Judgements: Bills get crafty to get the guy they wanted all along

by | Senior NFL Columnist

NEW YORK -- Give Buffalo credit. The Bills wanted a quarterback but they weren't going to take one with the eighth pick of the draft.

So they floated a story Thursday that they had Tavon Austin at the top of their board, and, puh-leeze, that's just not possible. Austin's a terrific playmaker, but nobody has a 5-foot-8½, 174-pound slot receiver at the top of any board.

The idea was to rattle clubs interested in Austin then raffle off the pick to the highest bidder -- with the idea that if the Jets didn't take Austin with the first of two first-round picks, the ninth overall, then maybe Buffalo would.

Well, the ploy worked.

St. Louis took the bait, and good for the Rams. They just landed the best playmaker in the draft. They had the flexibility to make the move because they held two first-round draft picks, and that's the RG3 trade at work, folks. It gave them room to maneuver this year, and it gives them an additional first-rounder in 2014, too.

Next time you criticize that deal, St. Louis fans, look what it's doing for your franchise ... and your quarterback. The Rams are closing in on San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC West.

Anyway, back to Buffalo. Moving to the 16th spot made it easier for the Bills to do what they had to, namely, take a quarterback to energize its fan base and shake up its offense. Reports circulated this week that the quarterback would be Ryan Nassib, but that was another smokescreen. The Bills took EJ Manuel, and I know coaches and talent scouts who considered him right there with Geno Smith.

Buffalo likes him better, so they took him where they knew they could. But the Bills did more than just try to plug a hole and gain additional draft picks while they were doing it. They kept Austin from going to a division rival, too.

Smart, huh? Maybe. We'll know in a couple of years. In the meantime, it's up to Manuel to prove the Bills right.

"I know there's a lot of work to be done," he said, "and I plan on going out there and doing it."

2. More proof that it's a passing league: There were no running backs taken in the first round.

3. So Miami still doesn't have a left tackle. That doesn't necessarily mean the Branden Albert deal is alive. Kansas City insisted on the 42nd pick, and the Dolphins refused. Worse, they just dealt it to Oakland. I guess this one comes down to who blinks first.

4. I think we just found out how good that Alabama team was: It had three of the first 12 picks, all in succession. Now I know what they mean when they say, "Roll Tide."

5. There can be no more excuses for Blaine Gabbert. Jacksonville just gave him a franchise tackle to team with Eugene Monroe, so I don't want to hear about protection problems. Gabbert either can play or he can't. Period.

6. Atlanta just reiterated that it isn't about to stand by while San Francisco and Seattle load up. The Falcons are making an-all out push for this season -- adding running back Steven Jackson and pass rusher Osi Umenyiora and talking tight end Tony Gonzalez out of retirement -- and that push continued with the addition of cornerback Desmond Trufant. Pass coverage killed these guys in the conference championship game, so GM Thomas Dimitroff decided to do something about it.

7. Good luck to Oakland with that first pick. I spoke to a personnel director Thursday who had cornerback D.J. Hayden rated as a third-round talent. Another had him in the second. I know Hayden's stock started to soar, but the 12th overall choice? "There are a lot of people who are saying 'Nothing's changed in Oakland,'" said one NFC scout.

8. Good news for Alex Smith: You have another tackle from Central Michigan protecting your blind side.

9. There was no way linebacker Jarvis Jones was getting past Pittsburgh. The only question was whether he would last to the 17th pick. The Steelers can thank New Orleans for making it happen. The Saints took safety Kenny Vaccaro, making Jones to Pittsburgh a slam dunk.

10. When Central Michigan tackle Joe Staley was drafted in 2007 he was the 28th choice. Eric Fisher is supposed to be another Staley, but he was the first pick ... period ... Thursday. Tell me what that says about the quality of the two drafts.

11. If that doesn't, this will: This was the first time two tackles went first and second in any draft. Or this: Three tackles in the first four picks and six offensive linemen in the first 11.

12. I have to admit, I liked Dee Milliner's reaction to the inevitable Darrelle Revis questions. I mean, he replaces Revis, so the comparisons are inevitable. "I know the questions are going to come because Revis left," he said, "and whoever ... not just me, but whoever would have come in was going to get asked the same thing. I can only control what I can do. Go out there. I can't focus on replacing somebody because if you do that you're going to mess up on other things."

13. I don't know who's under more pressure: Milliner or defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Richardson was taken with the choice the Jets acquired from Tampa Bay for Revis, which means ... yep, he and Revis are linked forever.

14. I don't want to hear any more complaints from Tennessee's Chris Johnson about his offensive line. The Titans pick up Chance Warmack in the draft after adding Andy Levitre, Chris Spencer and tight end Delanie Walker in free agency. The holes should be there, Chris. Now run through them.

15. Memo to Philadelphia tackle Lane Johnson: Start running. A track meet is next.

16. The choice of guard Jonathan Cooper could move Arizona's Adam Snyder to the bench ... if not out the door.

17. Smart man, that Les Snead. The Rams GM outmaneuvered the Jets to choose Tavon Austin, and now, folks, you get to see what the Rams have in Sam Bradford. Finally, mercifully, they have a playmaker for their quarterback.

18. Bill Belichick turned one draft pick into four by moving backward? Shocking.

19. Question: Where does West Virginia's Stedman Bailey go? Not only did he have more touchdowns than Austin last season; he had more gains of 25 yards or more (20-13).

20. Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel can address those thank-you notes to Minnesota GM Rick Spielman. Just when it looked as if the Vikings wouldn't land a playmaker to replace Percy Harvin, Spielman picked up an extra pick at the end of the first round and turned it into wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. That's the good news. The bad: I think Robert Woods is a better receiver, and he was available.

Five things I like

1. The jars of M&Ms each team had on its table at Radio City Music Hall. The candies were in the club's colors.

2. Luke Joeckel's explanation for why six offensive linemen were taken among the first 11 choices: "I think a lot of teams are realizing how important the position is because the guys ... they look pretty scoring the touchdowns ... but they get space to score those touchdowns from us."

3. Former New England offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi announcing the New England Patriots' trade of their first-round draft pick to Minnesota. Andruzzi was one of the first responders at the Boston Marathon tragedy and was greeted by a standing ovation.

4. Joeckel's response to the guy who notified him that Jacksonville isn't a big endorsement market: "I don't really care about that stuff. I'm an offensive lineman. I like to go play football. That's all I care about doing."

5. Cincinnati's choice of Tyler Eifert. The Bengals suffered last year when they lost Mohamed Sanu near the end of the season. They didn't have a reliable threat over the middle, and it cost them. Well, they have one now.

Five things I don’t

1. Warren Moon playing the race card ... again. Enough already. Someone tell Moon it's OK to criticize quarterbacks. One of the most decorated quarterbacks in college football history was excoriated when he entered the draft, and I didn't hear anyone mention the color of Tim Tebow's skin. Why? BECAUSE IT DOESN'T MATTER! Some of the knocks on West Virginia's Geno Smith were valid; some weren't. I didn't exactly see a rush to draft Smith on Thursday. What I did see was EJ Manuel coming off the board first, and explain that, Warren.

2. Booing Joe Namath. When Broadway Joe was announced on the red carpet at approximately 7:05 p.m., fans booed. Huh? You have one Super Bowl trophy, Jets fans, and he's the reason.

3. Kansas City taking all but one of its allotted 10 minutes to decide on the first pick. The Chiefs had three months to think about it, and they weren't trading down. C'mon, guys.

4. The guy who yelled out "Patriots suck" when an emotional Andruzzi was addressing the crowd.

5. Minnesota's choice of Cordarrelle Patterson over Robert Woods. Patterson is a burner who had a great season. Woods doesn't have the jets Patterson does, but he has a deeper resume. The guy's productive and proven. I like that.

Just asking, but …

 Why did Sharrif Floyd last that long?

 Where does Branden Albert play next?

 What is Geno Smith feeling today?

 When does Manti Te'o come off the board?

 Who's the first quarterback off the board Friday?

Five biggest winners

1. Sam Bradford, quarterback, St. Louis. Finally, he has someone who is explosive, productive and can score from anywhere. "I used to watch a lot of Marshall Faulk and Barry Sanders," Austin said. "We're not the same weight, but we're almost the same height. If (Faulk) was able to get it done, I'll be able to get it done, too."

2. Philip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego. The poor guy's been sacked 79 times the last two years. No one needed offensive linemen more than these guys, and tackle D.J. Fluker plugged one leak.

3. The next quarterback for Philadelphia. The Eagles last year lost four of their five starting offensive linemen, and it showed. They stunk. Now, at least, they have protection in the right places.

4. Alec Ogletree, linebacker, Georgia. If there's one guy who can handle character problems, it's Jeff Fisher. He proved it last year with Janoris Jenkins and Chris Givens. Character is the knock on Ogletree, and it was supposed to push him out of the first round. It didn't, thanks to Fisher and the Rams.

5. Jay Cutler, quarterback, Chicago. First, the Bears give him a legit tackle in Jermon Bushrod. Then they add guard Matt Slauson. Now, they give him a promising guard in Kyle Long. Cutler is the face of a franchise that is going to set club passing records, and coach Marc Trestman isn't about to subject him to the punishment he absorbed last season. Nor should he.

Five biggest losers

1. Geno Smith, quarterback, West Virginia. He wanted to be the first player taken, and if that didn't happen, he was certain he would be the first quarterback taken. Make that 0 for 2.

2. Mark Sanchez, quarterback, N.Y. Jets. Two first-round draft picks, and no more help for an offense that seven times failed to scored more than 10 points. Sanchez had better hope Robert Woods or Zach Ertz is around when the Jets pick next.

3. Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit. The Lions were in perfect position to get one of the top three tackles ... only they didn't. They couldn't. Instead, they picked up a raw pass rusher who could be the next JPP. That's good for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham; not so good for Stafford.

4. Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. Give the guy a break. The clock is ticking on his career, but the Patriots refuse to give him a receiver who can stretch the field. They had a chance Thursday but traded out of the first round. Brady must have someone who can make catches outside the numbers ... otherwise, he shoulders too much of the load again, and New England plays for nothing more than second.

5. Eddie Lacy, running back, Alabama. He's the only back in this draft with first-round talent, except the first round has come and gone, and Lacy's still on the board.

Meaningful numbers

3:33 -- Time of the first round

0 -- Running backs chosen

4 -- Offensive linemen chosen with the first pick since 1967

1 -- Quarterbacks chosen

9 -- Offensive linemen chosen

12 -- Players chosen from the SEC, the most of any conference


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