The top of the 2011 NFL draft was like one of those Oprah shows around Christmas.
“You get a Pro Bowler, and you get a Pro Bowler, and you get a Pro Bowler!”
The Buffalo Bills were in the audience, but so far their “gift” hasn’t arrived.
With the third overall pick, Buffalo selected defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The idea was sound. Pair a 6-foot-3, 300-plus pounder with freakish athleticism along with veteran Kyle Williams and just like that, the Bills would have one of the best defensive lines in football.
But Dareus has only flashed his potential. He’s got 11 sacks through his first two years, but hasn’t dominated for long periods of time, as was expected when – and where – he was drafted.
Meanwhile, the players selected ahead of Dareus – Cam Newton to Carolina at No. 1 and Von Miller to Denver – have both been to the Pro Bowl. So have the players behind Dareus: Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith.
Dareus is keenly aware he’s the only one among the top seven picks yet to book a trip to Hawaii.
“It eats me alive,” Dareus said. “I just can’t wait until the season starts so I can get my chance to show I’m right here with these guys.”
Dareus’ second season got off to a nightmarish start, but it had nothing to do with what happened on the field. On the same weekend the Bills opened the season at the New York Jets, Dareus learned his younger brother, Simeon Gilmore, had been killed during a robbery outside Birmingham, Ala.
Understandably, Dareus struggled to cope with the tragedy.
“It hit me real low. It took a lot out of me,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on and why things were happening to me the way they were. … I really didn’t know how to bounce back.”
Dareus leaned on his godfather, Lester Reasor, and older brother, Pearson Woods, during his time of need.
“They kind of just guided me through it and helped me stay strong and come back and do the best I can,” Dareus said.
So, too, did his teammates.
“I just prayed about it, and put a lot of faith in my friends, my teammates, the guys in this room,” Dareus said. “They supported me a great deal.”
The smile that had disappeared last season is back. Dareus has grieved, and says he’s ready to move on.
“I know my little brother is gone,” he said. “It’s behind me.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone said Dareus has not shown any signs of having any grief still “hidden down inside.”
“I see a player that’s having fun playing football. That’s what we want them all to do,” Marrone said.
Dareus said he knows “the clock is ticking” on his development.
“I have to go leave my mark on the field, show the NFL I am a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “Hopefully things pay off. I’ve done worked my butt off. We’ll see how the outcome of the season goes.”
Those inside the organization are just as eager to see Dareus take the next step in his career.
“Fans and everybody outside and inside, coaches and players, are kind of waiting on him to kind of take off and fly. I think he’s there,” Williams said. “I just want to be around for that, because I know physically what he can do. It’s just really trying to narrow his focus.”
Dareus vows his focus is solely on becoming the player the Bills hoped they were getting three Aprils ago.
“I’m having so much fun,” he said. “I’m back. I’m feeling a lot better. I play physical, I disrupt. I just have fun. That’s my game.”
Despite the tragedy, Dareus started all 16 games last season. He finished with 59 tackles, 5.5 sacks and six passes defended. But the defense as a whole was a colossal letdown, giving up the second-most points in franchise history.
The hope is that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine – who was brought in from the New York Jets – can spark a turnaround. With a motivated Dareus and a healthy Williams, the Bills can still have that dominant defensive line that was once envisioned.
“We need to push this defense as far as it can go,” Dareus said. “And I want to show those guys I came in the draft with – I consider them a family – that I’m still here.”