For weeks now, maybe months we’ve seen ad nauseam Buffalo Bills 53-man roster projections well in advance of training camp, beginning late next month. Don’t get me wrong— projections serve a purpose and provide solid water cooler debate—whether it’s mature discussion or good ole’ fashion Twitter trolling. However, in reality there’s but a handful of roster spots actually up for grabs and almost exclusively they’re for the back end—something few non-ardent fans care much about.
I won’t bore you with a 2017 Bills roster projection of my own, especially when talented reporters like Jay Skurski, Matthew Fairburn, Sal Capaccio and others covering their beat are considerably better equipped at offering meaningful insight.
Instead, I thought it’d be fun to project a full 53-man roster of the greatest busts in Buffalo Bills franchise history. I’m talking high draft picks, overpriced free agents and trade acquisitions all rolled into one full squad of underachievers.
Let’s get this Shit Show started…. (starters are listed in bold)
QUARTERBACK (3): Rob Johnson, J.P. Losman, E.J. Manuel
In 1998 the Bills traded the ninth overall pick of the draft plus a fourth-rounder to acquire Johnson from Jacksonville. Based on (literally) one start with the Jags and a couple of good preseason games the Bills not only paid a ransom to the Jags, but also handed him a five-year, $25 million contract. Johnson lasted less than half a season as the starter before initially losing his job to Doug Flutie. The two would flip-flop as starter over the next few years despite the players universally preferring Flutie. Johnson was mercifully released after the 2001 season. Notable first-rounders the Bills could’ve drafted had they not traded for Johnson included Fred Taylor, Tra Thomas, Takeo Spikes and some wide receiver named Randy Moss…. Speaking of surrendering first-rounders, Buffalo traded a 2005 first as well as 2004 second and fifth round picks to move up for Losman. Of course, he was a total calamity and had Buffalo not traded away their future first-rounder, Aaron Rodgers would’ve been there for the taking… In fairness to Buffalo the team did move down eight slots to draft Manuel in 2013. Still, he turned out to be an unmitigated disaster that now-former GM Doug Whaley was willing to die by the sword for =and ultimately played a large part in Whaley losing his job. If ever there was a year to NOT take a QB it was 2013. After Manuel the order of QB’s in the first four rounds went Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson and Landry Jones. Ouch.
RUNNING BACK (4): Terry Miller, Mike Dennis, Booker Moore Bill Enyart,
The fifth overall pick out of Oklahoma State in 1978, Miller had a very good rookie season with the club, rushing for 1,060 yards and seven touchdowns. However, his stock quickly plummeted and just two years later was jettisoned out of Buffalo. James Lofton and Clay Matthews were all drafted within seven slots of Miller… Dennis was taken by Buffalo eighth overall when the Bills were in the AFL. He was also selected by Atlanta in the third round of the NFL draft the same year and never played for Buffalo… Moore was drafted in the first round out of Penn State in 1981 with the anticipation he’d become a franchise back. Through no fault of his own Moore was soon diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome, an illness that led to chronic muscle weakness. Moore lasted four years in Buffalo but only rushed for a total of 420 yards. Enyart was taken 27th overall in 1969, the same year Buffalo drafted O.J. Simpson with the assumption Enyart would be a dominating backup. He’d rush for less than 400 yards over two seasons and was quickly gone.
FULLBACK (1): Billy Joe
A former AFL Rookie of the Year with Denver in 1963, the Bills traded for Joe two years later—giving up legendary running back Cookie Gilchrist in return. Joe was an All-star with Buffalo in ’65 but lasted just one season before moving on to Miami in the expansion draft and then the New York Jets—certainly not what the organization had in mind when giving up Gilchrist, even with Cookie in a squabble with management over money.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Perry Tuttle, James Hardy, Bernard Ford, Percy Harvin, Eric Richardson, Jack Elwell
As the story goes in 1982, Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom wanted the team to draft WR Mike Quick, but head coach Chuck Knox was adamant Buffalo take Clemson superstar wideout Perry Tuttle instead. Knox won out, Tuttle was terrible in Buffalo over a few seasons before ending up in the CFL, and Quick went on to make five Pro Bowls for Philadelphia…
Hardy was the Bills second-round pick in 2008 and expected to be a big-time possession receiver and end zone threat. Inconsistency and injuries saw his career last just two years with the Bills, and he never played in a NFL game again. Sadly he was recently found dead in Indiana… Ford leaped up draft boards in 1988 after a standout performance at the NFL combine. Buffalo grabbed him 65th overall, but he wound up missing his rookie season after separating his shoulder and was waived the following preseason… Harvin got a one-year, $6 million deal from Buffalo as a free agent in 2015 because of his speed and explosiveness but he turned out to be (very) damaged goods. He was placed on Injured Reserve by early November with an assortment of injuries. He retired, came out of retirement and re-signed with Buffalo again in 2016 but lasted just two games before migraines ended his season and career for good… Richardson was a second-round pick in 1984 but caught just 15 passes in two seasons before disappearing from the NFL… The Bills used the 20th pick overall on Elwell but he played just one season of professional football—and it wasn’t with Buffalo.
TIGHT END (3): Tony Hunter, Ruben Gant, Paul Seymour
How funny is that Hunter was actually drafted ahead of both Jim Kelly and Darryl Talley. The 12th overall selection in 1983 had two extremely mediocre seasons in Buffalo before being traded to the Rams for Vince Ferragamo… Gant was drafted in the first round in 1974 and lasted seven seasons with the Bills, but became infamous for dropping passes. His nickname, one well-earned was “Old Stone Hands”… Seymour was the seventh overall pick in 1973 and played five years in Buffalo but never reached 20 catches in a season and totaled just three touchdowns.
TACKLES (4): Mike Williams, Langston Walker, Jim Davidson, Chris Williams
The worst pick of the Tom Donahoe era, Mike Williams was the fourth overall selection in 2002. Williams lacked the grit and ambition to be a serviceable tackle in the NFL let alone a great one. He had three disastrous seasons as a starter and part of a fourth before the team finally cut its losses… Walker received a five-year, $25 million contract from Buffalo in 2007, with $10 million guaranteed. He was terrible and gone after two seasons… Davidson was the Bills first-round pick (eight overall) in 1965 but never played a down for the team. The very next pick was Dick Butkus, even though he also spurned the AFL (Denver) for Chicago instead… Chris Williams hit the free agency jackpot with Buffalo in 2014 when the former first-rounder (Rams) signed a four-year, $13.5 million contract including $5.5 million guaranteed. He was dreadful in his one year with Buffalo and released the following summer after failing his physical.
GUARDS (3): Derrick Dockery, Mark Traynowicz, Geoff Hangartner
Dockery signed the worst free agent deal in franchise history in 2007, a seven-year, $49 million deal. At the time it was tied for the highest contract by an offensive lineman in NFL history. His play was horrific and Dockery would be released before the third year of his deal… A stud in college, Traynowicz was taken by Buffalo in the second-round (29th overall) of the 1985 draft. He played but was never a factor in 41 games over three seasons before being dumped in a trade to Philadelphia for a conditional draft pick… Hangartner was a Bills free agent priority in 2009 because of his ability to play both center and guard. Unfortunately he wasn’t good at either with Buffalo and was cut halfway through his four-year, $10 million contract.
CENTER (2): Dave Behrman, Leonard Burton
The fourth overall pick by Buffalo in 1963, Behrman, nicknamed “The Big Bear” was a reserve as a rookie and didn’t play at all in the following year in 1964. He became a starter in 1965 but injured his back, didn’t finish the season and was gone from Buffalo. He played one more season in Denver before his career came to an end… Burton was drafted in the third-round of the 1986 draft with the expectation he’d take over for the aging Will Grant as the starter. Those plans imploded quickly as Burton was beaten out by another guy who was technically a rookie, Kent Hull (who played in the USFL for three years prior). Burton had four uneventful seasons with the Bills.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Phil Dokes, John McCargo, Torell Troup, John Parrella.
Dokes was a stud prospect the Bills took 12th overall in 1977 out of Oklahoma State. He’d play just two seasons for the Bills in part because of a shoulder injury. Sadly Dokes passed away at just 34 years old in 1989 after heart failure caused by a brain aneurism… Buffalo traded up into the late first round in 2006 to nab McCargo and he toiled in mediocrity for five years, never making an impact… Troup was a 2010 second-rounder the team expected to help shore up the defensive line. He spent three injury riddle seasons with the club and registered a total of 31 tackles and zero sacks. More infamously he’s better known as the guy Buffalo drafted one slot before WNY native Rob Gronkowski… Parella was a second-rounder in 1993 and played in the NFL for a dozen years, the problem is only one of those seasons were with Buffalo. He was cut after his rookie season and went on to have a decent career with San Diego.
DEFENSIVE ENDS (5): Walt Patulski, Al Cowlings, Aaron Maybin, Erik Flowers, Mark Anderson
There’s a strong case to be made for Patulski being the single-biggest bust in team history. Patulski was an All-American at Notre Dame and the first overall pick of the draft in 1972 but was a complete flop in his four seasons with the Bills… Cowlings, mostly known for being O.J. Simpson’s best friend wasn’t much better than Patulski. Cowlings was the fifth overall pick in 1970 and spent three subpar seasons in Buffalo. Maybin was the 11th overall pick in 2009 and failed to register a single sack in his two seasons with Buffalo before being cut…. Flowers was the Bills first draft pick this century but was undersized for defensive end. He’d last just two seasons with the Bills… Anderson signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract with the Bills in 2009 as a free agent after registering 10 sacks the year before with New England. He hurt his knee in Week five and never played another snap in the NFL again.
LINEBACKERS (6): Tom Cousineau, Tom Rudd, Doug Allen, Eddie Robinson, Jeff Posey, Shawne Merriman
Buffalo used the first pick of the 1979 draft to select Cousineau but he never played a down for Buffalo. He instead decided to go to the CFL instead. To Buffalo’s credit they eventually traded his rights to Cleveland for a first-rounder that turned out to be Jim Kelly… Rudd was a first-round pick in 1975 that missed almost all his rookie training camp in a contract dispute. He’d end up starting just three of his 36 games with Buffalo over three years before finding himself released… Allen was the 27th overall pick by Buffalo in 1974 but played just two years with the team before retiring. He later became the executive director for the Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood… Robinson signed with the Bills as a free agent in 2002 to bring a veteran presence to the linebackers. He lasted just one year and was best known for getting shaken out of his jock strap by Chad freegin’ Pennington… Donahoe signed Posey to a four-year contract less than 15 minutes into free agency in 2002 and paid him $6.425 million. He’d be a three-year starter for the Bills but didn’t produce the pass rush the team paid him to excel at (four sacks over his last two seasons) and was deplorable in pass coverage… We’ll never know how much Merriman could’ve helped the Bills, because he couldn’t stay healthy. Buffalo claimed the three-time Pro Bowler off waivers from San Diego in 2010 and he injured his Achilles in literally his first workout with the team. Despite landing on Injured Reserve Buffalo still gave Merriman a two-year extension worth $10 million, including $5.5 million guaranteed. He’d injure his Achilles again and end up with two sacks in 15 games with the Bills.
CORNERBACK (6): James Williams, Derrick Burroughs, Rod Hill, Roland Mitchell, Chris Williams, Ike Thomas
Williams was a first-round pick in 1990, 16th overall. He couldn’t cover anyone and when the ball was accidently thrown directly at him he’d drop it. Besides that he was great during his four seasons with the team… Burroughs was the 14th overall pick in 1985. He managed just six interceptions in 58 games during parts of five seasons before being forced to retire with a neck injury. He was one of the nicer guys in franchise history—so much that GM Bill Polian cried when Burroughs was forced to retire, but even before the injury Burroughs never panned out into the star the team expected him to become… Hill was a former first-rounder of the Dallas Cowboys that was traded to the Bills in 1984. He was expected to bring playmaking ability to the defense, but injured his ankle in just his second game and missed the rest of the season. He became almost exclusively a punt returner and was released roughly halfway through this third season in Buffalo… Mitchell was a second-round pick in 1987 (33rd overall) but had just two uneventful seasons in Buffalo before bouncing around the league for the next six years… … Thomas was a second-round pick in 1971 of the Cowboys and saw a promising start to his career with both Dallas and Green Bay primarily as a kick returner. After a year with New York of the WFL he signed with the Bills, but lasted just one season and was gone from the NFL for good… Chris Williams was drafted in the second-round in 1981 and lasted a lackluster three years with the club. Hall of Famer Howie Long went one pick before Williams and perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Rickey Jackson went just two picks later.
SAFETY (4): Donte Whitner, Glenn Glass, Dwight Drane, Matt Stevens
The eighth overall pick of the 2006 draft, Whitner had a MVP mouth but mediocre coverage skills. Between foolishly guaranteeing the Bills would make the playoffs in 2008 (they finished last in the division) to getting smoked on the field and subsequently bickering with fans, Whitner’s mouth constantly wrote checks he couldn’t cash on the field. He had just five interceptions in his five years with the Bills and when his contract was up the team made no real effort to re-sign him… Glass was a converted quarterback the Bills selected in the second-round (17th) overall in the 1962 AFL draft. However, Glass snubbed Buffalo to play for Pittsburgh (the NFL team that drafted him). He didn’t do much in the league anyway, picking up just two interceptions over parts of six seasons… Stevens was taken in the third round in 1996 with the expectation he’d form a solid safety tandem with Henry Jones, but Stevens couldn’t unseat Kurt Schulz—or anyone for that matter and lasted just one year in Buffalo… Drane was the Bills first-round pick in the 1984 Supplemental Draft for USFL and CFL players. He contributed some on special teams but only amassed two sacks and one interception over six full seasons in Buffalo.
KICKER (1): Joe Danelo
Danelo was one of the league’s best known kickers with the New York Giants, where in 1981 he tied a then-NFL record with six field goals in a game and also set a team record with a 55-yard field goal. He signed with the Bills in 1983 and made just half his field attempts (18-for-36) with the club over two years before being dumped.
PUNTER (1): Rick Tuten
Someone with the greatest punting nickname (Rick “Bootin’ Tuten) should’ve been a legend in Buffalo— he wasn’t.