The Buffalo Bills filled their key needs in the NFL Draft and will enter training camp with fewer apparent holes in their roster than they have had in at least in eight years, since the 2004 season.
"We were able to fill every one that we set out to fill," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix after Saturday's final four rounds of selections were finished. "We wanted two corners, two tackles. We wanted a wide receiver. We wanted two linebackers, and we were able to get those guys. We got bigger and we got faster. I just hope it was in the right spots, and I think it was."
The Bills got players in the first two rounds who are likely to start as rookies -- cornerback Stephon Gilmore and left tackle Cordy Glenn. Their third round pick, receiver T.J. Graham, will get a chance to contribute on offense as a situational, stretch-the-field threat.
The third-day picks provide important insurance. Depth behind starting outside linebackers Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison was a worry. The Bills took linebackers in the fourth and fifth rounds. They added a speed cornerback with their second pick in the fourth and another tackle in the fifth.
"These linemen are huge, and we got some good speed at the skill positions," Nix said.
The Bills did not get a rookie quarterback. "We were poised to draft one, and he just wasn't there," Nix said. "We're gonna get one in free agency. We're gonna bring in a quarterback, and we think a good one."
Here's a review of the Bills' nine picks:
*First round (10th): Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina -- The Bills have been fairly deep at cornerback for years but have not had a true shut-down corner. Gilmore should give them that. He's big, physical and fast. He ran the 40 in 4.40 seconds. He has a bigger body and more production against better competition than Leodis McKelvin had when he was taken 11th in 2008. By 2013, Gilmore and 6-foot Aaron Williams will form the biggest starting CB tandem the Bills have had since Mario Clark and Charles Romes in the early '80s.
Gilmore joins Williams and veterans Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence as the top four corners on the depth chart. Six corners figure to make the team. Rookie Ron Brooks is a lock. McKelvin and Justin Rogers make the Bills seven deep.
*Second round (41st): Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia -- At 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, Glenn projects as the biggest starting left tackle the Bills have ever had. Nix & Co. are adamant that Glenn's 35 1/8 th inch arms give him an elite quality that will make him succeed at left tackle, where he played as a senior. He has 50 starts against top competition. Worst case scenario, he can succeed at right tackle or guard, so there's a very low bust risk. Best-case scenario: His elite size makes him dominant on the blind side, and the Bills have their best offensive line since their Super Bowl era.
*Third round (69th): T.J. Graham, WR, North Carolina State -- There were a bunch of wide receivers who had more catches and higher ratings than Graham when the Bills picked 69th. Some were slot guys (Wake Forest's Chris Givens). Some were possession guys (Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu). But the Bills were looking for a specific profile, an outside guy who is a true vertical threat. Graham is almost 6-feet and he ran a 4.38 time on Bills' scouts watches. (Ex-Bill Lee Evans ran 4.39.)
The Bills have tons of ways to attack the middle and intermediate areas of the field. They need to threaten defenses deep to create more space for Stevie Johnson & Co. Graham gives them another option, with Marcus Easley and David Clowney. Graham needs to get stronger and develop as a route-runner, so the Bills will have to show some patience with him. He will have to prove he can be durable and get off press coverage. He had 10 fumbles the past two years (although the Wolfpack only lost three of them).
This is the kind of speed guy the Raiders are known for drafting. If Graham could catch 15 passes as a rookie and make a few plays deep, it would be helpful.
*Fourth round (105th): Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State -- Even though the Bills' two outside linebacker positions are mostly interchangeable, you still would like to have one of the outside guys have a bit of size.
Bradham, 6-2 and 241, was one of the few strong-side linebacker candidates in this draft, even though he played weak side and middle for the Seminoles. He was a three-year starter and a team captain. He led the Seminoles in tackles all three of those seasons.
He sheds blocks. He's durable and tough. He will have to prove he can be adept at coverage against NFL talent. He ran a 4.64 time in the 40 and had a 37-inch vertical jump, both fifth best among linebackers at the combine. His speed is better in a straight line than laterally.
*Fourth round (124th): Ron Brooks, CB, Louisiana State -- Brooks has decent size (5-10, 188), was the fifth fastest player at any position at the combine (4.37 seconds) and played 50 games for the mighty Bayou Bengals. (Bills scouts timed him in 4.34 seconds). His 38-inch vertical jump was third best at the combine.
For a fourth-round pick, there's little not to like. He started only three games, because over the past two years he was behind superstars Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu on the depth chart. Peterson was the fifth-overall pick in 2011; Claiborne went sixth this year. Mathieu, the Honey Badger, is likely to be a top-five pick next year.
Brooks covered the slot and outside. He's a terror on special teams, as a gunner and jammer on punt coverage and returns, respectively.
"Bradham and Brooks, those guys are impact players on special teams," Nix said.
*Fifth round (144th): Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State -- Besides Hairston and right tackle Erik Pears, the only other tackle on the roster entering the draft was ex-Dallas prospect Sam Young, who had offseason surgery. Sanders has super-long arms (surprise, surprise), and his wingspan (83 5/8 inches) was tied for third biggest of any player in the draft.
His size (6-5 and 308) and the fact he started 50 games suggests a higher draft ranking. But Sanders' lack of foot speed and a sub-par showing at the Senior Bowl hurt his stock. He projects as a right tackle, a backup to Pears.
*Fifth round (147th): Tank Carder, LB, Texas Christian -- He's another much-needed backup for the linebacking corps who figures to start out working on the weak side. Carder, 6-2, 236, was a champion BMX racer as a 10-year-old, then overcame a horrific automobile accident at age 13.
He started 39 games over three seasons and made 228 tackles. He was two-time Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year and runs well. He had the second best time in the three-cone drill (6.89 seconds) and the fourth best time in the 20-yard shuttle (4.18) among all players at the combine.
*Sixth round (178th): Mark Asper, OL, Oregon -- A 6-7, 325-pounder, Asper started 38 games over four years, mostly at guard. "We needed a center," Nix said. "This ol' boy is big as a house, too. He plays center and guard." If everyone stays healthy, he could be a practice-squad guy, because the Bills have two incumbent backups on the interior OL in Chad Rinehart and Michael Jasper.
*Seventh round (251st): John Potter, K, Western Michigan. He's a kickoff specialist. He had 36 touchbacks last season, about 43 percent of his kickoffs. But he will be 5 yards up in the NFL. "He kicked through the uprights kicking off," Nix said. "If he can consistently kick it in the end zone then he's worth that seventh pick."