Jerry Sullivan: Life can begin after the 30th pick in the NFL draft

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Not all Hall of Famers need to be drafted at the top of the first round like Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith (center, L-R). Thurman Thomas (far left) was drafted 40th overall and Andre Reed (far right) was selected 86th. (Photo by Michael Adamucci/Getty Images)

OK, so you’re not that excited about this year’s NFL draft. The Bills aren’t scheduled to make a pick until 30th overall on Thursday night. That’s the price you pay for being one of the best teams in the league. It sure beats the alternative. 

It’s difficult to get fired up when — barring a move up the board — your team isn’t in the running for one of those franchise quarterbacks, or an elite pass rusher who could turn into the next Bruce Smith. 

But what if you knew there was a future Hall of Fame running back sitting there in the second round, or a fourth-round receiver who was also destined for Canton?

How about a defensive tackle who lasted to the fifth round because he lacked the “measurables,” but become one of the best players in franchise history? Or at 39th overall, a linebacker who started 160 games in Buffalo and became the symbol of passion and resiliency during the Super Bowl years?

Well, it happened. Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Kyle Williams and Darryl Talley all were drafted after the 30th pick, and they did all right for themselves in Buffalo. 

There are always gems in a draft. It’s an inexact science, despite the mountains of mocks and overanalysis from presumed experts. It’s often not the high picks that determine who competes for the Lombardi Trophy, but the guys who were taken in later rounds of the draft. 

For the 31st consecutive year, I refrained from doing a mock draft and feigning expertise about college guys, many of whom I’ve never seen play. Instead, I put together an all-time Bills team of players who were taken 30th or later in the draft. 

That excludes some prominent Bills who went in the second round but earlier than 30th, like Reggie McKenzie, Joe Cribbs and Nate Odomes. I limited it to players who spent significant time in Buffalo, which ruled out guys who were drafted here but made their mark elsewhere.

Thurman Thomas and Kyle Williams, both of whom were drafted after 30th overall (Getty Images)

There were several of those cases in the old days, when AFL teams drafted players who went to the NFL. My list goes back as far as 1970, the year of the NFL-AFL merger.

Also, there are no undrafted players, which rules out Fred Jackson and Jason Peters, two of the best undrafted players in league history. 

I picked 53 players, the conventional number on an NFL roster. I included special teams players. Steve Tasker was a ninth-round pick — by the Oilers. He doesn’t count. We’re playing a 4-3 on defense, by the way.

The Life Begins After 30 Club:

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: Joe Ferguson (3rd round, 57th overall in 1973). Backups: Frank Reich (3, 57 in 1985); Trent Edwards (3, 92 in 2007). 

Comment: Fergy was a great pick. He started 163 games for the Bills. Reich might be the best backup ever. ‘Captain Checkdown’ Edwards was a clear choice over Todd Collins.

RUNNING BACK: Thurman Thomas (2, 40 in 1988), Jim Braxton (3, 57 in 1971). Backups: Travis Henry (2, 58 in 2001), Roland Hooks (10, 253 in 1975). 

Comment: I went with a fullback offense in deference to Braxton. Hooks got the nod over Rob Riddick, who had more TDs.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Andre Reed (4, 86 in 1985), Bob Chandler (7, 160 in 1971). Backups: Robert Woods (2, 41 in 2013), Stevie Johnson (7, 224 in 2008), Peerless Price (2, 53 in 1999), Don Beebe (3, 82 in 1989). 

Comment: A very strong position historically. Chandler was terrific in his day. I was tempted by Gabriel Davis, a fourth-rounder last year, but need to see more. 

TIGHT END: Jay Riemersma (7, 244 in 1996). Backups: Keith McKeller (9, 227 in 1987), Mark Brammer (3, 67 in 1980).

Comment: Not a strong position. Pete Metzelaars was drafted by Seattle. They haven’t drafted a tight end in the second round or higher since Lonnie Johnson in 1994.

TACKLE: Dion Dawkins (2, 63 in 2017), Joe Devlin (2, 52 in 1976). Backups: Ken Jones (2, 45 in 1976), Jonas Jennings (3, 95 in 2001), Howard Ballard (11, 283 in 1987).

Comment: Dawkins was drafted as a guard, but he’s a star LT now. Jones and Devlin went seven picks apart and were bookends for a decade. I’m told Devlin was slightly better. 

GUARD: Andy Levitre (2, 51 in 2009), Glenn Parker (3, 69 in 1990. Backup: Corbin Lacina (6, 167 in 1993).

Comment: Parker moved to tackle after the Super Bowl years and had a fine 12-year career. Levitre got big free-agent money after four years in Buffalo, but never lived up to it.

CENTER: Will Grant (10, 255 in 1978). Backup: Dusty Zeigler (6, 202 in 1996).

Comment: Obviously, not a strong draft position. A lot of guys get moved there later. Eric Wood was the 28th pick of that ’09 draft. Kent Hull came from the USFL. 

DEFENSE 

Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is sacked by Aaron Schobel #94 of the Buffalo Bills on September 14, 2009 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

END: Aaron Schobel (2nd round, 46th overall in 2001), Phil Hansen (2, 54 in 1991). Backups: Marcellus Wiley (2, 52 in 1997), Leon Seals (4, 109 in 1987), Chris Kelsay (2, 48 in 2003).

Comment: A deep position. Hansen benefited from playing on great teams. Schobel and Kelsay suffered from playing during the drought. Wiley is probably more famous on TV.

TACKLE: Fred Smerlas (2, 32 in 1979), Kyle Williams (5, 134 in 2006). Backups: Jeff Wright (8, 213 in 1988), Mike Lodish (10, 265 in 1990).

Comment: Great value here. Smerlas is a borderline Hall of Famer (just ask him). Wright was an undersized bulldog who rose up in big games. Kyle? Put the guy on the Wall. 

LINEBACKER: Darryl Talley (2, 39 in 1983), Matt Milano (5, 163 in 2017), Sam Cowart (2, 39 in 1998). Backups: Marvcus Patton (8, 208 in 1990), Carlton Bailey (9, 235 in 1988); Paul Posluszny (2, 34 in 2007).

Comment: Patton didn’t miss a game in 13 NFL seasons, the first five in Buffalo. Cowart was a rising star before he got hurt. Talley (plug in!) was my favorite player ever. 

CORNERBACK: Charles Romes (12, 309 in 1977); Terrence McGee (4, 111 in 2003). Backups: Ken Irvin (4, 109 in 1995), Ronald Darby (2, 50 in 2015). 

Comment: Romes started every game at right corner for the Bills for nine years. Not bad for the 309th pick. McGee, who had five returns TDs for the Bills, is our return man. 

SAFETY: Jairus Byrd (2, 42 in 2009), Kurt Schulz (7, 195 in 1992). Backup: Aaron Williams (2, 34 in 2011). Coy Wire (3, 97 in 2002).

Comment: Byrd was a Pro Bowl talent remembered for a contract dispute. Williams was a rising star until a cheap shot to the head. Wire gets the nod for special teams. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: P-John Kidd (5, 128 in 1984). K-Tyler Bass (6, 188 in 2020). Specialists: Mark Pike (7, 178 in 1986), Carwell Gardner (2, 42 in 1990).

Comment: Pike was a great special-teamer who played in Tasker’s shadow. Kidd played 210 games in the NFL, 92 with the Bills. Gardner, who once fought Bryan Cox, can back up Braxton and be our squad’s enforcer.

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