Now that the quarterback portion of the NFL Combine is over, the Buffalo Bills and new head coach Doug Marrone have an important decision to make. Marrone and his staff have witnessed what this year’s class of college quarterbacks have to offer, and now they must decide if they want to take their chances on drafting one of them in April, or stay the course with current quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is the incumbent and has been the Bills full-time starter for each of the past two seasons. Over those two years Fitzpatrick has led Buffalo to just 12 wins. He also regressed in a lot of areas from the 2011 to the 2012 season, completing a lower percentage of passes, fumbling more, and lowering his QBR by nearly 5 points.
Fitzpatrick is due a $3 million roster bonus in March, so if he remains on the roster it would be a sign that Marrone intends to move forward with him as the quarterback, yet there’s nothing to indicate that Fitzpatrick is capable of being better in the future than he has been the past two seasons. So, if the Bills liked what they saw out of the quarterbacks at the combine, they may be inclined to let Fitzpatrick go and take their chances in the draft.
The rookie that many are assuming the Bills will draft is Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, who spent the last four years under the tutelage of Marrone and new Bills offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett. Marrone has always had a fondness for Nassib as a quarterback, even before he broke out during his senior season and became one of the top quarterbacks available in this year’s draft. Nassib has a great relationship with both Marrone and Hackett and he would be familiar with the Bills new offense, so his transition would be smooth if he were to step in as the starter in Buffalo right away. Some have speculated that the Bills could take Nassib in the first round, which would be a stretch, but if he’s available for the Bills when they pick in the second round, Nassib could be the most likely selection.
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Other rookie quarterbacks that are a possibility for the Bills are Geno Smith of West Virginia, Mike Glennon of N.C. State, and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas. If Smith somehow falls outside of the top 5 and is still available when Buffalo picks 8th overall, it would be foolish for the Bills to pass on him. Glennon and Wilson fall into the same category as Nassib, as quarterbacks that a team could select in the first round out of desperation and need, but would be more akin to a second round selection. Nassib is probably the favorite of the three, but either Glennon or Wilson could go to Buffalo if Nassib is off the board when they pick in the second round. Wilson may not be ready to start right away, but Glennon, like Nassib, could become the Bills starter from day one.
A wildcard in the Bills quarterback situation is Tavaris Jackson, who signed a one-year contract with Buffalo, and who Marrone said would get a legitimate chance to compete for the starting spot. Jackson’s presence further indicates that the choice will either be Fitzpatrick or a rookie, but not both, as keeping Fitzpatrick and drafting a quarterback in the early rounds with give Buffalo an expensive third-string quarterback no matter what. Jackson would create an interesting competition with either Fitzpatrick or an untested rookie, but he would also give Buffalo a good safety net if the rookie they draft isn’t ready to start right away.
So, with the quarterback part of the NFL combine over and Fitzpatrick’s roster bonus looming, the Bills have a decision to make. Did they like the quarterbacks at the combine enough to let Fitzpatrick go, or will they roll the dice on another season with their incumbent? One way or the other, it’ll be a telling decision about the direction that Marrone and the Bills will be going in moving forward.