Late Round pick Mike Stratton. Buffalo Bills fans ought to know that name. Age isn’t an excuse. The name rests alongside Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett as some of the best defensive players in Bills history. With the 2022 NFL Draft now in the rearview, the sports headlines are chock full of stories about the potential impact of the highest draft picks.
Which first-round selection will have the most significant impact on their team? Who will be the offensive/defensive rookie of the year? Etc., etc., ad nauseum. Of course, there will surely be several high picks from this year’s draft who make an immediate impact. But watching out for standouts among those with lesser fanfare is exciting. We all know how Tom Brady went from being a 6th-round pick to, well, Tom Brady. But there’s another success story from the late rounds that hits home for the Buffalo Bills.
Mike Stratton – RLB #58
Mike Stratton was drafted by the Bills in the 13th round of the 1962 AFL Draft. He was a two-way player for his Tennessee Volunteers in his college career. The Vols were pedestrian during his tenure, but as a professional, he played an essential role in the Bills, winning back-to-back AFL championships in 1964 and 1965.
His defining moment came in the 1964 AFL championship game against the San Diego Chargers, a monster hit on San Diego running back Keith Lincoln that became known as the “hit heard ’round the world.” To this day, the hit remains one of the most memorable in the history of the AFL. He would play for 11 seasons, ten of those with the Bills. He’s also a member of the AFL All-Time Second Team.
Late Round picks: A great tradition?
It’s essential to be knowledgeable of players like this because the history of professional football features several all-time greats who weren’t among those chosen highest in their respective draft classes. When I look at this year’s draft picks, I’m particularly struck by the choice of Christian Benford in the 6th round.
Certainly, this isn’t the pick that will get the most media attention “Adding a sixth-round pick who has good size at 6-foot and notched seven interceptions last season to that group? Not the worst plan.” “[t]hat group,” of course, being the defensive back depth chart. Strengthening that depth chart up is imperative. Don’t be too surprised if there’s an unsung success waiting to be discovered. After all, this wouldn’t be too far out of the ordinary for professional football.
Not Much Has Changed
It’s difficult to imagine anyone thinking Stratton was going to become more than a career backup. Yet, It’s difficult to imagine anyone thinking Stratton would become more than a career backup. Yet, despite being a 13th-round draft pick, he became one of the all-time great Buffalo Bills players. His existence in the annals of professional football proves that in the industry of sports writing, we’re too often swept aside by the shiny object of the moment.
Late-round picks simply don’t get much attention, regardless of the Tom Bradys and the Mike Strattons who may arise. If you do nothing else after reading this, I hope that you’ll take the time to read up on the man who helped lead the Bills to two AFL championships; a man whose name belongs among the greatest in the history of the franchise; a man who serves as proof that late-round picks are more than mere add-ons, whether it’s 1962 or 2022: the great Mike Stratton.