With so many needs, one position was bound be bumped down the pecking order.
Buffalo made a push for tight end Ben Troupe in free agency, failed, and settled on a free agent who needed the Bills more than the Bills actually needed him – Courtney Anderson.
So as Buffalo gobbled up day one starters in cornerback Leodis McKelvin and wide receiver James Hardy, a potential third-down speed rusher in the third round (Chris Ellis), then another corner in Reggie Corner in the fourth, something had to give. Despite landing immediate contributors, the Bills’ draft had one flaw. They waited too long to take a tight end.
It took 132 picks at a fourth round compensatory selection before Buffalo addressed arguably its second-biggest need. But maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe they found someone who just needs a shot: Kansas tight end Derek Fine.
“We feel really good about Derek Fine,” Bills Chief Operating Officer Russ Brandon said after the draft. “He’s a heck of a football player. He’s a guy that’s going to come in and contribute. He’s a pass-catching tight end that’s very good with the run after the catch.”
Fine was part of one of the best feel-good stories of the college football season. In Kansas’ 12-1 season, the tight end was a dependable safety valve for quarterback Todd Reesing. He caught 46 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Not a downfield threat, but certainly a go-to check-down receiver, Fine may be precisely what Buffalo’s offense needs.
Sure, USC’s Fred Davis or Texas A&M’s Martellus Bennett would’ve been instant upgrades over Anderson and Robert Royal. They’re athletic, big-play receivers, something Fine isn’t. But taking either receiver would have meant passing on 6-foot-6 wideout James Hardy, and his 36 touchdowns in 36 games. Chief operating officer Russ Brandon needed to pick ‘n choose, and he chose wisely. The Bills’ need for a No. 2 wide receiver definitely outweighs their lack of a tight end. Considering Hardy is a huge, possession receiver, Brandon really killed two birds with one stone – landing the short-range bulls-eye target to fit Trent Edwards’ game.
Fine is a jack-of-all-trades. With the Jayhawks, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end was a fullback, tight end and an H-back rolled up into one. Former offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild would have loved him. While new OC Turk Schonert, however, has vowed to re-introduce the fullback into the offense, there will still be a place for Fine within the Bills’ offense. Most likely, Anderson or Royal will win the starting job at tight end, but Fine could assume a multi-purpose role.
A “moving” tight end, Fine can be set in motion every time on the field and sway linebackers left and right. In turn, this can help Edwards decode defenses and make appropriate audibles. Maybe Fine isn’t the one catching the pass or making the block, but he’s inadvertently helping the play. With the Jayhawks offense, he did this routinely and the offense churned out 43 points per game – 2nd in the nation.
In the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech, Fine only caught two passes for 14 yards but the Jayhawks’ offense still cranked out 344 yards against Ellis and the Hokies’ stout defense. Fine wasn’t in the limelight, but he did it all: blocking on the edge for Brandon McAnderson (75 yards on 15 carries), drawing defenders away by motioning in the backfield and in route running, contributing on special teams (Fine was named KU’s special teams player of the game against Baylor), and most of all getting the win on a big-time scene. Fine’s been a winner his whole life (see: 26-2 record as a junior and senior in high school).
And there is nothing wrong with adding another sure-handed, underneath receiving option. Naysayers claim Fine is a Derek Schouman clone – a marginal pass-catcher that simply muddles the team’s TE corps.
It’s too early to tell either way, but for now, hold out hope for Fine. At Kansas he was a key supplementary weapon that benefited the team as a whole - catching, blocking and persuading defenders. Maybe that’s all Edwards, Marshawn Lynch, Lee Evans and Hardy need to operate a rhythmic pace.
Tyler Dunne is Publisher of the BFR. Contact him at email@example.com.