Give the Buffalo Bills credit: If they're unable to end their 14-year playoff drought in 2014, it won't be because of a lack of effort.
The Bills were perhaps the most aggressive team in the NFL draft. They traded away next year's first rounder to move up five picks in this year's first round. After getting the top-flight receiver they wanted in Sammy Watkins, they traded away the only receiver in team history to post three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
They also acquired a fourth running back and drafted several offensive linemen they think will help give the team the offense it needs to post a winning season.
"It's all about preparation. We as a group are very prepared," said Russ Brandon, the team's president and CEO. "We feel we have the right people in place to make impact decisions, and I know we talk about it often, but being where we've been as an organization on the field is unacceptable."
That's why the Bills wanted to go after Watkins, whom General Manager Doug Whaley said was at the top of their draft board. Giving up next year's first-rounder was an acceptable risk because they "expect it to be low." They feel his play-making skills – which included a 91-yard touchdown grab last season against Syracuse – will help push quarterback EJ Manuel toward elite status.
"That's what this game is all about, making plays," Whaley said. "He's automatically going to make our quarterback better and us better as a team … We want to surround EJ Manuel with every possible weapon we can to help get to where we need to go."
His arrival meant the departure of Stevie Johnson, who was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Whaley said he fell victim to a numbers game and that Robert Woods and Mike Williams would be tried in the slot position opposite Watkins.
The backfield also got more crowded when the Bills acquired Bryce Brown from the Philadelphia Eagles. He'll compete for the No. 3 spot behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. All of them will run behind an offensive line bolstered by Cyrus Kouandjio, a 6-foot 7-inch, 322-pound tackle who's expected to jump right into the starting lineup.
Coach Doug Marrone said adding size to the line is important giving the bulking up of the AFC East:
"I can't speak for the other teams, but you look at the defensive linemen that are in this division, and you're going against everyone in New York to the guys in Miami and obviously the players in New England, and then you look at the players we're getting. The people inside, everyone is getting bigger players, at least in our division, if you look at it … We're doing it for matchups, so that we can match up with those players inside."
More changes are likely, as Brandon said getting competition at every position is important to make the team better. He said it's all working toward one goal:
"It’s all about winning. There is nothing else, absolutely nothing else that matters. We’ve made changes, and we’re not going to sit on our hands and not let any sand get under our shoes when it comes to trying to put a winning product on the field. That’s what we’re all about."
Here is a full list of the Bills' 2014 draft picks.
- Round 1, pick 4: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
- Round 2, pick 44: Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
- Round 3, pick 73: Preston Brown, LB, Louisville
- Round 4, pick 109: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
- Round 5, pick 153: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
- Round 7, pick 221: Randell Johnson, LB, Florida Atlantic
- Round 7, pick 237: Seantrel Henderson, T, Miami