Needy Bills hope NFL draft goes as easy as 1-2-3

At first glance, Buddy Nix’s plan entering the NFL draft appears
to be as easy as 1-2-3.

Once the first two selections are made Thursday night, the
Buffalo Bills general manager figures all he has to do is look down
the list of his top-three prospects and pick the one still
available.

”We’ve got three guys and we figure one of them will be
there,” Nix said. ”Actually, I could tell you exactly who we’re
going to take if you would guarantee me who the first two picks
are.”

It sounds simple enough. With so many holes to address on a team
that’s coming off a 4-12 season, the Bills aren’t in a position to
be choosy.

A pass-rushing or run-stopping linebacker’s an option, with
Texas A&M’s Von Miller listed in numerous mock drafts as a
potential selection. Buffalo’s porous defensive line can use help.
How about an offensive tackle?

Who knows, with coach Chan Gailey’s reputation for developing
quarterbacks, maybe this is the year Buffalo takes a serious run at
filling the face-of-the-franchise-sized position that’s been left
unsettled since Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly retired after the 1996
season. Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, anyone?

Nix, of course, won’t provide any hints. But with four picks
among the first 100, and nine overall during the three-day draft,
he considers this weekend an ideal opportunity to help make the
Bills relevant once again.

”We feel really good about making the next step,” Nix said in
addressing season-ticket holders last month. ”I know you’ve heard
that before, but we’re optimistic.”

He was right about one thing, at least.

In his second season on the job, Nix isn’t the first Bills
general manager to have made that claim to a win-starved fanbase
that’s endured 11 seasons without a playoff berth – tied with
Detroit for the NFL’s longest active drought.

If Nix intends on delivering upon his high hopes, it begins with
reversing a spotty drafting history that has put the Bills in this
position as a perennial NFL pushover in the first place.

Of all the holes the Bills have, the one thing they don’t need
is yet another first-round bust.

There was offensive tackle Mike Williams, who flamed out and was
cut three seasons after being selected fourth overall in 2002. The
Bills got very little in return from trading back into the first
round to land quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd overall in 2004) and
defensive tackle John McCargo (26th overall, 2006).

Then there’s supposed pass-rushing specialist Aaron Maybin, who
has as many NFL career sacks as he does starts – namely, zero –
since being selected 11th overall two years ago.

”Certainly we’ve had our misses up at the top,” chief scout
Tom Modrak said. ”But there are a bunch of things that go into
making a team. In this draft, you’re going to try to solve some of
those problems. I don’t think that you can solve them all.”

Nix set an even higher goal.

”Where we’re picking, we’ve got to hit it on the nose,” Nix
said. ”There’s no way around it.”

The Bills braintrust has made it no secret that their top
priority is bolstering the front-seven of a defense that was undone
by injuries and had difficulty making the switch to a 3-4 scheme.
Buffalo allowed 200 yards rushing eight times last year, and 2,714
overall – the second-highest total in team history. The 425 points
allowed was also second worst.

To make matters worse, the Bills were unable to generate a
consistent pass rush, failing to fill the loss of Aaron Schobel,
who was cut in August after Buffalo couldn’t wait any longer for
the veteran player to decide on whether to retire.

The Bills did claim Shawne Merriman off waivers in November, but
the former star pass-rusher failed to make an impact. He didn’t
play a snap for Buffalo after aggravating an Achilles’ tendon
injury.

Despite the injury, the Bills re-signed Merriman to a two-year
contract in January.

Don’t rule out the Bills selecting a quarterback, if not with
the No. 3 pick then potentially in the second round, 34th overall,
which makes Florida State’s Christian Ponder a possibility.

Though confident in how journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick provided the
Bills offense a spark last year, Nix and Gailey haven’t ruled out
finding his eventual replacement.

”Now, our greatest need is not quarterback,” Nix said. ”But
if there were to be a franchise guy there and one we deem as a guy
that can go eight or 10 years, be the face of the organization and
take us to the playoffs and win every year, you can’t pass him
up.”

Gailey maintains Fitzpatrick will remain his starter next
season. That was particularly apparent during a telephone
conference call last week.

In fact, in promoting the Bills annual game in Toronto, Gailey
was asked who his starter would be Oct. 30, when Buffalo ”hosts”
Washington.

”I would expect Fitz to be that,” he said, ”unless you think
he’s going to get hurt or something.”