Heading into last week’s NFL draft, and for more than a year leading up to it, the focus was very much on Jameis Winston. For good reason as it turns out since Winston fulfilled much of the hype by becoming the first pick of 2015, heading to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team which can use all the hype it can get. There was also much to keep the media amused in following Winston’s exploits on and off the field, enough of the good, bad and occasionally ugly that keeps sports talk shows on the air.
But while Winston had some significant accomplishments in his relatively short college career with Florida State University – managing to snag both a Heisman Trophy and a national championship in his first year quarterbacking the team – football isn’t a sport that can be won on the back of one man, regardless of how much talent he may have. A strong supporting cast is necessary to make an offense work, and while the Bucs may have gotten Winston, baggage and all, the Buffalo Bills picked up two key weapons from that Seminole offense – RB Karlos Williams and TE Nick O’Leary.
Williams has some significant competition at his position, playing behind one of the top offseason acquisitions, LeSean McCoy, as well as the popular and still productive (even at 34) Fred Jackson. Add Bryce Brown and Boobie Dixon to the list, and it’s easy to wonder why the Bills were drafting a running back in the first place. But age and contract status suggests that the team was looking long-term, and Williams himself seemed to understand his immediate role with the team, mentioning after he was drafted that both punt return and kickoff returns are “explosive” plays.
With Williams agreeable to his place on special teams, and not looking to unseat veterans in his rookie season, the pick fulfills not only a short-term need but shows some long-range planning. A reason for hope for the Bills down the road.
O’Leary’s immediate claim to fame upon being drafted, aside from also being a national champion himself, is his championship lineage. The grandson of Jack Nicklaus, O’Leary brings with him a toughness that was seen when Grandpa won the Masters at the ripe age of 46. But there’s more than heredity in O’Leary’s corner.
With the loss of Scott Chandler, there’s a need for someone who can handle the ball and throw defensive players around a little, too. Noted by CBS Sports for his “old school” technique (no gloves!) and ability to catch the ball reliably, his talents should help the offense, but with Charles Clay now there to provide a bit more experience, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has time to groom O’Leary to fit into a new Bills scheme.
Perhaps as significantly as their on-field abilities, in an era where “character concerns” are bandied about pretty liberally, there’s much less to say about Williams and O’Leary than there was about Winston. Both Williams and Leary were seniors when drafted which may suggest a bit more maturity, always helpful when trying to build a team. It also may help that both players played for another quarterback before Winston came along, a guy named E.J. Manuel who just happened to be the Bills first draft pick in 2013.
While the Bills quarterback situation seems a bit murky at the moment, with Matt Cassel coming along to fill the veteran role that Kyle Orton surprisingly captured last season, one could argue that Manuel hasn’t been given much chance to fulfill the promise the team (albeit one with a different owner, general manager, and coaching staff) saw in him just two short years ago.
Perhaps with a new offensive coordinator (and one who managed to turn around a seemingly finished Alex Smith in San Francisco) and couple of familiar faces in Williams and O’Leary to augment well-known veterans like McCoy, Jackson, and Clay, Manuel can turn the corner and become the guy that everyone hoped. Or maybe Cassel can find his legs again and help the Bills vanquish his former Patriots team, a task that’s been nearly impossible (with a couple of sweet exceptions) in the last decade. There’s plenty of reason to be hopeful in these months leading up to the 2015 season. And, at least on paper, it would seem that Karlos Williams and Nick O’Leary have landed in a more promising situation than Jameis Winston has.