Bills fans, I'm in Mock Draft overload; burnt out. According to all the "experts"(myself included), it would seem that Buffalo is definitely taking Riley Reiff with the tenth pick of 2012... no Michael Floyd... no Luke Keuchly... no Cordy Glenn... nope, they're trading down... wait, what about Stephen Gilmore? You see, the maddening thing is each one of these options could be absolutely right, but as we read over the umpteenth mocked ten picks for Buffalo, the likelihood of one over another just blurs into an NFL smear, a pigskin headache.
However, while counting down those last few days until fans in the Queen City get some concrete answers rather than conjecture, let's look at something more sure; the past. Rather than continue to watch commentators try and put the ESP in ESPN, let's instead stroll back through Buffalo draft history and list off the top picks in their (somewhat) gloried history.
10. Aaron Schobel (2001, pick #46)
- I may be shocking some fans with this as my tenth, but I feel that there needs to be some acknowledgement of perhaps the best pick since the Super Bowl runs of the 90s (apologies to Fred Smerlas and Phil Hansen...). Perhaps forced into early retirement by the Bills move to a 3-4 defense in 2010, Schobel started in 116 straight games for Buffalo before calling it quits after his ninth NFL season. In that time, Schobel shined as the bear on a Buffalo defense that came to some notoriety during the last decade (as the offense certainly wasn't noteworthy back then), putting up 483 tackles and 78 sacks, with 19 forced fumbles and 3 INTs. His last season, he led the team with ten sacks, but walked away from the game when Buffalo released him. He is perhaps the best player of the Bills' 12-year playoff drought, but is most assuredly the only jersey worth having from those dark times (here's hoping for some light this season).
9. Darryl Talley (1983, pick #39)
- The man who I once respectfully nicknamed "The Ugliest Man in Football", Talley was a Tasmanian Devil at outside linebacker both in looks and play. Lining up behind Bruce Smith in the Bills' 3-4 defensive monstrosity of yesteryear, Darryl was one of those players that seemed to be everywhere on the field, his #56 and Spider-man arm-warmers in the midst of every pile, every tackle, every broken pass play. He played 12 seasons in Buffalo, amassing 1,137 tackles (the Bills' leaders actually), 38.5 sacks, 11 INTs, and 14 recovered fumbles during that time. He was always just fun to watch in games, a dervish of wild energy and strange, stringy hair. He remains fifth on the team in games played with 188 and was the plutonium-level energy that ran the Bills nuclear defensive attack. Oh, how fans did love that ugly mug.
8. Billy Shaw (1961, pick #11)
- The ONLY Hall of Famer to never have played an NFL game (though he was drafted by the Cowboys as well), Shaw's years as a guard for the AFL's Buffalo Bills ended before just the merger (he retired after the 69 season), but he was a shoe-in all the same. Shaw started in 119 games overs his 9 seasons, protecting QB Jack Kemp and blocking for running back Cookie Gilchrist during the AFL Bills' Championship years. Shaw was the very model of a "pulling guard", athletic enough to sprint downfield and keep defenders blocked like a fullback (though it helped that Buffalo ran a very hard-nosed running attack in the sixties, no slash and speed). One of the most important "trench workers" during Buffalo's string of three AFL Eastern Division titles and two AFL Championships, Shaw was one of those consistent O-linemen who perhaps never get the accolades they deserve. He is the oldest pick on the list (though still much younger than Ralph Wilson), and though he may never have played an NFL game, that perhaps makes him the most unique member of that hall of NFL accomplishment.
7. Joe Ferguson (1973, pick #57)
- One of two NFL QBs to win four of his first six starts as a rookie (Matt Ryan's the other one), Ferguson was an iron man in the NFL, playing well past his prime and even playing in the CFL at the ripe age of 45. In just his 12 seasons with Buffalo, though, he had four years averaging 20+ completions, threw for 27,590 (second on the Bills to Kelly) and 181 TDs (again, behind old Jimbo). In fact, the only area he doesn't trail Kelly is in games played as a quarterback, which is a more than healthy 164 (didn't he ever get hit?). Playing with a stellar offensive line in front of him and a star running back behind him (OJ anyone?), he threw for over 3,000 yards twice in his career (in the two years after OJ moved to the West Coast), over 2,000 yards seven times, was the first Bills QB to throw for 400 yards, had four 20+TD seasons, and his #12 stands as the only retired jersey in Bills history (though that might have had a little to do with Jim Kelly...). The only QB not named Kelly on this list and deservedly so, Ferguson is still the longest tenured Buffalo player in its history.
6. Andre Reed (1985, pick #86)
- A fourth-round bargain that truly represents Buffalo's blue-collar work ethic, Reed may not have found his way into Canton quite yet, but if it were up to Bills fans, he'd have been a first ballot. Stats-wise, Reed's 16 NFL seasons (15 in Buffalo) saw him put up numbers that have him in the top of most receiving categories in league history, including ninth in yards (13,198), tenth in receptions (951), and eleventh in TD receptions (87). Jim Kelly's favorite target during those Super Bowl years (their 65 TD hookups rank behind only Young/Rice and Manning/Harrison), Reed wasn't afraid to go across the middle and get the ball. He led the team in receiving yards nine seasons, his 86 TDs are the most by far receiving (Moulds has 48), and he has 4,000 more yards receiving than number two on the list (also Moulds). Most importantly, though, Andre was also essential in "The Comeback" against Houston in the 1993 Wild Card, catching 8 for 136 yds and 3 TDs (all three in the second half) to help backup QB Frank Reich and Buffalo come back from 35-3 to win 41-38. Four Super Bowls, seven Pro Bowls; not too bad for a fourth rounder.
5. Joe DeLamielleure
(1973, pick #26) - Most people couldn't even spell/pronounce this guy's name, let alone know who he is, but he is probably the best offensive lineman in Bills history. The main power source in Buffalo's Electric Company, this hulking right guard almost didn't make it to the NFL due to a worrisome irregular heartbeat, but when he was cleared to play, DeLamielleure became a Hall of Fame force on the line. Blocking for OJ, Joe's accomplishments are largely measurable by Simpson's, who holds the 14-game record for most yards in a season (2003) and won the NFL rushing title four times. A six-time Pro Bowler enshrined on both the Buffalo and Cleveland Wall of Fame (he played '80-'84 for the Browns before coming back to the Bills to retire), his talents can best be examined in his eight matchups against Pittsburgh left defensive tackle Mean Joe Green, who averaged only 2 tackles per game when matched up opposite DeLamielleure. Not too shabby.
4. O.J. Simpson (1969, pick #1)
- Regardless of what despicable, horrid acts he may have perpetrated post-NFL (that last Naked Gun movie was awful, right?), Simpson has nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to his years on the field. In nine seasons with the Bills, the Heisman winner scored the NFL rushing title four times, was the first player ever to go over 2000 yards rushing in a season (he's still the only player to do it in a 14 game season), and had 5 total seasons over 1000 yards. With Buffalo's Electric Company blocking up front, the Juice still holds the record for most 200 yd rushing games (6) and was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame in 1985, finishing up with 11,236 yds (17th overall) and 61 TDs. Though he had two forgettable seasons in San Francisco to end his career, it was his time in Buffalo that made him a superstar... and that's all I have to say about him...
3. Thurman Thomas (1988, pick #40)
- As the Bills had no first round pick in 1988, they were lucky when Thomas suffered a knee injury and fell to the second. Considering he played college ball at Oklahoma State and was good enough to have Barry Sanders as a backup, you've got to think those other teams were foolish to pass on him, injury or not. Another of those early 90's Bills that so pepper this list, Thomas spent 12 of his 13 NFL seasons with Buffalo, setting records for them in both rushing yards (11,938) and yards from scrimmage (16,279). Though he played a season with the Dolphins at the end, he returned to the Bills for one game and retired there in 2001, then found his rightful place in Canton 2007 (second attempt). While many may remember his famous "missing helmet" from Super Bowl XXVI, his post-season NFL records include most career points (126), consecutive playoff games with a TD (9), and overall TDs (21), though he is, like the other Bills, 0-4 in Super Bowls.
2. Bruce Smith (1985, pick #1)
- No question, if Smith had retired in a Bills uniform, I'd have put him at #1. The all-time sack leader in NFL history (though he did break the record in a Washington uniform), Bruce amassed 200 total in his 19 seasons, a testament to his greatness as he played largely from a 3-4 scheme that doesn't normally yield high QB takedowns for the front trio. Smith was a rampaging bull on the defensive line, annually putting up 10+ sacks (13 of 19 seasons, actually), along with a career 1,225 tackles, 15 fumble recoveries (one for a score), and even 2 INTs, making him a no-brainer first ballot Hall of Famer in 2009. He was one of the only players I've ever seen get triple-blocked (often) and has won multiple NFL honors including AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, four AFC Defensive Player of the Years, and two NFL Defensive P.o.t.Y.s. The highlight of his four Super Bowl appearances came in Buffalo's first, when he sacked Giants' quarterback Jeff Hostetler for a safety and a 12-3 Bills lead (I do recall some excitement at the time... it wouldn't last the whole game). A QB-eating beast on the field, a teddy bear gentleman off it, this soft-voice demon set marks for a defensive end in Buffalo that none may ever equal.
1. Jim Kelly (1983, pick #14)
- The only number retired in Bills history is #12, he holds nearly every major quarterback record in Buffalo history, including most passing TDs in a season (33), most TDs in a game (6 in 1991 against the Steelers), and all-time leader marks in many more categories (completions, attempts, 300 yd games, etc...). He was a first ballot electee to the NFL Hall of Fame and was the head of the Bills' offensive juggernaut of two decades ago that won the AFC East six times, the AFC four times.
Though he initially balked at the selection, heading instead to the USFL for two years, Kelly eventually found his way back to the Queen City and became not just the face of the franchise, but one of the enduring icons of the city itself. Unlike so many other's on this list, Jim's NFL career began AND ended in Buffalo, where he threw for 35,467 yds and 237 TDs (both team records), led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls, and ran one of the highest scoring no-huddle offenses in NFL history (the K-gun may have been named for tight end Keith McKellar, but we all knew who the real capital "K" was). Part of one of the biggest QB classes in NFL history (John Elway and Dan Marino also came out that year), Kelly managed to stand pad-to-pad with those other greats and is still perhaps the best player to ever put on a Bills' uniform.
With successes like these over the years, there's more than a chance that Buffalo's ten picks in 2012 will yield someone who can one day be found among these players. Tell you the truth, I'd love it if every pick in 2012 ended up bumping off every player on this list, making for a dynasty of Buffalo Super Bowls that dwarfs every other in NFL history... I'm not saying that will happen, just saying that I won't be complaining if it does. Happy Drafting, Buffalo.
(PS-Happy Birthday, Mom)