ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo Bills’ approach to the NFL draft this year has much to do with EJ Manuel.
After selecting the quarterback in the first round last year, the next step is adding talent to give Manuel the opportunity to progress after an inconsistent and injury-shortened rookie season.
“It’s a quarterback-driven league, so we’re going to give every avenue and every piece of the puzzle to surround EJ and make him as successful as possible,” general manager Doug Whaley said. “What we did this offseason affords us the opportunity to go any way and every way in the draft. But our main focus is making sure EJ progresses.”
Manuel’s progression is a point of emphasis for a team that hasn’t had stability at quarterback since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season. And questions remain whether Manuel is capable of providing that stability.
He went 4-6 and oversaw a sputtering offense that contributed to Buffalo (6-10) extending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 14 seasons.
The Bills can do little but cross their fingers in hoping Manuel can stay healthy after being sidelined by knee injuries on three separate occasions. What they can control is adding pieces to the offense.
Buffalo began by creating two new offensive positions on coach Doug Marrone’s staff, including quarterbacks coach Todd Downing. Whaley also acquired Mike Williams, a proven receiver with a troubled off-field past, in a trade with Tampa Bay.
The next step is the draft, which is top-heavy on receivers and offensive tackles.
Here are five things to look out for from Buffalo, which opens with the ninth pick:
DOUBLING DOWN ON WR: Despite acquiring Williams and drafting receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin last year, the Bills might not be done restocking the position.
Buffalo’s passing attack lacked a dependable threat, finishing 29th in the NFL in yards gained. At 6-foot-5, Texas A&M;’s Mike Evans has the size and range Buffalo lacks. And Clemson’s Sammy Watkins has the overall talent that might be too good to pass up despite his 6-1 frame.
“We believe so,” Whaley said of Watkins, for whom Buffalo probably has to move up. “We think his traits are dynamic enough to overcome his lack of height.”
Tight end is another option, with North Carolina’s Eric Ebron in the mix.
O-LINE NEEDS: With left tackle Cordy Glenn protecting Manuel’s blind side, the Bills are interested in upgrading the other side of their line.
Whaley expects more teams to adopt what he calls “NASCAR packages,” featuring swift-footed pass rushers across the defensive front.