ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Southern California receiver Robert Woods and Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel already began hitting it off during several draft-eligible combines, camps and team visits in the months leading up to the NFL draft.
After Friday, the two get an opportunity to continue building that rapport on the field as the Buffalo Bills’ top two picks.
A day after selecting Manuel with the 16th pick, the Bills opened the second round by drafting Woods 41st overall.
“It’s kind of funny, because when he got drafted by the Bills, I gave him a shout out,” Woods said, referring to Manuel. “We’ve built a relationship, and now we can grow it even more. I look forward to the opportunity to play with him.”
Manuel will compete with newly signed six-year veteran Kevin Kolb to start at quarterback. And the Bills drafted Woods to address a need at receiver, with a starting spot open opposite Stevie Johnson.
The Bills didn’t stop there in stocking up on offensive play-makers. After selecting Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso with the 46th pick, they drafted speedy Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin — an Olympic calibre long jumper — in the third round (78th).
The offensive additions provide a first glimpse of a new-look and multi-threat offence that’s beginning to take shape under rookie head coach Doug Marrone.
“When I look at offence, I try to look at play-makers, people that can make plays, people that can be productive,” Marrone said. “The whole thing in this league is how are you going to score? And I think that’s what we’re always looking for on the offensive side of the ball.”
Woods has the potential to fit the bill after a successful three-year career at USC, where he emerged as Matt Barkley’s favourite target.
Listed at 6-feet and 190 pounds, Woods had a school-record 252 career catches in 38 games, all starts. He also finished with 2,930 yards receiving and 32 touchdowns.
Woods enjoyed his best season in 2011, when he had 111 catches for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“The guy’s got the intangibles plus the great ability and made all these catches,” general manager Buddy Nix said. “One of the leading lines on the reports on him is he was the most NFL-ready of any of them.”
Woods certainly made an impression on Marrone last season. He had 10 catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, and also had a 76-yard run in the Trojans’ 42-29 win over the Marrone-coached Orange in September.
“Hopefully, that was something he remembered,” Woods said.
It was, Marrone said, with a laugh.
The Bills offence is undergoing a transformation after it regressed last season under former coach Chan Gailey, who was fired on Dec. 31.
Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was cut last month. The Bills also elected against re-signing their No. 2 and 3 receivers, David Nelson and Donald Jones.
In Goodwin, the Bills see an unpolished receiver they can develop.
He competed at the London Summer Games last year, where he finished 10th in the long jump. He was also a sprinter for the Longhorns.
In football, he had 120 catches for 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns in 50 career games, including 22 starts.
“I’m a football guy that just happens to run track,” Goodwin said. “I don’t think if I was strictly a track guy trying to play football that I would’ve been drafted especially in this round with the numbers that I have.”
In Alonso, the Bills addressed an immediate need at linebacker on a defence that’s also in transition. Buffalo is making the switch to a 3-4 system under new co-ordinator Mike Pettine.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds, Alonso was a hard-hitting tackler over a three-year career. He played mostly at inside linebacker and finished with 143 tackles, six interceptions and 3 1/2 sacks in 36 games, including 17 starts.
Alonso had one interception and five tackles in being named the 2012 Rose Bowl defensive player of the game in a 45-38 win over Wisconsin.
He encountered off-the-field problems in 2010, when he was suspended for the entire season due to separate alcohol-related offences.
Alonso, who was reinstated the following season, took a straightforward approach with NFL teams when asked about what happened.
“I just told them I put in my time and I’m moving forward,” he said. “I’m ready to play football and compete.”
Nix noted Alonso attended counselling and has not had any problems since.
“We think it’s a good risk with him,” Nix said. “We see a lot of those guys and everybody needs a second chance.”
Buffalo has four picks left over the final four rounds of the draft on Saturday.
Before Woods’ selection was announced by retired defensive end Chris Kelsay, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell paid tribute to former Buffalo News football writer Larry Felser, who died on Wednesday.
Kelsay, who retired in February, was Buffalo’s 2003 second-round pick.