting team in the league. Last season 17 of 22 starters were draft picks and that is with the club having the lowest average drafting position of any team in the 90's. So sit back and watch the draft with confidence and look for all the updates on the future stars of the Bills right here at Bills Daily all weekend long.

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