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Whaley: It's more exciting without a first-rounder

Considering that he traded away this year's first-round pick for Sammy Watkins,  it's no surprise that Doug Whaley would put the best possible spin on the situation. Here's what the Bills' general manager had to say at Monday's annual draft luncheon when I asked him if the draft is less exciting without a first-round pick:

"I disagree," Whaley said. "For us, as personnel people, it's more exciting because when you're picking in the top 10 -- which we have recently -- it's pretty easy because those type of players anybody could see.

"When you don't have a top 10 pick and you're picking late or in the second round, it puts the onus on us as scouts to prove our wares," Whaley said. "So our scouting staff has been really excited since the start of the fall scouting process."

I imagine Buffalo fans would be more eager for next Thursday's first round if the Bills had a first-rounder and had a shot at an elite player like Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus or Stephon Gilmore. But with no pick until the 50th overall choice, it appears Whaley and Co. will be selecting the best talent available. Whaley made it clear again on Monday that he has sufficiently stocked the roster to afford him that luxury.

So the pick at No. 50 could be a guard or safety or rush linebacker or wide receiver -- really, just about any position except center or punter or kicker. And quarterback certainly isn't out of the question. Whaley said he wouldn't rule out drafting a QB who could come in and compete for the starting job with EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor.

I asked Whaley if there was a Russell Wilson type who could be available in the second round or later (Wilson was a third-round pick two years ago) and battle for the starting job as a rookie.

"There's a possibility," Whaley said.  "Absolutely. We think there's some guys out there who may have a chance. Will they be there where we value them? We're not sure. That's the thing about drafting. Everybody says you could have had this guy or that guy. You can never say for sure unless you have the No. 1 pick."

The consensus among draft gurus is that Jameis Winston will probably go first overall and Marcus Mariota somewhere near the top of the draft. After that, the quarterback crop drops off precipitously in the experts' eyes. Most have UCLA's Brett Hundley as the third-best QB prospect. Our Jay Skurski has the Jets moving up to take Hundley at 30th overall in his latest mock draft.

Skurski has the Bills taking Bryce Petty of Baylor at 50th overall. He says there's nothing wrong with doubling down at the position, and I agree with him. If the Bills love Petty, or even Garrett Grayson, why not grab him if they think he has a chance to be a franchise quarterback? It changes the course of a team if you get one, and Whaley wasn't shy about admitting he's still looking.

"Well, the way we looked at it is, we don't have a proven franchise quarterback," Whaley said. "That's obvious. But what we wanted to do was be perfect everywhere else so that guy doesn't have to put the game on his shoulders and be the man. We want him to be able to make the right decisions and put the ball in the hands of the playmakers.

"That's what we wanted," he added, "was to get as many playmakers and people who can score touchdowns as possible around that position until that position takes that next step."

Interesting how Whaley referred to it as "that position." That's not exactly a glowing endorsement of EJ Manuel, whose stature as the franchise quarterback has diminished since the Bills reached for him with the 16th overall pick in 2013.  It also says Manuel isn't seen as the clear frontrunner to win the job in camp at "that position".

Whaley said taking a QB is always an option when you don't have a proven franchise guy.

"Definite possibility," he said. "I don't like to corner myself by saying we have to do this, because that limits your possibilities and kind of curtails some other options. But it's definitely something between quarterbacks and cornerbacks, since it's a pass-heavy league, that we would lean heavily to every year."

Whaley was asked what he looks for in a quarterback:

"I would have to say accuracy, decision-making, being able to play the game with his eyes, and that quiet confidence and leadership ability," Whaley said. "And being able to win. Winners."

Those are lingering questions about Manuel after his first two years in the NFL. So don't be surprised if they take a quarterback in the draft. And remember, Whaley was knocked for trading away his first-rounder when he wasn't sure about his franchise QB. Finding one in a later round would make the Watkins deal seem wiser in retrospect.

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