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Roller Darby: Bills try to keep pace in ‘arms race’

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — For the first time in recent memory, the Buffalo Bills entered an NFL Draft without a screaming need at any position.

Having addressed so many key positions in free agency and the trade market, general manager Doug Whaley was able to set up his draft board and simply take the best player available. At No. 50, midway through the second round when the Bills finally were able to make a pick, the name on the board was that of Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby.

The Bills certainly aren’t devoid of quality corners as they have one who is outstanding in Stephon Gilmore and is now tied to the team at least through 2016. They have Leodis McKelvin, inconsistent his entire seven years in Buffalo, but a decent player when he’s on his game. And then in the sub packages, they can turn to players such as Nickell Robey, Corey Graham, Ron Brooks and Ross Cockrell. Now Darby adds to the largesse.

“He’s physical, not only with the ballcarriers, but as a press guy, and (coach) Rex (Ryan) is a big press guy,” said general manager Doug Whaley when discussing the merits of taking the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder. “He has physical attributes, height, weight, plays with speed. Not great production this year, but he also wasn’t challenged much this year, and he can come in and learn behind some quality corners.”

Ryan’s aggressive, hybrid 3-4 defense is predicated on getting pass rush pressure through the use of blitzes, but if you’re going to play that way, you better be able to cover in the defensive backfield. And you need numbers in today’s NFL, so the Bills see Darby coming in and competing for playing time, and providing some depth if injuries become an issue as they did last season when McKelvin missed the final five games.

With no first-round choice, and only six picks overall, Whaley would have preferred to trade out of the 50th slot and pick up additional picks, but he couldn’t find a partner.

“We had some talks, got close, but nothing came to fruition,” said Whaley. “We were excited to move down, but we’re more excited to have Darby.”

Whaley then listed three reasons why. “We said at the beginning of the draft we were going to take the best player,” he said. “We can take a corner every year. And with the additions the other teams have made in this division, we have to keep up in the arms race. But most importantly, we think this guy is a heck of a football player.”

Darby was a three-year starter at Florida State, including 2012 when he was teammates with Bills quarterback EJ Manuel, and 2013 when the Seminoles won the national championship. That year, he helped key Florida State’s No. 1 pass defense which allowed just 156 yards per game. He finished his career with only two interceptions in 42 games (23 starts), and Whaley said, “The production wasn’t that high this year, but he also wasn’t challenged that much this year. So we think this guy’s got an upside.”

In the third round, the Bills took care of another need when they selected guard John Miller, a 303-pounder from Louisville. The Bills had a shot at South Carolina guard A.J. Cann in the second round, but Darby was the higher-rated player on the board so they passed.

As for the idea of adding a tackle in the second round, six were already off the board and so it didn’t make sense to reach. When the 81st pick came up in the third round, Miller proved to be the best value, and it’s nice that guard is a position of need. Richie Incognito was signed in the offseason to fill one void, but the other spot will be a free-for-all in training camp and Miller will get the chance to win the job.

“He’s the type of offensive lineman Greg (Roman) and Rex are looking for – tough, aggressive maulers who bring attitude,” said Whaley. “We’re excited about him, the way he plays the game. Again, look at the division with (Ndamukong) Suh, (Leonard) Williams, (Mo) Wilkerson. We have to get tougher up front.”


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