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Bills go for impact with South Carolina's Gilmore; Team turns to draft to improve defense by taking cornerback with No. 10 pick

The first day of the 2012 NFL Draft was marked by many teams trading up to get players they hope will become difference-makers.

The Buffalo Bills weren't one of them, but they believe they got an impact player who, along with free-agent acquisitions Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, will help their transition from an also-ran into a contender.

The Bills, who have finished last the past four seasons in the AFC East, selected South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore with the No. 10 pick Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Gilmore, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, started all 40 games in his career with the Gamecocks before opting to forgo his senior season. In three seasons, he made eight interceptions and seven sacks, forced four fumbles and recovered four fumbles.

The drafting of Gilmore, a fast, physical shutdown corner (4.40-seconds in the 40-yard dash) who played in the top-ranked Southeastern Conference was the latest sign the Bills are committed to improving a defense that ranked 26th overall and 30th in points-against per game last year.

During free agency, Buffalo signed defensive ends Williams and Anderson to improve a pass rush that recorded just 29 sacks in 2011, ranking 27th in league.

A good cornerback will help a pass rush, and Gilmore should give the recently signed free agents more time to get to the quarterback.

Last year, Buffalo picked 6-foot cornerback Aaron Williams in the second round. Williams appeared in nine games, making six starts.

"This gives us an opportunity to have two young corners to work with who are athletic fast and hitters," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. "We made a conscious effort to upgrade our defense in the offseason. It's going to pay dividends."

"We need some help in the secondary," Bills General Manager Buddy Nix added, "and we said it before we started this preparation that we'd like to take two corners in this draft. We got one of them."

Gailey and Nix believe Gilmore will compete for a starting job right away. Gilmore joins a secondary that includes veteran holdovers Terrence McGee, Drayton Florence and former first-round pick Leodis McKelvin.

The draft began as expected, with quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor going first and second. Then three teams moved up before the Bills picked, with Cleveland making a deal to move from No. 4 overall to third just before the draft started. Jacksonville moved from No. 7 to No. 5 in a deal with Tampa Bay, while Dallas moved up from No. 14 to No. 6.

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com