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Bills Replenish Depth With Draft
Team Drafts For Need Not Best Available Player.
by Steve Saslow
Monday April 17, 2000

The Bills entered this year's draft knowing they had huge holes to fill after the off season salary cap purging. Even though GM John Butler kept insisting that the Bills would draft the best available athlete regardless of position. It became apparent on day one that the Bills were drafting on a need basis. In that respect they were successful filling all the glaring holes (except Cornerback) with some promising prospects.

The first pick of Erik Flowers was to ensure that the rotation of defensive linemen will take place again next year. Flowers became the first defensive end drafted by the Bills in the first round since Bruce Smith and now he will be asked to do his part in replacing the legend. He will make an immediate impact as a pass rusher on third downs and a wave linemen spelling Marcellus Wiley. I would have liked a defensive back picked here, but when Ahmed Plummer was taken two spots earlier defensive line became the obvious choice. The only other possibility was Syracuse linebacker Keith Bulluck. The Bills had Flowers rated high even before he began to skyrocket up the draft boards of teams around the league. Trusting the Bills track record on first round picks, expect him to become a solid player who may replace Wiley next year, if he leaves via free agency.

The Bills may have reached for second round pick Travares Tillman. The club admitted it was drafting for need here but insist this was not a reach pick. They saw the players they coveted at this position get picked earlier in the round. The top safety prospect was considered to be Deon Gant who went to Carolina one pick earlier. The Bills used most of their time before picking Tillman, which makes me think they were eyeing Gant. Tillman is an aggressive player who is versatile. He may be better suited for strong safety but the Bills will give him a chance to earn the starting free safety position. He is an intelligent player who called the defensive plays for Georgia Tech; this is a very important trait for a free safety. I get the feeling they took Tillman just because he was the best available safety on the board. They may have been able to wait a round before taking him.

It may have evened out in the third round when they got a player that should have went in the second round. Corey Moore was considered by some the best defensive player in college football last year. He went this late because of his lack of size. At 225 pounds he will move from defensive end to outside linebacker in the pros. He's a very talented player with great speed who is a pure pass rusher and can cover receivers well. He will have a chance to battle Keith Newman for the starting weak outside linebacker position being vacated by Gabe Northern. He may have some trouble adjusting to his new position so he may come along a bit slowly. Once he learns the position he has a good chance to develop into a star.

The fourth round pick I really like as possibly the sleeper of the draft. WR Avion Black entered the draft very late because of academic problems. If he entered earlier he would have been a first or second rounder. He looks like a phenomenal kickoff returner averaging 34 yards a return and three touchdowns last year. He can also return punts and has a chance to develop into a solid receiver. His drawback is he's a bit small but he has amazing speed and good hands. His immediate impact will be as a kick returner and possibly a punt returner replacing Kevin Williams. He may not be able to step in right away as Williams' replacement as the number three receiver. He may need more time to develop since he's coming out as a junior. When he gets his feet wet later in the season he should fine his way onto the field more often.

The fifth round pick may also be a steal. Sammy Morris was the number one fullback on many boards. He is a tweener back who plays both halfback and fullback. He has great hands and is an excellent receiver as well as a bull runner. The only problem is, he sounds a lot like Shawn Bryson and Jonathan Linton. The club needs to make a decision on whether it will play a one back or two back offense next year. They don't have a complete fullback on the roster just tweeners. Morris doesn't add a new dimension, just another talented player who may be insurance in case Bryson doesn't come back at full strength from is torn ACL.

The Bills got the strongest player in the draft in round 6 when they took Leif Larsen. He's a raw project who is a Norway native that has limited playing experience. He has good speed for a big man who will get to learn backing up Ted Washington and Pat Williams in the middle. His speed might get him some playing time at defensive end in the rotation if he develops fast enough. This guy is talented and the club has the luxury of letting him develop, the only problem is that he is already 25 years old and the clock is ticking. He can be a big time special teams player.

The Bills also went to add depth on the special teams with their two seventh round picks. Drew Haddad will be a fan favorite as he comes from the University of Buffalo. He's not very big or fast but he's tough over the middle and has good hands. He also returned kicks at UB. He may be able to make the team as the punt returner, while Black returns kicks. He is also the only true slot receiver on the roster right now, although his size is a bigger concern then his lack of speed. Dashon Polk rounded out the draft for the Bills. He should be able to help out right away on special teams. He projects as a middle linebacker who's draft status was hurt by the unusual defense they played at Arizona. He will probably make the team for special teams duty exclusively, while he learns behind Sam Cowart.

All in all it appears to be a solid draft that filled many holes. Many of the players are on the small side but the Bills scouting staff has a great history of developing these type of players, and there is no reason to believe that they can't develop this group. They filled many holes on the depth chart and if they develop as expected they will help keep the Bills a young, talented team. As with any draft it will take a couple of years to really know how successful it was, but if it is, then the club will have a bright future. If some of these players are busts, the club could be in some trouble.

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