Bad News Bills

Sports commentatary is often bad, but when the topic dips into areas where people have trouble thinking straight in general it can get terrible. Anyone who gave a good or even average grade to the Bills trading up to get Sammy Watkins is, to my thinking, wrong. Part of it is discounting the future and the abstract, probably, but I’m not going to give the topic of what they’re thinking too much thought. That way lies madness. The best sports journalist grade I’ve seen is some version of “well he’s a great prospect and even though they gave up too much I think a C- gets the point across”. Worst is “A+, BOLD MOVE”. Where were they when I drunkenly hit on 17 playing blackjack in Vegas? Of course, many people who don’t give draft grades on network websites think the Bills bombed this one. That’s the idea I’m going to flesh out here.

Giving up Pick 9, Pick 109, and next year’s estimated Pick 16 (depending on how well the Bills do this year) is trading away an estimated 104 Weighted Career Approximate Value/CAV. Here are the wideouts with careers in or above that neighborhood drafted 1980-2006:

Jerry Rice HOF159
Marvin Harrison124
Randy Moss123
Terrell Owens119
Reggie Wayne112
Michael Irvin HOF106
Tim Brown104
Isaac Bruce102
Torry Holt100
Andre Reed HOF98
Henry Ellard96
Jimmy Smith95
Art Monk HOF93

It’s a short list. Another way to put it: The Bills are betting that Watkins, like Tim Brown, performs better than have 95% of wide receivers drafted in the first round from 1980-2006.

There are some caveats and clarifications. It’s generally slightly better to have one great player than two good ones (you can only play eleven at a time, after all), and just adding CAV numbers together ignores that. There is the merchandise/ticket sales/marketing of having an elite player on a team that doesn’t have many. And that’s about the end of the good news caveats. Somebody could claim that Watkins is the missing piece that will let them make a Super Bowl run this season, but for that a lot is going to have to go right for the Bills. Finally, I suppose it could be a decision that makes more sense in the short term to people who want to make sure they’re around for more than just the short term, though of course that’s not a great thing if you’re a fan.

The bad news is that they’re not just betting that Watkins is “as good as” Tim Brown was. They’re betting he is as good as Tim Brown AND has the same durability and productivity. More bad news: this draft had a lot of good wideouts. Twelve were taken in the first 64 picks / two rounds, which is the most taken going back to at least 1980. If you like the Bills’ move, you should also like a hypothetical trade for Watkins where you give up Odell Beckham Jr. AND next year’s round 1 pick AND this year’s round 4 pick.

The real bad news, though: even if Watkins IS Tim Brown take two, the Bills only broke even, here. It’s an awful pick.