From Kelly to Cousineau, the Bills’ best, worst draft picks

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — BEST FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK: Let’s go with picks, plural, because it’s impossible to separate Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith. They formed the core of the Buffalo teams that made — and lost — four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s. Kelly, who holds most team passing records, was selected 14th in 1983. Smith, who holds the NFL record for most sacks, went No. 1 two years later.

BEST SECOND-ROUND DRAFT PICK: Late Bills owner Ralph Wilson liked to recount how he settled the debate over whether to select Oklahoma State running back Thurman Thomas with the 40th pick in the 1988 draft despite questions regarding his surgically repaired knee. “Hey, life’s a gamble,” Wilson said in providing then-GM Bill Polian the go-ahead to select the eventual Hall of Famer.

BEST LATE-ROUND DRAFT PICK: By modern-day standards, it’s undersized defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who went on to become one of the Bills’ most respected leaders during a 13-year career that began with the LSU product being selected in the fifth round in 2006. Howard Ballard earns honorable mention as an 11th-round pick in 1987 out of Alabama A&M. He started 80 games over six seasons in Buffalo and then played five more in Seattle. (DL Tom Sestak was a 17th-round pick in 1962, and LB Mike Stratton a 13th-round pick in ’63, both in the AFL.)

WORST FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK: Linebacker Tom Cousineau was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1979 draft and never played a down for the Bills. Cousineau rejected Buffalo by signing with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes for more money. The Bills retained his rights in 1982 before trading him to Cleveland for three draft picks, including a first-round selection in 1983.

WORST SECOND-ROUND DRAFT PICK: Receiver James Hardy’s 6-foot-5 frame and production during three years at Indiana led the Bills to select him with the 41st pick in 2008. Injuries and questionable route-running ability led to Hardy catching 10 passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games over two seasons before being released. Honorable mention: Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, taken 44th in 2014, never overcame knee injuries suffered in college, and finished with seven starts in 25 games over three seasons in Buffalo.

BEST DRAFT TRADE: The best part of the Bills drafting Cousineau is the player they eventually selected when trading the linebacker to Cleveland. Buffalo used the Browns’ 1983 first-round pick, 14th overall, to select Kelly.

WORST DRAFT TRADE: With Pittsburgh beating the Bills to select QB Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick in 2004, then-GM Tom Donahoe gave up three selections, including Buffalo’s 2005 first-rounder, to Dallas to choose QB J.P. Losman 22nd overall. Losman went 10-23 in five seasons in Buffalo. Had the Bills kept their 2005 pick (20th overall), they could have drafted Aaron Rodgers. Honorable mention: Former GM Doug Whaley gave up a first-round pick to trade up five spots to select WR Sammy Watkins at No. 4 in a 2014 draft that saw Odell Beckham Jr. taken 12th and Davante Adams 53rd. Oakland selected University at Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack at No. 5.

DID YOU KNOW THEY ONCE DRAFTED?: The Bills took a chance on two-sport college player John “Bad Dude” Stearns with their final pick (17th round, 423rd overall) in 1973, and six spots ahead of the Vikings selecting baseball slugger Dave Winfield. Stearns, a defensive back and punter at Colorado, stuck with baseball, after being selected with the No. 2 pick by Philadelphia in the 1973 MLB draft. He went on to play 810 games over 10 seasons with the New York Mets.

LAST YEAR’S PICKS (Round, Name, Position, School): 1st, Ed Oliver, DT, Houston; 2nd, Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma; 3rd, Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic; 3rd, Dawson Knox, TE, Mississippi; 5th, Vosean Joseph, LB, Florida; 6th, Jaquan Johnson, CB, Miami; 7th, Darryl Johnson, DE, North Carolina A&T; 7th, Tommy Sweeney, TE, Boston College.