And that’s just fine by them.
The Bills addressed what they perceived as their most pressing need by selecting seven defensive players during the three-day NFL draft that concluded Saturday, and solidified their faith in veteran starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Coming in, the talk wasn’t if the Bills were going to take a quarterback, but who. But once Cam Newton wasn’t available, general manager Buddy Nix’s interest in a prime-time signal caller simmered.
“We said all along that we wanted to try to get a franchise guy that would be around eight or 10 years. But, very quickly, we didn’t feel that good about that,” Nix said. “We helped our team in a lot of other ways, so we didn’t do it. That’s how good all this talk is, it doesn’t really get far.”
After taking three defensive players in the first three rounds — including the No. 3 overall selection, Marcell Dareus out of Alabama — the Bills continued their defensive run by taking North Carolina safety Da’Norris Searcy with the first of their two fourth-round picks on Saturday. It’s the most defensive players Buffalo has taken consecutively at the start of a draft since the team snagged five straight in 2006.
“We went for where we thought we needed players, and the best players on the board that we needed to improve our team,” coach Chan Gailey said. “If the guy’s there and he’s a good player and we need him, we’ll select him. We needed a little bit more help on defense this year at some spots. So, we went there.”
Nix, who scouted the southeast region for the Bills from 1993-2000, also zeroed in on his former stomping ground. Seven of the nine players taken played at schools in the ACC, SEC, and Big 12.
“I do think that’s where you find the most of them,” Nix said. “Guys that have played in big games, they don’t get shook when they have to (play in big games). We had guys that we were looking at from the west coast. But, it just didn’t work out.”
Searcy and Texas cornerback Aaron Williams (second round, 34th overall) will both battle for a spot in the starting foursome in the defensive backfield, or as the nickel back in passing situations. In 37 career games, including 23 starts, Williams finished with four interceptions, six forced fumbles and 97 tackles, while Searcy ended with 106 tackles and five interceptions in 48 games for the Tar Heels.
With the second of their two fourth-round picks, Buffalo snapped its string of defensive players by taking offensive tackle Chris Hairston. The 6-foot-7, 325-pounder was a first-team All-ACC selection in 2010, and will be reunited with his former Tigers teammate, running back C.J. Spiller.
The Bills then plucked Searcy’s North Carolina teammate, running back Johnny White, in the fifth round. White rushed for 720 yards on 130 carries and seven rushing touchdowns — all team highs — before missing the last three games when he broke his clavicle against Florida State.
White joins versatile veteran Fred Jackson, and Spiller, in the Bills’ backfield.
After concluding Day 2 by taking LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard in the third round (68th overall), the Bills capped their draft by picking linebacker Chris White in the sixth round (Mississippi State), cornerback Justin Rogers (Richmond) and 375-pound defensive tackle Michael Jasper (Bethel) in the seventh round.
Jasper is the most fascinating of the third-day picks, especially after he shed over 70 pounds in four months.
“This is an amazing kid,” Nix said. “He vertical jumps 32 inches and dunks the basketball with both hands. He’s an exceptional athlete, and we’re going to see if he can play.”
Overall, Gailey believes this draft class will go a long way toward improving a franchise that hasn’t reached the postseason since 1999.
“We think we got guys that have a chance to upgrade our team,” he said. “There’s no guarantees, but they have a chance. They got athletic talent, and they have the intangibles to upgrade our team and make us a better overall team.”