ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Doug Whaley made a bold move in opening his first NFL draft as the Buffalo Bills general manager.
Whaley struck a deal with the Cleveland Browns to move up five spots and select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick. Whaley called it “a calculated move to help us win now,” adding a dynamic threat to what has been a sputtering offense.
In the deal with the Browns, Buffalo gave Cleveland its No. 9 pick this year, plus a first- and a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft.
Watkins put up eye-popping numbers during his three-year college career.
He finished with 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns in 29 starts over three seasons and set 23 school records. He’s listed at 6-feet and 211 pounds.
One NFL scouting report described Watkins as “one of the more elite prospects that the school has ever developed.”
“Dynamic playmaker, and that’s what this game is all about,” Whaley said of Watkins. “He’s automatically going to make our quarterback better.”
Whaley is overseeing his first draft since taking over after Buddy Nix stepped down a year ago. Whaley had spent the previous three seasons being groomed for the job as the team’s assistant GM.
The Bills’ most pressing need this offseason has been improving an offense that was inconsistent under rookie quarterback EJ Manuel last season. Buffalo finished the year 19th in total yards gained, and 29th in yards passing.
Manuel had his development stunted by three separate knee injuries that led to him missing six regular season and two preseason games. He finished with a 4-6 record with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“Sammy Watkins was a player that was very, very high on our board, and someone we felt could contribute immediately,” Bills President Russ Brandon said.
The Bills have been busy stocking up on receivers. They selected Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin with second- and third-round picks last year. Buffalo also made a trade with Tampa Bay last month to acquire Mike Williams.
Watkins’ addition opens questions about returning starter Stevie Johnson’s future with the team.
Whaley declined to answer questions about Johnson, saying the day’s focus was about Watkins.
Buffalo went 6-10 and showed the predictable signs of inconsistency that followed a major overhaul that occured last offseason. Buffalo switched coaches, with Doug Marrone taking over after Chan Gailey was fired, purged many of its veterans and then started fresh on offense by selecting Manuel with the 16th pick.
Buffalo finished with six wins for a third consecutive year, ended fourth in the AFC East for a sixth consecutive year, and extended its string of losing seasons to nine dating to a 9-7 finish in 2004.
The Bills only have only five picks left. Buffalo is next scheduled to pick 41st overall, in the second round set for Friday.
It’s also the first Bills draft since Ralph Wilson – the team’s owner and founder – died in March. The Bills will be put up for sale, raising concerns the franchise could eventually relocate.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continued to express optimism the Bills will remain in Buffalo in an interview with ESPN about an hour before the draft began.
“We want to keep our teams in their current markets,” Goodell said. “But in particular, I think the Bills’ fans have demonstrated their passion and their support for the team.”
Goodell then reiterated what he said a day earlier, by noting a new stadium would help secure the team’s long-term future.