The Buffalo Bills bolstered their pass defense Thursday night by taking South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore with the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft.
Gilmore, 6-foot and 190 pounds, is a big corner with speed.
He's widely viewed as a "clean" pick. He has an extensive track record of production on the field, with 40 starts in the Southeastern Conference, the best league in college football. He has been an honor-roll student at South Carolina.
"We talk about needing corners with some size and adding speed to our team, and I think we did both with this guy," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix.
"It's a great feeling," Gilmore said by phone from New York City. "I'm looking forward to helping their defense out."
Bills starters Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence are getting older. McGee wil be 32 in October. Florence will be 32 in December. For the long term, the Bills figure to put Gilmore next to Aaron Williams, last year's 34th overall pick. Williams is a rugged, 6-foot, 200 pounds. The Bills should have two physical corners to match up with the new wave of big wideouts in the NFL.
"I don't think you can ever have enough good corners in the NFL," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "I believed this 10 to 15 years ago, and it's even more so today. You have to have good corners. This gives us an opportunity to have two good young corners to work with that are athletic. They're both over 6-foot. They're fast. They can run. They're hitters."
The Bills ranked 26th in the NFL on defense last year. They took a big step toward improving that figure by signing pass rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency.
"We've made a conscious effort to upgrade our defense in the offseason," Gailey said. "It's going to pay dividends in the long run for us, I believe."
The Bills liked Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil. But trading up for him didn't turn out to be an option. Minnesota, holding the fourth pick, opted to not trade down further and picked Kalil.
Nix said the Bills considered a move up. But he said it never got anywhere close to happening.
"We had opportunities to move up more than move down," Nix said. "We just didn't want to give up draft picks. I never do like doing that. I think you swap two guys for one, and if you miss on that one it costs you dearly. We did not entertain moving down."
Two other possible considerations for Buffalo were coverage defenders Mark Barron, a safety from Alabama, and Luke Kuechly, a linebacker from Boston College. Barron went seventh overall to Tampa Bay. Kuechly went ninth to Carolina.
Gilmore is a native of Rock Hill, S.C. He played quarterback in high school and was named "Mr. Football" in the state of South Carolina.
He ran a 4.40-second time in the 40-yard dash, eighth fastest among all players at the NFL Scouting Combine. Former Bills receiver Lee Evans ran 4.39 in the 40 coming out of college.
"He has skyrocketed [up draft boards] because he's a good football player and he's a great kid," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "When you're smart, when you're competitive and as intense a competitor as he is, your character is high, there's no red flags there the bottom line is you could go in the top 10."
Gilmore used his size to play a physical style. South Carolina frequently sent him on blitzes, and he was a wrecking ball in the backfield.
"That's a big thing," Nix said. "The way they spread you out, offenses do, first of all you've got to be big enough to match up against detached tight ends, especially in our division. But what they do, too, is spread you out with five receivers and then run the football. You've got to have a guy that can tackle. This guy is very physical as a corner."
"He is a wrecking machine coming off the edge on the corner blitz," said ESPN analyst Jon Gruden. "He is an all-purpose football player."
Gilmore left college with a year of eligibility remaining. He had four interceptions as a junior, three as a sophomore and one as a freshman.
"His workout was great," Nix said. "We think his ball skills are good. I don't think that's a negative. The thing with him is they didn't throw at him a lot. They actually used him some close to the line of scrimmage in the run game. I think they [opposing quarterbacks] probably went more to the other side."
Nix said Gilmore played man-to-man or zone coverages for the Gamecocks. He was able to play "off-man," lining up a few yards off the line of scrimmage and not get caught flat-footed against top receivers.
"It's the hardest thing to play in the secondary -- off man," Nix said. "And he's probably the best at that."