The Buffalo Bills haven’t made a postseason appearance since 1999, a 16-year drought that’s pretty difficult to match throughout professional sports. While the team has gone through several regime changes in the front office among decision makers, when you look at how the team has gone about making selections in the NFL Draft, it becomes clear why they haven’t enjoyed success. Just look at the first round picks for starters. Here at Building the Herd we dive deep into the Buffalo Bills Draft History to see if we can find the trends in the team’s strategy to illustrate why they haven’t made the playoffs this century.
No Quarterback, No Problem
From 2000-2015 the Buffalo Bills made 132 NFL Draft selections. Just four of those were quarterbacks—J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Levi Brown and EJ Manuel. For a team that’s lacked a capable starter for nearly two decades, this should be the position they swung for the fences most often with. Instead, they used only two top-90 selections at the position for a 10-year span between Losman and Manuel.
Sunk Costs in Premier Running Backs, No Investment to Offensive Line
The Bills didn’t bother to find a quarterback for 16 years, instead allocating 31 draft picks to running backs (11) or wide receivers (20) with the hopes of masking that deficiency. From 2001-2010 the Bills used three first round picks and a second round pick on running backs—a position that’s now widely seen as the least valuable in football. The running backs selected—Willis McGahee, Travis Henry, Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller—all had successful seasons and possessed great talent, but they never reached their true potential. A big factor in these players failing to live up to expectations came as a result of the Bills not investing in the unit responsible for creating opportunities for them.
The Bills have spent just 23 picks on offensive linemen since 1999, with only two picks coming in the first round and five total picks spent in the first two rounds. From the 2002 selection of Mike Williams until 2012’s selection of Cordy Glenn, the Buffalo Bills went without using a top-64 pick on an offensive tackle, while the only two top-64 picks on the interior line were made in 2009. This is mind-blowing.
Football games are won in the trenches and spending five premier picks in 16 years on the offensive line is a big reason why the Bills have continued to be losers.
Bruce Smith ain’t Coming Through That Door
The Bills decided to ride simply on the memories of their ferocious pass rushing duo of Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett, rather than making an effort to replace them after the glory years. Buffalo has spent just nine picks on defensive ends since 1999, with four of those picks coming between 2000-2003 on draft bust Erik Flowers, and second round picks on Aaron Schobel, Ryan Denney and Chris Kelsay. Schobel and Kelsay formed an average pass rushing duo for several seasons, but always left something to be desired.
After garnering up the courage to use another high pick on an edge rusher, the Bills swung and missed again, this time on Aaron Maybin, who turned out to be a bust of epic proportions. The NFL has turned to a passing league, meaning that successful defenses need to consistently get after the quarterback. The Bills haven’t put the draft capital into rushing the passer and they’ve paid the price.
Linebackers DO Matter
From 2002-2006 the Bills had two stud linebackers in Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher, both of whom came as free agent signings. However, that four-year span doesn’t explain why the team spent only 19 draft picks in 16 years at a position typically requiring at least two or three on the field at any given time.
Of those 19 selections, zero were first round picks and two were second round picks, but eight were either sixth or seventh round picks. Look at the great defensive units in history and you’ll see a great linebacker on them. The Bills didn’t even attempt to find a dominant player, instead relying on a revolving door of no-name day three picks and overmatched mid-rounders.
Little Return on Investment in Wide Receivers
The Bills have spent 20 draft picks since 1999 on wide receivers, the most of any position. Lee Evans and Sammy Watkins were the only two first rounders, and Evans had a good, not great career with the team. The six players selected with second or third-round picks—Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, T.J. Graham, James Hardy, Roscoe Parrish and Josh Reed haven’t done much, posting an average season of 20 catches for 321.4 yards and 1.4 touchdowns with the Bills. 2008 seventh-round pick Stevie Johnson presented the most value of any wideout taken in the playoff drought, catching 301 passes for 3,832 yards and 28 touchdowns in six seasons before being traded for a fourth-round pick.
Buffalo Bills Draft History Facts
- In 16 drafts, just Lee Evans, Eric Wood, Leodis McKelvin and Marcell Dareus are the only first-round picks that remained with the team after their rookie deal.
- The Bills selected 17 cornerbacks since 1999, four of whom were first-round picks.
- 45.4% of the Bills’ selections since 1999, or 60 picks (10 1st round) were used on skill position players (running back, wide receiver, defensive backs) while just 72 were used on QB, OT, OG, OC, TE, DE, DT, LB, K, P combined.
- 14-of-23 offensive line selections were taken within the fifth to seventh round.
- The Bills didn’t get one extra point or field goal out of either of the kickers they drafted.