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Fitting the Bill: Buffalo Adds Correct Piece with Selection of Marcell Dareus

Shortly after the Buffalo Bills made their selection at No.3 in last night’s first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, I got a text from a longtime friend who asked, “Do you like the pick?”.  And for the first time in nearly a decade, I was able to happily respond ‘yes’. 

It couldn’t have come any easier for the Bills and GM Buddy Nix.  Call it a need pick.  Call it a safe pick or a slam dunk.  The Bills’ biggest problem has been their run defense, specifically they haven’t had one for nearly two years.  Their pass rush is almost as invisible as their capabilities in stopping the run.  Lo and behold, there was the best defensive lineman in the draft, Alabama’s Marcell Dareus there at No.3.  Thankfully, he wasn’t available to Cincinnati at No.4.

Dareus fills a great need.  A big, versatile and athletic player who can step in immediately and contribute to both weakend areas on defense.  At 320 pounds, he’s versatile in that he can play end or tackle in the Bills’ 3-4 defensive scheme, with the ability to smash the pocket from the interior or generate a pass rush on the edge.  Outside of Kyle Williams, the Bills have very players on the roster on defense capable of performing one or the other, let alone do they have a player with Dareus’ abilities to do both.

Once Denver took Texas A & M linebacker Von Miller at No.2, it became a foregone conclusion the Bills would land Dareus.  Towards the end of last season, the Bills began to run both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.  It’s likely that formula will spill over into 2012, which further validates Dareus as the perfect choice.   Head coach Chan Gailey hit the nail on the head when he said after the Dareus pick that the Bills were way better then they were at 8:00 p.m.  It’s hard to find fault in Gailey’s logic. 

There’s still a long way to go in this draft, but the Bills started it off with a big time building block.  With the addition of Dareus, the defense almost has to be better, if just by accident.  The unit allowed nearly 170 yards per game on the ground last season, while getting trampled by their AFC East rivals;  in the last 11 games versus AFC East opponents, the Bills are allowing a staggering 204 rushing yards per game.  Twice in consecutive seasons the New York Jets have gone over the 200-yard rushing barrier against the Bills.  Something had to change.  The need to fix the defensive line and plug in another threat opposite Williams overode anything else the Bills may have been contemplating with the third overall selection.  If Marcell Dareus is as good as the scouts, general managers and the Bills believe he will be, then Buffalo just got one helluva asset along their defensive line. 

The transition from college to the pros could be easier for Dareus than many of his fellow rookies.  Dareus played in a 3-4 pro style defense under Nick Saban at Alabama, so he’s already adversed to the structure and elements that factor into playing in the 3-4.  Perhaps the biggest plus is he’s played in the best college football conference in the country, the SEC.  He’s gone up against the likes of Auburn, LSU, and Florida, squaring off against Tim Tebow and Cam Newton.  Speed and intensity of the NFL game aren’t likely to overwhelm Dareus in the early stages of his rookie season.

Just because the Bills theoretically made the best possible selection doesn’t necessarily mean Dareus will become a 10-year superstar all-Pro, but I don’t think you’ll find many Bills fans today who are disappointed or finding fault with the pick.  Considering what the Bills have done in the first round the past six years, it’s tough to determine how Dareus isn’t the best of the bunch. 

I have to give the Bills credit.  They saw a need and addressed by way of one of the top lineman prospects in the draft.  For years they haven’t gotten it, morphing into an oddity on draft day by leaving their fans in suspense of just how far and away they’d reach for a player or try to make a splash with a sexy selection.  It’s gotten them 11 seasons without making the playoffs and six straight losing seasons.   But last night, they didn’t reach.  They didn’t try to get cute.  They went strictly for a lunch pail, meat and potatoes player in Dareus. 

One top three player won’t cue all of Buffalo’s ills overnight, especially on defense.  They still need to get better and bigger at linebacker, while acquiring some depth in the secondary.  Finding a franchise quarterback prospect likely remains at the top of the list.  But just like in basketball, if a team is down 20 there isn’t one shot that’s going to suddenly erase the deficit.  Right now the Bills are still in the infancy stages of putting together the puzzle of building a contender.

On Thursday night, the Bills found a big piece in Marcell Dareus.

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