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Durability means draftability for Bills

Posted May 2, 2012

Anyone that’s followed the Bills closely the past three seasons is all too familiar with the myriad of injuries that has befallen the team. There were 20 players on injured reserve in 2009, 13 in 2010 and 17 in 2011. The injuries sustained by Buffalo last season were a large factor in the team’s slide out of playoff contention come the second half of the season. They were also a large factor on draft weekend.

There’s a general set of attributes that all NFL clubs look for in pro prospects. At the same time, some teams might value character while others are willing to take more risk selecting a player with off the field concerns. There are NFL clubs that prefer to see a length body of work and there are others that don’t mind choosing a one-year wonder. Where Buffalo did not budge when it came to this year’s draft class, however, was durability.

“You know our history with injuries and you’ve got to play through them up here, especially the way we’ve been the last couple of years,” said Bills GM Buddy Nix. “But these guys we drafted are consistent and dependable. That is a factor.” 

As a whole Buffalo’s nine-player draft class missed six total games due to injury in their collegiate careers. All of those missed games were by third-round pick T.J. Graham, whose sophomore season was interrupted by a stress fracture in his leg.

Top pick Stephon Gilmore started in all 40 games of his three-year career at South Carolina. Two of the linemen drafted, Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders, both made 50 starts and played in 53 games in their time at Georgia and Florida State.

Nigel Bradham never missed a game (53 total) and made 39 starts at linebacker. Fellow fourth-rounder Ron Brooks appeared in all 53 of his collegiate games as well.   

“I always try to take care of my body and I feel like I’m more competitive and I didn’t want to miss anything,” said Brooks. “That’s how competitive I am. I feel like my record shows that about me. Not missing any games my entire collegiate career. I think that speaks volumes for me.”

Fifth-round pick Tank Carder had multiple shoulder surgeries in college, but he never failed to suit up for all 50 of his games at TCU including 39 starts.

“I’m tough,” said Carder flatly. “I’ve had three surgeries and I haven’t missed any games.” 

Sixth-round pick Mark Asper played in 47 games at Oregon. He missed just one start due to injury in 2009, but still played 39 snaps in the game before it was over.

These player resumes can help demonstrate how likely a player is to be available Sunday in and Sunday out at the NFL level, and could boost your overall draft grade with a team like the Bills.

“I think once you see a guy’s durability it allows his grade to go up,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “So all of a sudden when you’re picking there’s a guy whose grade may have moved up because of the durability factor and maybe some other guys maybe fell down because of durability factor. So when we picked there was the guy sitting there. They may not have been as high on somebody else’s board, he might have been a little bit less talented, but the durability factor moved him up for us.”

“We don’t want to bring in guys, and we had chances because we had guys rated in the second round and we didn’t take them because they had something wrong with them coming in and they’d miss games,” said Nix. “So it factored in big.”

Part of the player reports put together by Buffalo’s scouting staff involve injury history. More than just the nature of the injury or whether or not a prospect played hurt, the Bills also believe they can gauge a prospect’s toughness based on how long it might take for a player to return to game action coming off a “minor” injury.

“They’ll come back and tell me that this guy should’ve been back earlier,” said Nix of his scouting staff. “If they feel that way we take it into account.”

Lengthy production, consistency and character are all big prerequisites for Bills draft choices, but durability in a quality that is fast becoming a more coveted characteristic as well.

“Just about all of our draft choices were available week in and week out in their college careers,” said Gailey.  “I don’t think it’s any coincidence.”