BILLS’ DRAFT:  SAMMY WATKINS AND MOSTLY GAMBLES

 

ESPN college football talent guru Mel Kiper Jr., wasn’t nearly as impressed by the draft of the Buffalo Bills as many other observers were (particularly a majority of those in western New York).

 

Kiper rated Buffalo’s draft No. 31 with a C- minus, partly because of the high-price paid (next year’s first- and fourth-round draft picks) for wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Only Indianapolis (D+) was lower in his ratings.

 

In fairness, I’d give the Bills a B- solely on the strength of selecting Watkins. I’m buying that he could be the difference for a team on the cusp of ending a 14-year playoff drought. He’s going to help make second-year quarterback EJ Manuel look good. Three huge offensive linemen with question marks were chosen in an attempt to slash last season’s 48 sacks allowed.

 

But upon further review, most of the rest of Buffalo’s draft picks are more suspects than prospects. Several of them were rated significantly higher by assorted draft tout services than they wound up being selected by the Bills.

 

Were the Bills overly optimistic and hoping for the best on these players? Will the bold moves backfire of pay off? 

 

Second-round pick offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (No. 44 overall) was touted as a mid-first round pick several months ago. Then questions popped up. He had an up-and-down season at Alabama. He performance didn’t match his raw talent level. A suspect left knee doesn’t seem to be a concern to him or the Bills, but many other NFL teams red-flagged him and passed. He had the slowest 40-yard dash time among offensive linemen at the combine. No big deal.  But the knee is a big deal. If it holds up, he should at right tackle over Erik Pears. He figures to be a steal or a big (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) disappointment. We’ll see if the Bills would’ve been better off picking Virginia OT Morgan Moses (selected No. 66 by Washington).

 

Third-round pick Louisville inside linebacker Preston Brown (No. 73 overall) had a solid college career but isn’t projected as an impact player. One respected draft service rated him as a 6-7 rounder. He’s a decent run stuffer but questionable on pass coverage. He looks like a depth/special teams guy, at least for now.

 

Fourth-round Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell (No. 109 overall) is considered a very smart player and figures to add depth and contribute on special teams. He held Texas A&M star Mike Evans to 4 catches for 72 yards in a bowl game last season.

 

Fifth-round pick Baylor guard Cyril Richardson (No. 153 overal)l, who won the Jim Parker Award as the nation’s top offensive lineman, was rated better by several tout services but one has to wonder why so many teams passed on a two-time Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. If any of Buffalo’s picks was a steal, I’m banking on the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Richardson.

 

Seventh-round pick Florida Atlantic linebacker Rendell Johnson (No. 221 overall) had impressive pro day numbers and could become a factor on special teams.

 

Seventh-rounder Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (No. 237 overall) is a massive person (6-foot-7, 331 pounds) with a massive problem: three positive marijuana tests at Miami and reportedly another at the combine. He might have had second-round talent potential but he has eighth-round discipline. In a draft heavy on iffy prospects, he is the least likely to pay off.

 

BUFFALO’S 2000-TO-2013 HISTORY OF LATE PICKS IS NOT PRETTY

 

One reason to be wary of Buffalo’s draft is the team’s lack of success in the later rounds during the 14-year playoff drought. One reason to be relatively optimistic regarding the freshest batch of picks is that a new regime chose them and could be more proficient and luckier.

 

Here is the parade of picks 4-through-7 since 2000:

 

2000 – WR Avion Black…RB Sammy Morris…DT Leif Larsen…WR Drew Haddad…LB DaShon Polk

 

 

 

2001 – LB Brandon Spoon…OT Marques Sullivan…S Tony Driver…TE Dan O’Leary…DB Jimmy Willams…WR Reggie Germany…DT Tyrone Robertson

 

2002 – DT Justin Bannan…CB Kevin Thomas…G/C Mike Pucillo…WR Rodney Wright…FB Jarrett Ferguson…LB Dominique Stevenson

 

2003 – CB Terrence McGee…WR Sam Aiken…G Ben Sobieski…DT Lauvale Sape…LB Mario Haggan

 

2004 – TE Tim Euhus…OT Dylan McFarland…WR Jonathan Smith

 

2005 – C Duke Preston…CB Eric King…OL Justin Geisinger…RB Lionel Gates

 

2006 – S Ko Simpson…DT Kyle Williams (No. 134 overall; great pick)…OT Brad Butler…LB Keith Ellison…OT Terrence Pennington…OL Aaron Merz

 

2007 – RB Dwayne Wright…S John Wendling…TE Derek Schouman…DE C.J. Ah You

 

2008 – TD Derek Fine…LB Alvin Bowen…RB Xavier Omon…T Demetrius Bell…WR Steve Johnson (great pick; No. 224 overall)…CB Kennard Cox

 

2009 – TE Shawn Nelson…LB Nic Harris…DB Cary Harris…DB Ellis Lankster

 

2010 – WR Marcus Easley…OT Ed Wang…LB Arthur Moats…LB Danny Batten…QB Levi Brown…OL Kyle Calloway

 

2011 – DB Da’Norris Searcy…OL Chris Hairston…RB Johnny White…LB Chris White…DB John Rogers…DT Michael Jasper

 

2012 – LB Nigel Bradham…CB Ron Brooks…OT Zebrie Sanders…ILB Tank Carder…G Mark Asper…PK John Potter

 

2013 – S Duke Williams…S Jonathan Meeks…PK Dustin Hopkins…TE Chris Gragg.

 

POWER SHORTAGE BIG WORRY FOR RED WINGS

 

Entering Monday’s game at the Mud Hens, the Rochester Red Wings(16-19 record) were 0-7 and outscored by an unsightly 43-13 entering the final game of an eight-game trip to Columbus and Toledo.

 

The Wings are struggling in all facets of the game but one issue is particularly alarming: the team’s lack of power.

 

Through 35 games (16-19 record), Rochester had only 12 home runs – fewest in the 14-team International League – and 7 of those HRs were hit by Chris Parmalee, currently on recall to Minnesota.

 

There is cause for concern that the power shortage might not be temporary. There are no power bats tearing up the Double A Eastern League for New Britain. Super power prospect Miguel Sano is recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. Byron Buxton, baseball’s top prospect when this season started, suffered another injury to his left wrist last Thursday night while playing for Advanced Single-A Fort Myers and hasn’t played since.

 

The Wings have a few players on the roster who’ve flashed power at this level in the past , but entered Monday with a combined 0 HRs in official at-bats.

 

It is too early to panic. The season isn’t shot. The Wings have some very good pitchers and plenty of decent contact hitters. Hitting a few HRs every now and then would be a big help.

 

RED WINGS HISTORY LESSON: BILLY HARRELL AND THE BIG TRADE

 

Former Rochester Red Wings third baseman (1959-60) Billy Harrell, one of the best of the early black players in franchise history,  died last week outside Albany. He was 86 years old. He was a baseball and  basketball star at Siena College, played parts of four seasons in major league baseball (with Cleveland and Boston), and was named one of the top 10 athletes of the Capital Region for the 20th century.

 

Harrell hit .266 with 27 doubles, 9 triples and 17 HRs for Rochester in 1959 and .293 with 24 doubles, 9 triples and 15 HRs in 1960. Late in the 1960 season, the St. Louis traded five popular Red Wings (Harrell, 1960 International League batting champion Jim Frey, Dick Ricketts, Wally Shannon and Bob Sadowski) to the Philadelphia Phillies for hot-shot Buffalo Bisons center fielder Don Landrum.

 

The trade was supposed to be announced after the International League season ended, but word leaked prematurely and Rochester’s baseball community was furious. The deal was considered the last straw in the split between the Cardinals and Rochester Community Baseball. The Cardinals and Red Wings had been affiliated since 1928.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

In terms of sheer athletic brilliance, I wonder if there ever has been a better NBA playoff series than the current Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.

 

The Buffalo Bills reportedly tried to trade with Philadelphia for new running back Bryce Brown last year. He’s only 22 and has two years left on his rookie contract. Buffalo star running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are entering the final year on their contracts…Brown burst onto the scene with back-to-back games for the Eagles in 2012, when he filled in for injured LeSean McCoy: Nov. 26, in a 30-22 loss to Carolina, 19 carries for 178 yards, with 2 TDs and 2 lost fumbles; Dec. 2, in a 38-33 loss to Dallas, 24 carries for 169 yards, with 2 TDs.

 

California Chrome ran the sixth-slowest winning time in the Kentucky Derby (2:03.66) in the last 30 years, and the second-slowest on a fast track since Cannonade’s 2:04 in 1974, but most horse racing analysts attributed that more to the relatively slow pace of the race than to any lack of speed by the winner. The $1.5 million Preakness Stakes is Saturday at Pimlico in Baltimore and the starting field is expected to be nine or 10 (the maximum is 14). The only other Derby starter expected to challenge California Chrome is Ride On Curlin (seventh in the Derby). California Chrome scared the others off.

 

I fully expect Johnny Manziel to be Cleveland’s starting quarterback when the Browns make their oneand-only scheduled 2014 prime-time appearance Nov. 6 vs. Cincinnati. I already prefer Manziel over Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton.

 

Tom Durkin, the most famous thoroughbred horse racing announcer of his generation, will call his final race at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 31. He’s 63 years old. He formerly was the race caller for the Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races.

 

One of the best reasons for the New York Yankees to retire Bernie Williams’ No. 51 is that the team already has retired Billy Martin’s No. 1. Which one contributed more to the Yankees?

 

Playoffs update: In the NBA, through 64 games, home teams have a modest 34-30 advantage and Las Vegas favorites are an expensive 21-40-3 against the point spread…In the NHL, through 68 games, home teams are 42-26 and 32 games were decided by one goal (18 in overtime).