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.”