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Ngata may not fit Bills' defensive needs

It's starting to look like the Buffalo Bills will not be able to address their needs on either the offensive or defensive line with the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft.

Conventional wisdom among draft experts since the end of the season has been the Bills would select the No. 1-rated defensive tackle, Oregon's Haloti Ngata, with their top choice.

However, Ngata does not look like a good fit for the new defensive system being adopted by Bills coach Dick Jauron. The Bills want all four of their defensive linemen to penetrate gaps in the offensive line. That's how the linemen play in Tampa, Indianapolis and Chicago, and the Bills' new system is going to be similar to the style employed by those teams.

Several scouts and personnel directors from around the league say Ngata is not a fit for the "Tampa Cover 2" style, because he is a 345-pound lineman whose strength is occupying two gaps on the line.

There is not another defensive tackle who merits a top-10 pick in the draft, according to most scouts.

On the offensive line, the top tackle is expected to be taken in the first four picks. He is Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Several NFL scouts say the eighth pick is "way too rich" to invest on the next best tackle, Southern California's Winston Justice. He's likely to be taken around the middle of the first round.

The good news for the Bills is the draft is considered fairly deep at offensive tackle. They may well be able to find a competent tackle in the second, third or fourth rounds.

"There will be a number of guys taken after the first round who five years from now are going to be making about $5 million a year," said one NFC personnel director.

So who does that leave as a good fit for the Bills at No. 8?

One prospect is University of Texas safety Michael Huff, the top defensive back in the nation last year. He is 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds and has the toughness to play safety. But he also ran a time of 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash (which is comparable to the time by Bills receiver Lee Evans) and could play cornerback in the NFL, too.

Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk would fit the Bills' defense but he is expected to be taken in the first seven picks. Florida State defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley is a 305-pound defensive tackle with better quickness and attacking ability than Ngata. His stock is rising but it remains to be seen if it will rise enough to make him a top-10 pick.

The Bills signed defensive tackle Larry Tripplett from Indianapolis in free agency. He's a 285-pounder who will play opposite the outside shoulder of an offensive guard. The other defensive tackle in the Bills' new defense plays opposite the offensive center. Ideally, he will be a little heavier than Tripplett. But he still needs to penetrate the line.

Bills General Manager Marv Levy would not comment specifically on Ngata or other defensive-line prospects. But he acknowledged the "nose" tackle can't be solely a hole-plugger.

Levy noted that middle and later rounds have produced starting-caliber defensive tackles.

"Historically, more defensive tackles have flourished late or even in [rookie] free agency than at any other position," Levy said. "Pat Williams is an example. A study on this was presented to me [recently].

"We continue to have needs at defensive tackle, there's no doubt about it. To say we've zeroed in on anybody, the answer is no."

***

The NFL on Monday awarded the Bills an extra draft pick -- a seventh-rounder -- as a compensatory selection. Each year the league gives out compensatory picks to teams that lost more or better free agents than it acquired the previous offseason.

The pick the Bills will get is No. 248, the eighth from the bottom in the entire draft. It isn't necessarily meaningless. The Bills had the 248th pick once before in their history and used it to select defensive end Bryce Fisher in 1999. Fisher was cut by the Bills in 2001 but has gone on to NFL success. He had nine sacks for Seattle last season.

The Bills lost three free agents last offseason -- tackle Jonas Jennings, defensive tackle Pat Williams, and safety Pierson Prioleau. They signed three free agents, quarterback Kelly Holcomb, tackle Mike Gandy and guard Bennie Anderson. The Bills got a pick because the NFL determined that the players lost outweighed the players signed.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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>First round

1. Houston

2. New Orleans
3. Tennessee

4. N.Y. Jets
5. Green Bay
6. San Francisco
7. Oakland
8. Buffalo
9. Detroit
10. Arizona
11. St. Louis
12. Cleveland
13. Baltimore
14. Philadelphia
15. Denver
16. Miami
17. Minnesota
18. Dallas
19. San Diego
20. Kansas City
21. New England
22. Denver
23. Tampa Bay
24. Cincinnati
25. N.Y. Giants
26. Chicago
27. Carolina
28. Jacksonville
29. N.Y. Jets
30. Indianapolis
31. Seattle
32. Pittsburgh

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