Doug Whaley, whom I have dubbed the “Architect” of the Buffalo Bills, in trying to bring a winning franchise to the city of Buffalo, has made much of the moves and acquisitions since being with Buffalo, that parallel the moves he made during his time in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, the players that he was able to bring into the franchise, led to the Steelers winning two Super Bowl titles, while making 3 appearances during the decade of the 2000s. Comparing the players that he brought to the Steelers to those of the Bills, it seems that he is trying to repeat history, and end the longest playoff drought in the NFL. Here is a glimpse of the players that Whaley has brought to Buffalo, and their Pittsburgh counterpart.
Turning the Corner
Ike Taylor, 4th, 125, 2003, Steelers, 6’1”, 191
Stephon Gilmore, 1st, 10, 2012, Bills, 6’, 190
William Gay, 5th, 170, 2007, Steelers, 5’10”, 183
Leodis McKelvin, 1st, 11, 2008, Bills, 5’11”, 190
With Dick LeBeau calling the shots in Pittsburgh and his complex 3-4 scheme, the cornerbacks within that system weren’t always called upon to be shutdown corners. They had to be physical, jam receivers at the line, and be able to make plays when needed. Ike Taylor played both corner positions during his 12 year career in Pittsburgh, and was given help in the form of Troy Polamalu during that span. In his first 42 starts he amassed 6 interceptions, defended 48 passes, and had one sack. Stephon Gilmore, in his first 39 starts entering Sunday, also has 6 interceptions, and defended 32 passes. Both Taylor and Gilmore are physical corners, who aren’t asked to completely take away the opposing teams #1 receiver, just to limit them.
On the other side, the contract extension for Leodis McKelvin, who has had some experience returning kicks (which makes him more comparable to Ike Taylor in that regard) has served to be a formidable corner opposite Gilmore, much like William Gay is to Ike Taylor. The option that the Steelers had, taking both Taylor and Gay in the 4th and 5th rounds, was that, again, Troy Polamalu is behind them cleaning up any mistakes that are made. Gilmore and McKelvin are both 1st round picks, and the Bills look to hold on to them both for a while, hoping that they can develop the type of continuity with Aaron Williams, that Taylor and Gay have with Polamalu. Collectively, all four corners are physical, don’t shy away from contact, and are willing to take a backseat to other superstars on the defensive side of the ball. They are all not asked to do too much, due to the prime time performers around them, and can be very serviceable in executing the defensive coordinators game plan.
Joey Porter, 3rd, 73, 1999, Steelers, 6’2”, 250
Jerry Hughes, 1st, 31, 2010, Indianapolis, 6’2”, 253
Joey Porter was drafted before Whaley’s tenure in Pittsburgh began, but he was a very vocal, and at times uncontrollable player for the Steelers. Donning #55, he made his presence felt on opposing teams, accumulating sacks, and penalties during his 8 years in Pittsburgh. Both Porter and Hughes amassed 19.5 sacks in their first 31 games, and while Porter was classified as an outside line backer, and Hughes is a defensive end, Porter played in a 3-4, while Hughes plays in a 4-3. If you do the math, the outside linebacker in a 3-4 functions similarly to that of defensive ends in a 4-3. Perhaps this is what Whaley saw in Hughes as he was acquired in a trade with Indianapolis, to be that ‘wild man’ that could set the edge, and give opposing quarterbacks something to think about. Upon winning the Super Bowl, Porter took the money and his talents to South Beach, and Bills fans are worried that with the performance that Hughes has put forth the past two years, he might be gone as well. Maybe Whaley can have Porter call Hughes, as Porter has now rejoined the Steelers on their coaching staff, and tell him to stay in Buffalo.
Late Round Gems
Brett Keisel, 7th, 242, 2002, Steelers, 6’5”, 285
Seantrel Henderson, 7th, 237, 2014, Bills, 6’7”, 331
For those football fans who are excited for the NFL Draft, most will watch on Thursday to see where the premier players are going to play, but for other fans of the draft, it is the late round picks that end up being talked about for their impact on the team. Brett Keisel, being the 242nd pick in 2002, has played in 156 games for the Steelers starting 114 of them. He was a player that proved to be a vital component in the Steelers going to 3 Super Bowls during his 12 years in Pittsburgh.
Seantrel Henderson was touted as a 1st round talent, but had some off the field issues, which landed him on the Bills with the 237th pick. Henderson made an immediate impact for the Bills, while Cordy Glenn was out during the preseason, and started every game for the Bills this season. As rookies do, he had some bumps this season, playing against some of the best pass rushers the NFL has to offer. Although the book on Henderson is early, his ability is without question, and truly speaks to the work of Whaley in drafting players that are valuable contributors to the team.
Early Round Steals
Max Starks, 3rd, 75, 2004, Steelers, 6’7”, 337
Cordy Glenn, 2nd, 41, 2012, Bills, 6’5”, 345
Following up the theme of getting players in the draft that can help the franchise, Max Starks and Cordy Glenn fall in the category of players that were essential to the team’s success, and play pivotal roles on the offensive side of the ball. Max Starks was taken in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft, a draft that saw the Steelers take Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick. I guess it stands true that if you are going to take a franchise quarterback, you better have a way to protect him. Starks wasn’t a day one starter, and ended up starting his career at right tackle during the Steelers Super Bowl run in 2005, cutting down the sack total from 2004. He started all 16 games during 2005 and exemplified one concrete fact that makes him comparable to Glenn; you can’t bull rush either of them. Glenn has started all 44 games that he has been in, and is only 25, which means that the best is yet to come. Both Starks and Glenn exhibit the ability to neutralize the opposing teams pass rushers, and in the case of Glenn, it is still early in his career. Would he be better fit to play right tackle like Starks? That remains to be seen.
Catch Me If You Can
Mike Wallace, 3rd, 84, 2009, Steelers, 6’, 200
Robert Woods, 2nd, 41, 2013, Bills, 6’1”, 201
I know for many this may seem like a stretch, but Mike Wallace and Robert Woods share a lot more than common then their height and weight, and even though both put up 14 reps on the bench during the combine, they both share statistical comparisons as well. Wallace had 39 receptions during his rookie season, and 60 during this sophomore campaign. Likewise, Woods had 40 receptions last season, and is a 61 this year. Both are exceptional route runners and force defenses to cover both sides of the field when they are in the game. Wallace experienced more success when he was paired with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, while Woods is learning that the presence of Sammy Watkins is making his life a lot easier. Both are fiery players, who can galvanize their offense on 3rd down. While Wallace presence is to take the cover off the defense, Woods’ crisp route running keeps drives alive, and keeps the ball moving down the field, but both were vital to the success of the offense.
Ben Roethlisberger, 1st, 11, 2004, Steelers, 6’5”, 240
EJ Manuel, 1st, 16, 2013, Bills, 6’5”, 237
Now, I have stated, almost to a fault, that when the Buffalo Bills selected EJ Manuel in 2013, that Doug Whaley was hoping that he would be like Ben Roethlisberger. Taking a look at the combine stats, not being highly touted coming out of college, and having many doubters, I still stuck with my assessment of Manuel. I highlighted on a previous article that even in their first 10 starts, Big Ben and EJ had very similar numbers. However, due to uncertainty with the ownership, and suspect line play, Manuel was pulled as the starter in favor of Kyle Orton, halting his development and his progression as an NFL quarterback. (I am sure the offensive play calling didn’t help either). Those points aside, Manuel does show many of the same characteristics of Roethlisberger, and I believe is the reason why Whaley was willing to take a gamble on him in 2013. Time will tell if Manuel will get the call again, and if he does, I hope the coaching staff, as well as the fans, will be patient to allow him to develop into a formidable starter in the NFL.
(Player, Round, Pick, Year, Team, Ht, Wt)
Larry Foote, 4th, 128, 2002, Steelers, 6’1”, 239
Preston Brown, 3rd, 73, 2014, Bills, 6’1”, 251
Lawrence Timmons, 1st, 15, 2007, Steelers, 6’1”, 234
Keith Rivers, 1st, 9, 2008, Bengals, 6’2”, 242
Matt Spaeth, 3rd, 77, 2007, Steelers, 6’7”, 260
Scott Chandler, 4th, 129, 2007, San Diego, 6’7”, 260
Doug Whaley has seen what the Pittsburgh Steelers have had during his time with the franchise and what type of players that he would want to build the Buffalo Bills into a winning franchise. These are just a few comparisons that echo what he is trying to build here in Buffalo. There are some repeat offenders such as Kraig Urbik, and the departed Frank Summers and Doug Legursky, who Whaley drafted in Pittsburgh and brought to Buffalo. Also worth mentioning would be Marcus Thigpen and Bacarri Rambo, who made their presence felt during the 2014 season.
When starting to build a franchise that has seen playoff-less football for over 14 years, Whaley has started with some players that he was familiar with, and then drafting the type of players that were vital to the Steelers success in the decade of the 2000s. Will he be given the opportunity to keep building a ‘winning’ formula here in Buffalo? As always, time will tell.