Bills building success around the class of 2006
No wonder there are so many failing teams in the NFL.
Let's see... character counts. So does intelligence.And good coaching doesn't hurt either.COMMENTARY
ST. LOUIS –The experts had fun with them at the time. People laughed at the Buffalo Bills for the 2006 draft. They said Marv Levy was in over his head as a general manager. They said the Bills reached and missed the obvious. They called it the worst draft in the league, a big fat “D” on the report card.
I wonder how those draft gurus would grade that ’06 draft today? In retrospect, the Bills pretty much nailed it. I showed the list to a couple of seasoned Bills watchers the other day and even they were amazed.
The first seven players taken in that draft are all starters or major contributors on a rising Bills team that is looking to go to 4-0 today against the Rams. The Bills are the talk of the country, a sudden playoff contender. The ’06 draft laid the foundation and helped shape the team’s competitive personality.
Donte Whitner: eighth pick overall, defensive captain, strong safety and team leader. John McCargo: 26th overall, backing up at defensive tackle because the Bills found a jewel later in the draft. Ashton Youboty: third round, nickel back, a revelation this year, maybe the most improved guy on the team.
Ko Simpson: fourth round, starting free safety. Kyle Williams: fifth round, a steal, starting defensive tackle coming into his own, had the game of his career last week. Brad Butler: fifth round, starting right guard. Keith Ellison: sixth round, starting outside linebacker.
They also picked up Fred Jackson, an emerging backup running back, and John DiGiorgio, a solid reserve linebacker, as undrafted free agents that year.
Not a bad haul, I must say. There aren’t any superstars, just a collection of smart, solid football players who are growing up fast. That was the year Levy talked about character and intelligence. Skeptics snickered, but it has been validated.
“I think it has,” said Tom Modrak, vice president of pro personnel. “Guys kind of feed off each other. If you get a bunch of good guys, everybody sees the way it’s done and starts pulling on the rope the same way. It sounds little cliche, but it’s true.”
Doug Majeski, the Bills’ chief of college scouting, recited one of Levy’s favorite quotes on the day of the ’06 draft: “Smart guys get better.”
This is the smartest team I’ve ever been around, and the ’06 draft is a big part of it. Maybe that’s why the Bills have come along faster than most people expected. They have a young core of players who are wise beyond their years and have adapted to the NFL game at an unusually rapid pace.
“I was thinking about that the other day,” said linebacker Kawika Mitchell. “Look at our backfield, Trent [Edwards] and Marshawn [Lynch] and how key they are to our offense, and Poz [Paul Posluszny] on defense.”
Mitchell thought I was talking about the 2007 draft. But now that you mention it, the guys from that draft have come along awfully fast, too. Almost like an extension of the ’06 draft — the first under coach **** Jauron.
“The trick is stringing a couple of drafts together,” Modrak said, “and [’06] certainly was a good group. I think they are maybe a little ahead of the game, but a lot of that goes to the coaches, to the people teaching them and bringing them along. And certainly their willingness. They’re a bunch of guys who get after it and try hard.”
Williams is a prime example. He played at LSU, for a championship team, at a high level. Still, he was sitting there for the Bills in the fifth round. Williams didn’t have the classic NFL body. He’s built low to the ground, like Barney Rubble. But he’s smart, deceptively quick and a fierce competitor.
“Some people slip through the cracks,” Williams said. “I thought I’d be drafted higher, based on my production in college. Some guys don’t have all the measurables. They’re good players, but because they don’t run a 4.4, they don’t measure out the way [scouts] want.”
The NFL scouting combine can’t measure a man’s heart, or his willingness to work. Williams made plays at every level on the way up, and he’s doing it in the NFL. With the addition of Marcus Stroud, he is playing a lot more off the nose, as the “three” tackle, allowing him to make big plays along the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a football player,” said Whitner. “Sometimes people look at his size and question him. There were a lot of people who said I shouldn’t have been drafted where I was. The guys from our draft class have a bond. We came up together, we went through the ups and downs.”
Williams agreed that the group has a special bond. As a draft class, they’re the reflection of a bright young team that is growing up in a hurry.
“I think it translates over to how you play,” Williams said. “Not necessarily your athletic skills, but how you prepare yourself — by watching film, studying the game and getting to know your opponent. I think we’re all very aware of who was drafted that year. Obviously, we pull for each other.”
So what grade would I give the Bills for the ’06 draft today? It’s still too early to tell. McCargo is struggling to find himself, and Youboty is still learning his position. Ellison is starting, but only because Angelo Crowell went down for the year.
But as a whole, the class has been a rousing success. Most of them are contributors on special teams. Down the road, if the Bills prove to be a real championship contender, we might look at it as one of the top drafts in team history.
Suffice it to say, no one is laughing now.
No wonder there are so many failing teams in the NFL.