Gilmore fills immediate need for Bills

The Sports Xchange
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With Terrence McGee's injury history, Drayton Florence's aging legs and Leodis McKelvin's unfulfilled potential, cornerback was a position of a need on the backburner if not front burner for the Bills heading into the NFL Draft.

And while help for the offense in the form of a left tackle or wide receiver would've been prudent and hard to argue against, general manager Buddy Nix continued his prudent offseason effort to upgrade Buffalo's 26th-ranked defense, using the 10th overall pick on South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore during Thursday night's first round.

"We talked about needing a corner with size and adding speed to our team and I think we did both with this guy," Nix said. "This guy has been a 40-game starter in a pretty good league. He's got good ball skills and he's got great speed. He's a good tackler. He was high on our draft board from the start. When the corners started going I thought there might be a chance he wouldn't be there. We were fortunate I think to get him and he'll help our football team."

And in a division where Tom Brady is still king for Super Bowl runner-up New England, a team can never have enough good corners. McKelvin was the last cornerback selected in the first round by the Bills, 11th overall in 2008.

In the 6-0, 193-pound Gilmore, Buffalo lands a three-year starter who possesses deep-coverage speed (4.38) with the size needed to help fill against the run and long arms to play either press or zone coverage. He and last year's second-round pick, Aaron Williams, are the team's future.

"We think he's a good strong sturdy corner that can press, can run ... and he makes plays," said Chuck Cook, the team's director of college scouting, said of Gilmore. "We like his physicalness in coming up in (run) support."

The Bills were major players in free agency, landing two premiere defensive ends in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, solving -- on paper -- their lack of a pass rush. They were 27th in sacks last year.

Stopping the run was another concern -- Buffalo ranked 28th -- so if Gilmore can contribute as a nickel corner as a rookie, his impact will be instant, and he could challenge for a starting role. He also has blitz skills coming off the edge.

Although just a junior, Gilmore logged 40 starts for the Gamecocks, finishing with eight interceptions, seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He also has fine return skills, although the Bills are deep there.

"We're just trying to upgrade our defense where we think it needs upgrading the most," coach Chan Gailey said of taking a defensive player first overall in two of his three seasons as coach (Marcell Dareus was picked No. 3 last year). "Both of us (Nix) sat down and identified pass rush was our No. 1 need. That was the one thing we had to address whether free agency, draft, somehow, somewhere, we had to address that. We were fortunate to be able to address that in free agency so it really freed us up in the draft to be able to look at a bunch of different positions and pick the best football player that fit our team quickly."

Is Gilmore good enough to challenge for a starting job as a rookie?

"No question about it, yes," Gailey said.

After Morris Claiborne, the draft's top-rated corner, went to Dallas at No. 6, Buffalo's war room had its pick of all the next best cornerbacks, including Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick. Before the draft, Cook said it was a "tossup" picking between Kirkpatrick and Gilmore but gave an indication that Kirkpatrick benefited from a great scheme at Alabama and he could gamble a bit more in coverage because of a good pass rush.

He also had some off-field question marks where Gilmore's character is unstained.

It was no secret that the Bills coveted Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, but he went one spot ahead of them at No. 9 to Carolina. There were five trades in the Top 10 but Nix wasn't biting to move up and take Kuechly, or the best offensive tackle available -- Matt Kalil of USC who went No. 4 to Minnesota.

The Bills were linked to tackles Riley Reiff of Iowa and Cordy Glenn of Georgia along with wide receiver Michael Floyd of Notre Dame. All were still on the board. In the end, the Bills stayed true to their rankings and were elated to take Gilmore.

In the long run, an improved defense makes their offense better as they try and end a 12-year playoff drought. They will address tackle, receiver and linebacker in the draft's later rounds.

--After handing Ryan Fitzpatrick a $59 million contract last season, the Bills are not in the market for a starting quarterback in the NFL draft.

They are interested in adding a quarterback to their roster, however, preferably one with great upside that can develop into a starting quarterback candidate in time. The only quarterbacks behind Fitzpatrick on the roster are veteran Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith, who runs Wildcat plays when not playing receiver and returning kicks.

"To be honest, I'd like to draft one every year in an ideal world," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said of quarterbacks. "If you didn't have needs that you had to use every pick for to try and get better overall, (you could do that). The better we get the more we can do stuff like that."

After two years of putting their stamp on the Bills' roster, Nix and coach Chan Gailey are in a position to take some projects on, which is why they have done their due diligence in getting to know some of this year's top college prospects.

In for visits or on Buffalo's radar among players who weren't drafted in the first round Thursday are Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, Arizona State's Brock Osweiler and Wisconsin's Russell Wilson.

Taking a quarterback in Rounds 2-5 is being weighed considerably by Buffalo's brain trust.

"I think you need to draft a corner every year because so many of them play and I think a quarterback because they are so hard to find," Nix said. "There are quarterbacks somewhere in the draft, we don't know exactly which one it is, that might be another Brady (New England's Tom, a sixth rounder), or someone that is picked late and blossoms. So I think if you can and you've got enough picks, you should take (a quarterback) every year."

The Bills have more pressing needs at left tackle, linebacker and wide receiver. But in rounds 3-4, Osweiler and Wilson should be in play and like all teams, the Bills are analyzing the two players' stark contrasts.

Osweiler is 6-7 while Wilson is 5-11. Osweiler has a giant arm but limited game experience (15 college starts). Wilson led Wisconsin to the Big Ten championship last fall, is a proven winner in the Tim Tebow mold, and is also a baseball prospect in the Rockies organization.

"Brock obviously has the prototype height and a good arm," said Chuck Cook, Bills director of college scouting. "We think he's a good prospect and we think he has upside. Russell Wilson, the man is short and that's known. And how many short guys under six feet are playing (quarterback) in the league? It all comes down to heart and we feel like nobody knows that until it happens. So whoever pulls the trigger (on Wilson) is going to hope that happens for the positive."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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