Offense was the prevailing theme of the Buffalo Bills’ free-agency and trade activity.
But when it came to the NFL Draft, Rex Ryan’s defensive roots took over – at least with the Bills’ first choice. Needing the tightest coverage possible to implement his aggressive, blitz-oriented defense, Ryan clearly got his way when the Bills used the 50th overall pick in Friday night’s second round to select Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby.
The Bills went back to offense with their third-round choice, 81st overall, by addressing one of their primary needs by selecting Louisville guard John Miller.
The Bills have four remaining picks for Saturday’s final four rounds of the draft. They have no picks in the fourth, one in the fifth (155th overall), two in the sixth (188th and 194th), and one in the seventh (234th).
Remaining positions they are expected to strongly consider are tight end, edge rusher, and inside linebacker. Quarterback is an obvious need, but if the Bills address it Saturday, they would be taking a flier on a developmental player.
With both players the Bills drafted Friday night, the Bills did so with an eye toward having answers for the competition in the AFC East.
For instance, the Miami Dolphins added one of the top wide receivers in the draft with Thursday’s first-round pick of Louisville’s DeVante Parker to go along with the additions of Kenny Stills from the New Orleans Saints, Greg Jennings from the Minnesota Vikings, and playmaking tight end Jordan Cameron from the Cleveland Browns.
The New York Jets picked up former Chicago Bears standout receiver Brandon Marshall, and on Friday they made Ohio State receiving star Devin Smith a second-round choice.
Additionally, the Dolphins beefed up their defensive line by signing Ndamukong Suh, the dominant tackle from the Detroit Lions, while the Jets upgraded their defensive line by making former USC star end/tackle Leonard Williams their first-round pick.
“We need to keep up with the arms race,” General Manager Doug Whaley said.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Darby fits the profile of the type of players Ryan wants in his secondary. He does not shy from contact and he is fast enough and athletic enough to hold his own in the single coverage he will be frequently asked to play.
“Physical, not only with the ball, against ball-carriers, and as a press” coverage “guy,” Whaley said. “Rex is a big press guy. His physical attributes – height, weight, and obviously blazing speed.”
During last February’s NFL Scouting Combine, Darby ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash. His vertical jump was an impressive 41.5 inches. He also is a world-class sprinter, winning a gold medal on the US medley relay team in the 2011 World Youth Championships in France.
During the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship season, Darby was credited with allowing only nine completions and no touchdowns on 27 targets. In 14 starts last season, Darby had a career-high 43 tackles, four pass breakups and a forced fumble.
In his collegiate career, he only had two interceptions, both in 2013, but was targeted once every 10.1 snaps in three seasons at Florida State, the fewest of any cornerback in the draft.
“The production wasn’t that high this year, but he also wasn’t challenged that much this year,” Whaley said. “So we think this guy’s got an upside and the benefit of coming in and learning behind some quality cornerback is going to help this guy.”
Said Darby, “I wasn’t even targeted more than two, three times a game. It was really difficult to make as many plays as I wanted to and sometimes when the ball does get near me for the first time in a week or so, I get so anxious so I overthink things. But if I were weak or something like that, I’d be attacked a lot more.”
Darby was a college roommate of quarterback Jameis Winston. Darby and another FSU teammate, Chris Casher, signed an affidavit saying they witnessed Winston having consensual sex on the night of an incident that led to the quarterback being accused of rape. Winston wasn’t charged and Darby and Casher also were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
Darby also was a passenger in a car driven by another Florida State cornerback, P.J. Williams, during a hit-and-run accident. Darby was also cleared of any wrongdoing in that case.
“I’m just ready to get out there, develop more as a player, show what I can do as a player, and just get better and make plays for the Bills,” Darby said. “I’m going to bring, of course, speed. But I’m going to be someone who just goes out there and just completes and makes sure my receiver doesn’t score on me, doesn’t make huge plays.”
Darby gives the Bills nine cornerbacks, although one, Corey Graham, could be moved to safety. The other corners are Leodis McKelvin, Stephon Gilmore, Nickell Robey, Ross Cockrell, Ron Brooks, Mario Butler, and Rod Sweeting.
The 6-foot-2, 312-pound Miller is a strong, tough, technically sound player who will likely compete for the starting job at left guard as a rookie. The Bills had three players work at the position last season – Chris Williams, who suffered a season-ending back injury after three starts; rookie Cyril Richardson, who struggled mightily in four starts, and veteran Kraig Urbik, who finished the final nine games as the starter.
Veteran Richie Incognito, signed as a free agent early in the offseason, is expected to start at right guard.
“He’s the type of offensive lineman” offensive coordinator “Greg Roman and Rex Ryan are looking for,” Whaley said of Miller. “Tough, aggressive maulers that bring attitude. One of the knocks is going to be he’s only 6-2 ½, and the average starting guard” in the NFL “is 6-3 1/2.” We’re excited about him, and the thing we’re most excited about is the attitude, the way he plays the game.
“You get a young guy in and with the situation, if he wins the job great,” Whaley said. “If he doesn’t, he adds depth and he can learn from how these guys want to portray our offense and portray our offensive line. And if he does not start this year, he can contribute if there are injuries, but also down the road we expect him to take over and take the job by the helmet and go from there.”
Miller called it a “dream come true” to be drafted into the NFL.
“But being able to come in and compete for a starting position with the Buffalo Bills is great,” he said.