Matthews: Bob's Grade On Buffalo's Draft: B-minus

 

BOB’S GRADE ON BUFFALO’S DRAFT: B-minus

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Buffalo Bills the highest grade for the 2018 NFL Draft: A solid A.

Only three teams received A-minus grades: Carolina, Green Bay and Philadelphia.

Kiper handed out seven B+ grades, nine B grades, six B-minus grades and six C+ plus grades.

No team received lower than C+. I wish Kiper had taught me in high school and college.

Why did Kiper rate Buffalo’s draft No. 1 in the 32-team NFL? Probably mainly because he had stubbornly touted Josh Allen as the No. 1 overall pick until the last minute. (Kiper also rated Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds as a top-dozen pick. I agree with him on Edmunds. Allen? Not so much).

I was torn between giving Buffalo’s 2018 draft class a B-minus or a C-plus. I settled on B- because I don’t want to be overly tough on the regional team coming off the euphoria of ending a 17-year playoff drought. If Allen pans out, I’ll revise this grade a few years from now to A. Judging by nearly all of the pertinent stats at Wyoming, that’s a big IF.

What I didn’t like about Buffalo’s draft:

I’d have preferred Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold over Josh Allen as Buffalo’s “franchise quarterback”. Of course they weren’t available. (Thumbs up to the Jets for trading up to No. 3 and lucking out on Darnold dropping to them). I get that Allen has the “most upside” among the four top-rated QB prospects. That’s because so far he has done the least. I’m hopeful but not optimistic. I also didn’t like giving up both of this year’s second-round picks to move up to grab Allen. That was a steep price for a project QB on a team with so many holes to fill.

I guess I’m more down on Buffalo’s group of wide receivers than many observers seem to be. The Bills used their final two picks on smallish receivers Ray-Ray McCloud (Clemson) and Austin Proehl (North Carolina). Maybe at least one of them will be an instant contributor. But I wonder if free agents of at least equal talent will are looking for jobs.

What I like about Buffalo’s draft:

They delighted most of the ever-hopeful fan base by getting their version of a “franchise quarterback”. The only reason I’m glad the Bills picked Josh Allen instead of Josh Rosen is Rosen’s history of concussions. One more and his NFL career could be over. Unlike many NFL players, he has the luxury of considering an early retirement.

The Bills traded up to select Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds No. 16 overall. He’ll immediately become Buffalo’s best linebacker and figures to become a many-time Pro Bowl player sooner than later.

Harrison Phillips (third-rounder out of Stanford) will immediately be a useful reserve at defensive tackle and likely will be Kyle Williams’ successor.

Cornerback Taron Robinson (fourth-rounder out of Weber State) and safety Siran Neal fifth-rounder out of Jacksonville State) might never start but figure to improve the depth in the secondary.

Offensive guard Wyatt Teller (fifth-rounder out of Virginia Tech) could be a steal. His strength is protecting the quarterback and it is a position of need.

And – best of all -- the Bills didn’t trade next year’s first-round pick. It could be a very good one. And Buffalo should have lots of money to spend on quality free agents for the big push upward in 2019 and beyond.

McCLOUD AND PROEHL ARE BUCKING HISTORY

Most of us figured wide receiver was a position of need for the Bills entering the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Bills indeed selected two wide receivers – in the sixth and seventh rounds: No. 187 overall pick Ray-Ray McCloud of Clemson and No. 225 overall pick Austin Proehl.

They’re both undersized and could be candidates for the practice squad.

McCloud and Proehl are battling history. By my count, they’re the 39th and 40th wide receivers selected after the fifth round in the history of the Buffalo Bills. The results so far are not encouraging.

Only 2 of the 38 previous wide receivers selected after the fifth round were major contributors to the Bills: Stevie Johnson (7th round; No. 224 overall in 2008) and Bobby Chandler (7th round; No. 160 overall in 1971).

Thompson had 301 catches for 3,832 yards and 28 TDs for Buffalo. Chandler had 295 catches for 3,999 yards and 34 TDs for the Bills.

Tom Hall (22nd round and No. 172 overall in 1962), John Henderson (17th round and No. 136 overall in 1965) and Lance Rentzel (6th round and No. 46 overall in 1965) were drafted by Buffalo but signed with NFL teams and had decent pro careers.

Most of Buffalo’s other WR picks after the fifth round were – frankly – wasted picks. Alphabetically, a trip down memory lane: Jeff Baker (1972), Reggie Bynum (1986), Gil Chapman (1975), Fred Coleman (1008), Larry Davis (1970), Russell Davis (1984), Julius Dawkins (1983; did more for Pittsburgh than for Buffalo), Al Edwards (1990), Robert Evans (1975), Reggie Germany (2001), Paul Gibson (1972), Ron Goodwin (1963), Drew Haddad (2000), Millard Hamilton (1991), Willie Harris (1993), Clarkson Hine (1990), Robert Holt (1981), Kevin Knox (1994), Brad Lamb (1991), Dezmin Lewis (2015), Kolby Listenbee (2016), Kamil Loud (1998), Pete Mills (1965), Scott Piper (1976), Mike Reppond (1973), Barry Rose (1992), Forry Smith (1976), Jonathan Smith (2004), Bubba Thornton (1969), Chris Walsh (1992; spent most of his career with Minnesota), Craig White (1984), Tony Williams (1976) and Rodney Wright (2002).

Thirteen of those picks never played a game with Buffalo. McCloud and Proehl will try to avoid being added to that list.

RED WINGS COULD USE MATT HAGUE NOW

Rochester Red Wings play-by-play man extraordinare Josh Whetzel refers to Matt Hague as “The Hit Machine”. Why not. Hague has led the International League in hits four times, most recently with Rochester last season:

2011 – 165 hits with Indianapolis

2013 – 153 hits with Indianapolis

2015 – 177 hits with Buffalo

2017 – 149 hits with Rochester.

Hague is the only player in IL history (since 1884) to lead the league in hits four times. In fact, no one else has led the league in hits three times.

Eight players have led the league in hits twice, including two with Rochester: Don Richmond in 1950 and 1952...Steve Demeter in 1965 and 1966.

For the record, other Rochester players who’ve led the league in hits: James Daly (1895)...George Barclay (1901)...Fred Osborn (1910)...George Simmons (1913)...Maurice Archdeacon (1923)...Jocko Conlan (1924)...Rip Collins (1930)...Ray Pepper (1931)...Red Schoendienst (1943)...Danny Murtaugh (1946)...Rob Andrews (1974)...Rich Dauer (1976)...Steve Finley (1988)...Jose Herrera (2000).

Hague began this season with the Tacoma Rainiers (Pacific Coast League) but started slowly was released last week. The Washington Nationals quickly signed him for the Syracuse Chiefs and he had five hits in his first two games – Friday and Saturday against the Red Wings. He sure could’ve helped Rochester. The Wings haven’t hit much yet this season.

CAN THE KNIGHTHAWKS DRAW HALF OF THE CROWD THEY SAW IN BUFFALO?

The Rochester Knighthawks showed their talent, grit and class in a do-or-die 15-13 victory over the host Buffalo Bandits last Saturday night before a banner KeyBank Center crowd of 19,070 – including at least 500 faithful fans from Rochester.

The Knighthawks earned a spot in the National Lacrosse League playoffs and a home game Friday night against the New England Black Wolves at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. The winner of that game will advance to the Eastern Division championship game against the Georgia Swarm.

Can the K-hawks draw at least half of the crowd in Buffalo? Is 9,535 possible? Why not?

We’re talking p-l-a-y-o-f-f-s, Rochester pro sports fans. And the K-hawks have the talent and attitude to actually win a playoff game.

The K-hawks opened this season with two victories and then lost six straight games. They were 8-2 the rest of the way to finish the regular season 10-8. Rochester’s average home attendance was 6,760 (sixth in the nine-team NLL).

NLL playoffs format: The Division semifinals will be cone game. The Division Finals also will be one game. The Championship Series will be best-of-three.

UPDATING THE NHL AND NBA TOURNAMENTS

Nashville’s 5-4 home victory over the Winnipeg Jets Sunday night was the seventh overtime game and 19th one goal game out of the 50 games so far in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs. Home teams are 25-25 (including 9-18 in the last 27 games).

LeBron James scored 45 points and surprise starter Tristan Thompson had 15 points and 10 rebounds  Sunday to lead Cleveland to a 105-101 home victory over the Indiana Pacers. The Cavaliers advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against host Toronto Tuesday night...In Sunday’s only other NBA game, Houston easily beat visiting Utah 110-96 in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals series. James Harden had 41 points for the Rockets.

Through 47 games in these NBA playoffs, home teams are 38-9. Las Vegas favorites are 38-9 outright and 31-16 against the point spread.

TORONTO FC II WILL TRY TO DENT THE DEFENSE OF LILLEY’S RIVERHOUNDS

The winless United Soccer League Toronto FC II will play their first of four “home” games at Marina Auto Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m. It figures to be a challenge to score against the stingy defense of the “visiting” undefeated Pittsburgh Riverhounds, coached by former Rochester Rhinos coach Bob Lilley.

The Riverhounds are off to a 3-0-3 start this season, including a 4-0 victory over Toronto FC II on April 7. Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 8-2 and has not trailed all season. Penfield product Dan Lynd, one of seven former Rhinos on Pittsburgh’s roster, has two of the team’s five shutouts. Fellow goalie Kyle Morton has more wins (2) than saves (1) this season.

Toronto FC II is 0-4-2 and has been outscored 10-2. Toronto FC II played the visiting New York Red Bulls II to a 0-0 draw before a crowd of 117 at BMO Field last Saturday.

SAD TO REPORT: THE DALLAS RATTLERS ARE UNDERWAY

The Major League Dallas Rattlers, formerly the Rochester Rattlers, played their first Major League Lacrosse home game Sunday at the NFL Cowboys indoor practice facility. The Rattlers won 15-14 in overtime on a goal by Ty Thompson. Jordan Wolfe had four goals and three assists.

The Rattlers won this season’s opener April 21, 15-9 at the Chesapeake Bayhawks. Fairport/University of Albany goalie Blaze Riorden was voted MLL Defense Player of the Week.

The Rattlers lost 13-12 at the Charlotte Hounds last Friday night. They’re now 2-1 and play Saturday at the Boston Cannons.

Wolfe, one of the best pro athletes ever to play for Rochester – and of the most obscure because of the team’s lack of fan support -- has 12 goals and 6 assists for Dallas in the three games this season.

HOW DOES LUKE EASTER FIELD SOUND?

The Buffalo News columnist Sean Kirst on Sunday suggested that Buffalo’s downtown baseball stadium should be called Luke Easter Park when the Coca-Cola Field naming rights expire after this season. Easter played three seasons for the Bisons in 1956-57-58 and his slugging exploits and outgoing personality made him one of the all-time favorites pro athlete in that sports-loving city’s history. He remains a legend almost 40 years after he was gunned down in Cleveland by two punks who tried to rob him.

The Bisons sold Easter to the Rochester Red Wings in the spring of 1959 and Luke became every bit as popular here as he was in Buffalo. A photo of Easter is on the outfield wall at Frontier Field. I’m sure everyone who saw Luke play here or appreciates his legend will second the thought of – as Kirst envisions – going to Opening Day at The Luke.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Monday, April 30

Tim Kennedy (32)...Luis Scola (38)...David Meggett (52)...Al Toon (55)...Isiah Thomas (57)...Dave Parro (61)...Marty Byrnes (62)...Mark Mullaney (65)...Phil Garner (69)...Wonder Woman Gal Gadot (33) is invited to the birthday party.

Tuesday, May 1

Marcus Stroman (27)...Scooter Gennett (28)...Patrick Eaves (34)...Wes Welker (37)...Corey Fuller (47)...Alex Van Pelt (48)...Billy Owens (49)...Marvcus Patton (51)...Gary Clark (56)...Steve Cauthen (57)...Eddie Johnson (59)...Clint Malarchuk (57)...Randy Logan (67)...Jim Lorentz (71)...former Amerk defenseman/coach Dick Mattiussi (80). Tim McGraw (51) is invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

April 30

115 years ago (1903), the New York Highlanders (Yankees) beat the Washington Senators 6-2 in their first home game at Hilltop Park in Manhattan...72 years ago (1946), Cleveland’s Bob Feller no-hit the Yankees in a 1-0 victory...57 years ago (1961), Willie Mays hit 4 home runs in a game...47 years ago (1976), Muhammad Ali beat Jimmy Young in 15 rounds for the heavyweight boxing title...33 years ago (1985), the Buffalo Bills selected Virginia Tech’s Bruce Smith No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft...28 years ago (1990), two Atlanta runners scored as Mets pitcher David Cone argued a call at first base.

May 1

117 years ago (1901), the Detroit Tigers committed 12 errors against the Chicago White Sox...98 years ago (1920), Babe Ruth hits his first career home run as a New York Yankee..78 years ago (1940), the 1940 Summer Olympics were cancelled due to the actions of 1936 Summer Olympics host Adolph Hitler...75 years ago (1943), Count Fleet, ridden by Johnny Longden, won the 69th Kentucky Derby...67 years ago (1951), Mickey Mantle hit his first major-league home run...59 years ago (1959), Floyd Patterson KOd Brian London in 11 for the heavyweight boxing title...49 years ago (1969), Leonard Tose bought the NFL Philadelphia Eagles for $13,155,000...27 years ago (1991), Rickey Henderson stole his MLB-record 939th base and Nolan Ryan pitched his MLB-record seventh no-hitter...14 years ago (2004), Stewart Elliott rode Smarty Jones to victory in the 130th Kentucky Derby.

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