Buffalo (WKBW.com) The Buffalo Sabres get ready for game number four against the Philadelphia Flyers, and Bills GM Buddy Nix talks NFL Draft with Sports Director Jeff Russo. Will the Bills take a QB at #3? More in this edition of SportsBlast 7.0.
Also below is the full transcript from the Bills Draft Preview luncheon held on Tuesday.
GM BUDDY NIX & VP of COLLEGE SCOUTING TOM MODRAK
Pre-Draft Luncheon – Orchard Park, NY
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
On how many players the scouts have it narrowed down to for the third pick:
BN: We’ve got it narrowed down. Actually, I could tell you exactly who we’re going to take if you would guarantee me who the first two picks are (chuckles) but until you can do that, it makes it pretty hard for us to select to see who’s there.
On if Nix has a group of five or three choices to take:
BN: Eh, that’s close. Yeah.
On the process to prepare for the Draft:
BN: The last two weeks, or eleven or twelve days, we go through readings by the scouts, which we’ve already done one time, reading all the reports, listening to the coaches reports after they’ve looked at them, Tom [Modrak] puts all that together and we come up with a team grade that slots these guys, how they fit for us, and how important they are for us. So this will go through next Wednesday. We will have Thursday, the day of the draft, to get our priority list and that we make sure we’ve got three guys, and we figure one of them will be there.
On when they finalize all their pick choices:
BN: It’ll be done Wednesday.
On if the first two picks were QB if they’d then know who they’re pick would be:
BN: Yes we would.
On if he has a sense of who the first two picks would be:
BN: You guys [media] influence it a lot more than you think. You can’t get away from reading, and hearing, and the Draft gurus, and all that that makes you speculate who will be gone. But as far as knowing, and even if you talk to them, people don’t tell you like it is this time of year. So there’s a good chance that you might get misinformation.
On how they decide picking between biggest need and best player available:
TM: That’s the challenge all of the time and that’s a great question from that point of view because you fight that. If you have an open hole, you want to be sure you don’t want to put a player in there just because it is [open]. You want to still get a good player, a good talent, you’re not oblivious, at least I’m not, I’ll speak for myself, oblivious to what that is, but by the same token you don’t want to miss because you can do it on the reverse end. Let’s say you feel you’re deep at a particular position, you still don’t want to overlook people because at some point they become a good value.
On how he grades players with perceived off-field questions versus someone with a cleaner background:
TM: That’s also a test and that’s why these meetings are so important to have everybody in and everybody talking about those things, and how much they impact. Certainly, the obvious, is you talk about how they fit in the defense, your running of the offense, but also those kinds of issues. The higher up you are, the more major they are. But we could be talking about study habits or that kind of thing and how much. We’ve brought people in, our coaches met everybody at the combine, our scouts have interviewed people, and then we try to put that all together and see how much of a problem [it could be] or if it’s not a problem. Then we try to kind of balance it out. When it’s a great player, or as you said a great player or somebody at the top of the list, you might talk a little bit longer but that doesn’t mean you short change the guys down at the end because you’ll be just as sad if somebody comes out wrong.
On how many QBs have legitimate first round grades and how many QBs might be picked in the first round:
BN: It could be a record number. There’s so much need for a quarterback. As far as telling you which ones are legitimate first round quarterbacks, I’d say it’s according to people’s own board. Everybody sees them different.
On how many of those are on the Bills board, a half dozen?:
BN: I wouldn’t tell you what’s on our board, and if it was a half dozen that would probably be some kind of record.
On how not having a free agency has changed the way they prepare for the Draft:
BN: I can see where you’d have a question about that, but really nothing’s changed. We’ve gone about the draft the exact same way. Nothing’s changed. We’re going to try to take the best player and hopefully we can fill our needs by doing that.
On if the lack of free agency changes the way they might trade picks up and down:
BN: No. Nothing really changes. The draft, we’re preparing the same way.
On if they assume since there’s no free agency, for draft purposes, that those free agents aren’t under contract and that they’re gone:
BN: The answer’s the same. We prepare the same way. We don’t presume anything. We’re going to try to again approach the draft the same way and take guys that are the best. Hopefully, again, we can fill needs that we got.
On what they have to have in order to trade away their third pick:
BN: It’d be determined by how far down you move, but I wouldn’t rule out anything, but there’ll be a guy there that we really want, I think. So probably wouldn’t move down. It’d have to be a rare situation I think.
On if there were five guys of initial need for the team at the 34th pick, how difficult the decision would be:
TM: I hope it’s a tough decision. That means there’ll be some good players bunched in that area. We’ll have some time to look at it and spend more time together, and if it’s not clearly done, which it could be, we can at least have that time in between the day before and the night after to kind of kick it around some more. You can put yourself in gridlock with it, but I think we’re in a situation where, you’re right, we do have some possibilities. Now it’ll be determining which are the best of that. It’s a good thing.
On it being a debatable difference in the draft room:
BN: The second pick is going to be determined a lot by who the first one is.
On if you’re able to fool teams with misinformation:
BN: Nah, sometimes. Nobody believes anything this time of year anyway. Maybe you can fool somebody some of the time. Again, you’ve got to weed through all of that stuff and be prepared for whatever happens.
On given the state of the team, how especially more important this draft is compared to others:
TM: It obviously is extremely important and certainly where we’re picking, we’ve got to hit it on the nose. There’s no way around it. We’ve got to hit those picks hard. So if that answers your question, it’s very important.
On how the last 10-12 years of drafting contributed to the Bills not being in the playoffs for so long:
TM: That would be for me because I’ve been here for that time, and Buddy hasn’t. How much? I don’t know if I can quantify that and say that number because without trying to escape that, I think there are a lot of things that go into putting a team together. Certainly we’ve had our misses up at the top. We’ve done pretty well in the middle and at the end, the non-glamour kind of picks, we’ve missed some that are regrettable, but we’ve tried to make up for it in some of our other areas. But there are a bunch of things that go into making a team what it is. In this draft, you’re going to try to solve some of those problems. I don’t think that you can solve them all, but you’re going to try to solve some of them. If we can do that and keep making progress, that’s a good thing, for lack of a better term.
On what it says about the organization that can identify and get the success that they can out of the “no-name” guys like WR Stevie Johnson and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick that other teams pass over:
TM: The easy answer would be to take a great deal of credit for that, but the reality of it is, if you look at other teams, they do it. They miss at the top. When you don’t win, it’s magnified, it looks bad. I don’t want to say its worse than it is because I’ve already acknowledged that we’ve had some of those misses, and we’ve hit some. But I think from a strictly homer point-of-view it’s the work and it’s the labor that goes into it, and the detail that’s paid to those kinds of things. That doesn’t say that other teams don’t do the same thing, but we have a good group, and we fortunately have done that.
On if they’d be less likely to take an OLB due to the investment the team has put into Chris Kelsay, Aaron Maybin, and Shawne Merriman:
BN: I don’t think there’s any merit to that. If the best guy that is there at that time … you can’t have too many good players. Obviously if you go into a year, and I’ve had this happen a lot of times, where you think “this is a strong position, we don’t need anybody here,” and you wind up with two or three injuries or something and then you’re always glad you got the guy. I think as long we keep putting really good players on this team, we’ll keep getting better.
One other thing, I don’t know, you guys have probably counted but I think we’ve got four picks in the Top-100 and maybe five in the Top-122 or something like that, and you really should get a lot better this year.
On what Nix thinks about when he looks at those picks in terms of starters and “projects or draft-builders”:
BN: I think you can help your football team without getting starters. You might get a guy to send in rotation. We think we’ve got three guys that can play at defensive end and the next guy, even though he may be a dominate player, he’ll be in the rotation. So I think that depth, you obviously want to get some starters, but depth’s really important too. We’re thin on defense, we really are. We think we’ve got starters, but we need some depth over there.
On where NT Kyle Williams fits on defense:
BN: Listen, Kyle, no matter how many (DEs/NTs) we get, Kyle will find a place. He’s a good football player for us, and he was every Sunday. He’ll be in the three-technique, he’ll be shaded on the nose sometimes, he’ll be in there on nickel; he won’t get out much.
On if they label Williams’ spot on the team and then fill the needs around him or vice versa:
BN: I think again if the best player was a defensive end or a guy that could play first and second down at defensive end and then you move him inside in nickel on third down, he’d be one and Kyle would be the other one.
On how much of a rookie’s success is based on the research going into the draft, their work ethic, and their execution:
TM: I think obviously those three things are extremely important. There are a lot of other things that go into it, too. You get a guy in camp, he practices, he doesn’t get hurt, especially that rookie year it’s important obviously for them to get as many reps and as much time on the job as possible, and then get an opportunity. Stevie Johnson (for example), we had receivers, he didn’t get a whole lot of playing time, and that’s not being a critic of anything it’s just the way it broke for him, then when he got an opportunity… There’s a lot more to it. Certainly those things that you talked about are very, very important.
On if the third pick, if it’s not a quarterback since they may not be playing much, has to be a starter:
BN: We sure hope he is. We’d like for him to be; should be. If not, it should be a guy that plays 40 snaps a game. He should be a guy that figures in making you a lot better at that pick.
Let me go back to what you said, one of the other questions for Tom, about the past drafts. I’ve said this before; I’ve been doing this stuff all my life. I believe very strongly that there’s three phases to a draft and to a guy being successful. One of them falls on personnel. You’ve got to pick the right guy. He’s got to have enough athletic ability and enough intelligence, production, to do the job which is what you spend the year doing. We’re scouts and personnel guys. The second phase now, and don’t make light of it, because it’s just as important is coaching, strength coaches, and trainers. That’s the second phase, and both of those things have to be in place. If not, the development of the guy is retarded. I’m not going to name teams, but you [media] name teams every year that get top guys, and they don’t get any better. They actually may go the other way, and it’s the developmental part. Now, the third thing, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got both of them: you picked exactly the right guy, you took him at the right time, everybody busted it to try to get it better, but if that guy is not willing to be a professional and do everything it takes … you can go back and look at the so-called “busts” and it’s one of these three phases. You’ve got to have it all for them to be really good. So, even though we put it all on one thing: “that was a terrible draft… that was a bust… those idiots don’t know…” … that’s just the way we look at it. But that’s just about a third of it.
On the importance of getting honest answers when inquiring about a prospect’s background:
BN: I think you’ll get the standard answer a lot of times. So, I think it comes down to how well you know the guy. I’ve always said scouting is not only important as far as knowing players, but it’s who you know at the school that is probably just as important. That’s the only way we can find out if a guy is good in the classroom or if he’s going to do extra work. That really is about the only way depending on somebody you know.
On if knowing that someone is not good in the classroom is enough to take them off the draft board or bump them down:
BN: I know you get tired of these same old standard answers but that’s another piece to the puzzle. It does weigh in. It might not be something you’d say, ‘Well we’re not going to take the guy.’ But I can tell you if that guy wants to do everything he can to be as good as he can be you’ll never be satisfied with him. So it’s a consideration.
On if there is a position in this year’s draft class that seems to be deeper than others:
TM: I think it’s been talked about a lot. And it’s true the defensive end is a solid position. There are others. From our standpoint I think that’s one of them. Certainly beauty is in the eye of the beholder and other teams see it differently. Back to what Buddy said as far as getting information, people want to accommodate. But with Internet and 24-hour news it gets difficult on people and schools sometimes. And it’s easier to give a standard answer. When a scout is in there and this is not an excuse thing, you’re in there for one day. If you don’t know the people good enough or can’t even get them off to the side to talk about it sometimes you just get the standard thing. What we do try to do is crosscheck. A couple of people go and then we do the spring stuff to try to build the whole piece. But it is much more difficult now than it was just because everything is technologically advanced.
On the depth at the cornerback position and the availability of CBs later in the draft:
BN: There are some guys out there that we don’t recognize as being first or second-rounders at that position. If you pin me down and ask me, I’d say it’s probably not a great year for corners.
On if 11 or 12 is an accurate number for defensive ends likely to go in the first round:
TM: I really don’t know the answer to that. I could make a guess and if you weren’t writing it all down I’d guess easier, but you can guess. Some part of it impacts, truthfully, is it’s not just the depth at that position but it’s the lack of players at other positions sometimes which will drive that train really. Let’s say there are holes in three or four other positions. And in this particular draft, and every draft is different, than you say where’s the next best player? Well you say it’s at this position and it starts a run that goes fast. To make a guess on a number, I’m not good at guessing numbers. But it’ll be a good number.
On how playing in a 3-4 defense changes how you look at prospects:
BN: It’s a lot and I think that’s a big part of what we do is project a guy to a different position, somewhere he hadn’t played. A good example of that is (Arthur) Moats who played with his hand on the ground all of his career. And then (Danny) Batten a guy that we’re going to be putting inside at linebacker. Again, you’re depending on experience and what you’ve seen in the past, but that’s where we spend a lot of our time.
On if he could be hearing from teams now about trading down:
BN: You’ll hear more probably Thursday. But there are some feelers out now. The biggest thing you get is we might be interested in moving up, is that a possibility for you? If so, we’ll talk two days before the pick or the day of the draft.
On addressing the need at cornerback:
BN: I’d say for depth purposes and the future, you’d like to have a developmental corner, yes.
Obviously you’d like to have one better than that, but at least that.
On the need for an offensive tackle:
BN: I think we need another tackle. In some way a guy that either is a rookie or if and when free agency starts we’d like to get another tackle.
On how he balances the need to be able to stop the run vs. getting to the passer:
BN: The money I guess to tell you what the importance is the highest paid guys are the ones that rush the passer. But with us, it’s more important to us probably to stop the run. I don’t think you’re going to get where you want to be obviously unless you stop the run. And then you rush the passer. I don’t know if that’s giving you an answer or not, but it kind of goes back to need. That’s probably the best I can do as far as telling you where we’d be on that.
On Alabama DL Marcell Dareus giving best of both worlds:
TM: He’s pretty much as advertised. He has the ability to play the run and he can push the pocket. In his situation, everybody sees the glamour sacks and edge rushes, but guys on the inside create sacks. Sometimes they don’t get sacks but they create sacks. He would certainly be able to do that. He’s got that kind of talent and ability and he’s played up and down the line. He gives you the best of both worlds. Even though the numbers may not be there he’ll help somebody else. He’ll create if he doesn’t get them.
On Texas A&M LB Von Miller:
TM: From a talent standpoint, and all of the intangibles, he certainly fits a good guess by the people that are making it. He does fit. He’s a guy that has the ability to play three downs. And by saying that, if you play him on the outside he’s got to be able to play the run and he can do that. He’s 245-247 pounds, but he can certainly rush the passer and he’s athletic enough to play in space. Not to overdo it, but he’s as advertised. He’s a quality player.
On the experience spending time at this year’s Senior Bowl:
TM: I think it was a great opportunity for us in general across the board and our coaches. And then of course for us as personnel and scouts to have that input. It was a plus certainly from a learning standpoint. You get a one week interview if you will in that area. I think the thing about Von Miller which that is maybe somewhat overlooked, and not totally, but he did play in the Senior Bowl. He was a high-rated guy and sometimes those guys don’t make it. That’s to his credit. He played all the snaps, did all of the practices and every once in a while guys will fade on that when they’re looked at as the top guy.
On Auburn DT Nick Fairley and addressing one-year wonder concerns:
BN: It’s amazing how many one-year wonders there are in this draft. When you really go looking hard at them there’s more than just Nick Fairley. But Nick Fairley for an interior guy is probably the best pass rusher in the past few years. Whether he’s going to be what you want against the run, play scheme and that kind of the thing is another thing. But you’d like for him to play three or four years at a major school. He didn’t and there are some more in that same category.
On the off-field concerns of Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett:
TM: There are issues that we’ve talked about. We know they’re there. We interviewed him at the Combine and we’ve done our due diligence on it. We know they’re there. Are they a deal breaker? Not necessarily. It’s not cut and dry where it’s like you’re out of here, it’s not an out of here. But it’s a part that we’ve talked about. We’ll see how we feel about it. We’re reasonably okay with it. That’s as vague as I can think of right now. There are issues that you have to talk about and be aware of. Again, I don’t know if it’s a game-changer for him.
On character determinations:
BN: That’s hard. It’s a hard part of it. I’m not here to try to reshape the world of the media or the Internet or that kind of thing but a lot of things happen to that kind of thing is it’s really not fair. There are things written that the most quoted person I know is ‘sources say.’ And I read that every day. It’s hard on these guys. And that makes it hard on us. If there’s a buzz and if it comes out on somebody then we pursue it. We try to dig into it and find out how much truth there is and then we let that have a bearing. But other than that we probably won’t let that decide for us.
BN: We all have spent time with him.
TM: We spent quite a bit of time.
BN: Plus the coaches have interviewed him individually outside the 15 minutes we get. We think we know some people like everywhere else when you’ve done it this long and we think we got pretty good information on him.
On Mallet being off of some team’s draft boards:
BN: I’d have to see their draft board. I think a lot of that is pure speculation, I really do. I don’t know how many people come out and say look this guy is not on our board. They might come closer to saying this is our No. 2 or our No. 1 guy. I don’t put much stock in that.
Offensive lineman: TCU Marcus Cannon, Miami Orlando Franklin and Pittsburgh Jason Pinkston at guard
TM: I think (Orlando) Franklin could be a right tackle. But best, I think Franklin right tackle. All are interchangeable and would have a chance.
On the reason for a lack of successful second-round quarterbacks in recent years since Drew Brees:
BN: I don’t know if this answers the question, but I’d say it might be because there are just not enough of them. And I think people do reach especially at quarterback. I’ve said this 100 times, the worst thing I think you can do is take a guy because you need a guy at that position that can’t play. What that does is retard somebody else’s progress and sets you back three years instead of one. I think that’s why. You look around and we’ve done it. The people that are not satisfied with their quarterback in the NFL are probably 15 teams. There are 13 that are desperate. They think they’ve got to have a quarterback because they don’t have any. There’s no doubt it’s an important position. It’s a quarterback driven league but we think we’re in a good position. And actually as hard as you have it is to say that when you have other needs it’s probably a perfect time to take a guy. I go back to San Diego, and I have to draw from that, but if you can do it the way we did with Drew Brees it makes it easier. If you can take a guy and sit him a year or two until he’s a knowledgeable and ready to play his success rate is going to be pretty high.
On the rise of Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert since the season ended:
BN: Tom saw him in the first three, four or five games of the year and his stock hasn’t risen with us. It’s always been high. I think when you hear of guys rising and falling and they hadn’t played a game it really makes you wonder. He comes from the stuff that you’re seeing and hearing and reading everyday that’s how they rise and fall. If one of the draft gurus comes out with a guy moving up and he’s five or six and then everybody else moves him the next thing you know he’s moved up. When it comes draft day you’ll see how much he really did move.
TM: I think at this time of year right now and the circumstances we’re in media-wise the quarterback is the easiest guy to talk about. So these quarterbacks are getting dissected and trisected because that’s the football news right now. It’s easier. And sometimes some of it is substantiated. I understand that. That’s what’s interesting reading, television and radio. They’re probably getting a lot more play now than they did other drafts, all of them.
On Gabbert’s numbers not matching up to his offensive production and what’s being talked about:
TM: I think the numbers are important to this degree that they make you look and re-check and see what you’re doing. But, the offense, the things that you’re asking somebody to do, the other and compliments that go with it, the receivers and pass blocking. As we know it’s a quarterback driven league. But the other guys around him and the system has to help him, too. I don’t know if the numbers tell you the whole story as you might be saying. They don’t and a lot of cases, not just his. Some on the upside. There’s 70 percent passers who do nothing but throw check-downs all day. If you want check-down all the time you get 70 percent but he can’t throw the ball down the field.
On the idea of developing a quarterback with Head Coach Chan Gailey and how involved he is in the draft process:
BN: That’s a good point and it makes it easier on us to pick one because I’ve got a lot of confidence in that guy after he gets him. To answer your question, he’s very involved with any pick whether it’s a quarterback or anything else. We all are. We’re going to try to have a consensus and to this point being in the second year we’ve been able to do that. I think you have confidence in the people around you and you talk enough about it until it comes down until the pick is pretty easy.
On where they had Tom Brady:
BN: When did he come out? (jokingly) I don’t remember where I had him, I didn’t see him. It’s kind of like if you had him above round six, why didn’t you take him? Have you watched his workout when he came out? You might have had him as a free agent. I think some of that might determine how good a guy does. Some of those guys that have a chip on their shoulder and they feel like they got slighted in the draft, I’m talking about when (Joe) Montana came out, but I know if they’re hungry they tend maybe to do better rather than coming out with the first or second pick and feel entitled to a job. It could have something to do with it. Who knows, good is anybody’s guess.
On Nick Fairley:
BN: I think we know a lot of people there. We know guys that watched him grow up, guys that recruited him, the whole deal, I watched him practice. You don’t see the lack of work habits, you don’t see all of that they talk about. Obviously he got tired in some games. They say he disappeared but my gosh he’s a playmaker. I think one of the big questions that we have to answer and one of the things that is probably a question with him is what will he do when he gets a lot of money. We don’t know that about any of them.
TM: That may well be one of those things that was started and sort of snowballed. He played a couple of games with a bad shoulder where his shoulder was hanging and he wouldn’t come out of the game. Big guys occasionally, if they play a lot and they’re not in a heavy rotation, they’re going to be some plays where it doesn’t happen for them the same. But our determination was and when he needed to he also had a second and third gear to take it over. I think some of that is culmination of two things. He did play to his credit with a shoulder hanging in some games.
BN: When he had to turn it around he did.