Bills' gamble more on E.J. Manuel than Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins takes the field in Buffalo for the first time (AP photo).

Sammy Watkins takes the field in Buffalo for the first time (AP photo).

“Bold” is the buzzword for the Buffalo Bills, using the 14-year playoff drought as a rallying cry.

We found that out first last week in the Sammy Watkins' trade – swapping first round picks (No. 9 for No. 4) and 2015 first and fourth round picks with Cleveland. They gained back that fourth round pick the next day when trading their leading wide receiver (Stevie Johnson) to the San Francisco 49ers.

Here’s the gamble per NFL analysts: Sammy Watkins is a special talent, but is E.J. Manuel the guy to lead Buffalo back to the promised land? The Bills, who picked the former FSU QB in last year’s first round, obviously believe he is, giving up a chance at a first-round QB in next year's draft.

“To go up and give up a one and a four, I love Sammy Watkins,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said, “but I also love (LSU’s) Odell Beckham Jr. That’s the thing. They could have gotten Beckham without giving up anything. I would have preferred Beckham over giving up what they did, but obviously they felt like let’s help E.J. Manuel out and get him the top wide receiver in this class. Go to work.

“Traded Stevie Johnson and he was going to be the guy. (Already have) a good one in Robert Woods. We’ll see. If Manuel’s the guy, you’re fine. If not, that could be like the RG III trade and cost you a second overall pick or the first pick overall.”

Manuel had a knee injury that plagued him throughout last season, limited to action in 10 games with a 59 percent completion rate, 1,972 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

ESPN’s Todd McShay says Buffalo made the Watkins' move to grab one of a few “elite” players in the 2014 NFL draft.

“They did give up a lot,” McShay said. “But I think the Bills realize they have a young quarterback in E.J. Manuel who needs weapons around him. (Watkins) rates as one of the higher rated receivers in my opinion and I know in several team’s opinion in the last couple years.

“I gave him a very similar grade to Julio Jones and probably tied with Jones as the third-highest grade I’ve given a receiver. Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green (ahead of them) going back to 2006-2007, in the last several years.

“If he can come in and be that kind of playmaker, obviously Calvin Johnson is a high bar, but if he can be a Julio Jones or A.J. Green – that kind of playmaker, I think Buffalo will look back on it and believe he’s worth every bit they gave up to go get him, especially when you have a young quarterback who needs that kind of help outside. That’s clearly been a priority this offseason for Buffalo.”

McShay says Manuel was one of his favorites in the draft evaluation period last year, but the 16th overall pick put unwarranted expectations on him. He says the Bills have recognized he needs “developing.”

“If I had E.J. Manuel as my quarterback, I would have a similar focus,” said McShay. “That’s the best way I can put it. I don’t know if I would have made the trade because it’s giving up a lot, but it’s very clear there’s urgency to get playmakers around E.J. Manuel. If this thing’s going to work in Buffalo, you need the best supporting cast as possible...I applaud them for recognizing and self-evaluating and being aggressive and attacking the cause.”

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Comments » 1

TigerNE writes:

It seems entirely logical to me to have made the trades IF you are committed to your QB. The Bills don't strike me as a team that is in a position to make very long range plans until they know more about the ownership. In fact, it makes even more sense if your goal is to maximize value right now.

Putting Sammy in there will give Manuel a chance to build his own confidence while also giving the team better odds on their division. Defense hasn't been the weakest link lately.

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