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Riddle in the middle Where Bills get a 'backer a big question as team fills holes

The Buffalo Bills are expected to find a starting middle linebacker today. Whether they do it in the first round is the big question for the team entering the NFL draft.

The Bills and the rest of the NFL's 32 teams aim to fill the holes in their rosters when the draft kicks off at noon (ESPN, NFL Network) in New York City. The Oakland Raiders own the No. 1 pick. Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell is the favorite - but not the lock - to be their choice.

The Bills own the 12th overall pick, which should be made between 2:15 and 3:15 p.m.

Mississippi's Patrick Willis is the top-rated linebacker, but reports from around the league suggest he may be gone before the Bills pick. It's expected to be a close call in the Bills' draft room when pick No. 12 comes up.

The Bills like cornerbacks Darrelle Revis of Pittsburgh and Leon Hall of Michigan. Revis is a tad more athletic and would compensate for the loss of Nate Clements. Receivers Robert Meachem (Tennessee) and Dwayne Bowe (Louisiana State) also are in a close grouping with the cornerbacks. Linebackers Paul Posluszny (Penn State) and David Harris (Michigan) are not quite rated in the top 15.

If the Bills wait until the second round for a linebacker, they may be looking at Florida State's Buster Davis. He's a faster (but not necessarily better) version of London Fletcher. There is a slight chance Harris might last to the Bills' second pick.

California running back Marshawn Lynch should be available to the Bills, but he would be a surprise pick. Bills coach Dick Jauron has a lot of faith in veteran Anthony Thomas. The Bills have eight picks overall, including extra picks in the third and seventh rounds. Here's a forecast of the first round:

1. Oakland. Needs: QB, OT, DE, DT, LB. Pick: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Louisiana State. Raiders are unpredictable. There is talk new coach Lane Kiffin likes Brady Quinn more. But it's Al Davis' call. Russell has the arm to become the new Mad Bomber.

2. Detroit. Needs: RB, MLB, CB, DE, WR. Pick: Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech. Despite taking a receiver in the first round in '03, '04 and '05, the Lions still need a wideout. That's a real indictment of GM Matt Millen.

3. Cleveland. Needs: OT, DE, CB, RB, QB. Pick: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma. GM Phil Savage would love Russell. He faces a pivotal decision: Ohio native Brady Quinn or Peterson. There's an internal debate going on. If the Browns can't trade down, this is going to be a tough call. Peterson is better than Quinn.

4. Tampa Bay. Needs: DE, OL, WR, S. Pick: Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson. Tampa's defense is old.

5. Arizona. Needs: LT, DE, LB, CB. Pick: Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin. The Cards could use Gaines Adams. But the guess is O-line coach Russ Grimm gets his way.

6. Washington. Needs: DE, DT, LG, WR, SS. Pick: LaRon Landry, S, Louisiana State. The 'Skins have no picks in the second, third or fourth rounds, so they may trade down and still take a safety. Gregg Williams would love the flexibility of having Landry and Sean Taylor in center field.

7. Minnesota. Needs: WR, DE, CB, RG. Pick: Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame. The Vikes would love Gaines Adams. The question is: Will Miami trade up to try to get Quinn? If not, the Vikes can't pass him up.

8. Atlanta. Needs: DL, FS, CB, OL. Pick: Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville. New coach Bobby Petrino gets to keep his star collegian.

9. Miami. Needs: QB, LT, WR, LB, G. Pick: Levi Brown, OT, Penn State. Miami wants Quinn. If Brown is gone, the Fish take Ted Ginn Jr. The son of Terry Robiskie, the new Miami receivers coach, played with Ginn at Ohio State. Chris Chambers has known Ginn since childhood.

10. Houston. Needs: WR, LT, DE, S. Pick: Leon Hall, CB, Michigan. Texans like tackle Joe Staley, but it's hard to see them taking him this high.

11. San Francisco. Needs: DE, NT, WR, LB. Pick: Patrick Willis, LB, Mississippi. The Niners also could use a DE like Adam Carriker of Nebraska.

12. Buffalo. Needs: MLB, RB, CB, WR. Pick: Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh. This would help the defense. It's not certain the Bills would take Willis even if he's here. A curveball choice - like a big wideout - can't be ruled out, either.

13. St. Louis. Needs: T, RB, DE. Pick: Adam Carriker, DE, Nebraska. The Rams were 31st against run last season.

14. Carolina: TE, SS, MLB, WR. Pick: Greg Olsen, TE, Miami. Panthers could go for a safety.

15. Pittsburgh: Needs: OLB, OL, RB, WR, CB. Pick: Lawrence Timmons, LB, Florida State. The Steelers would be lucky if Hall falls this far.

16. Green Bay: Needs: RB, S, CB, TE. Pick: Marshawn Lynch, RB, California. He would be an upgrade over Ahman Green. GM Ted Thompson has traded down 13 times and never traded up.

17. Jacksonville: S, DE, CB, LB. Pick: Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida. Two glaring needs: safety and defensive end.

18. Cincinnati: Needs: LB, S, CB. Pick: Alan Branch, DT, Michigan. The D-line has depth but it's aging in spots and this guy has flexibility and has impressed Bengals. This is a boom or bust pick.

19. Tennessee: Needs: DE, WR, CB. Pick: Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State. The defense was 32nd last season, so Titans may go defensive end.

20. N.Y. Giants: Needs: OT, OLB, S, CB. Pick: Jon Beason, LB, Miami. Giants like Timmons. Could go many directions.

21. Denver: Needs: DE, DT, OT. Pick: Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas. OT Matt Lepsis is coming off microfracture surgery. The Broncos like Moss and Timmons.

22. Dallas: Needs: FS, CB, WR, OL. Pick: Anthony Spencer, DE, Purdue. Could go numerous directions. Ken Hamlin is only a one-year fix at safety. WR Terry Glenn will be 35 this year. The Cowboys haven't gone for offense in the first round since '97.

23. Kansas City: Needs: DT, OT, CB, WR. Pick: Aaron Ross, CB. The sense is the Chiefs are going defense, so they would let Joe Staley slide by.

24. New England: Needs: LB, DB, WR, RB. Pick: Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State. Pats would trade for a good pick next year if they had the offer.

25. N.Y. Jets: Needs: OL, CB, LB, DT. Pick: Chris Houston, CB, Arkansas. Jets have 21 of 22 starters back.

26. Philadelphia: Needs: S, CB, LB, RB. Pick: Reggie Nelson, S, Florida. Brian Dawkins will be 34 this year. Olsen could make sense, given L.J. Smith is in the last year of his deal.

27. New Orleans: Needs: CB, WR, DL. Pick: Dwayne Bowe, WR, Louisiana State.

28. New England: Needs: LB, DB, WR, RB. Pick: Michael Griffin, S, Texas. Pats still could add another LB here. Anthony Gonzalez would be another option.

29. Baltimore: Needs: OT, LB, FB. Pick: Joe Staley, OT, Central Michigan. Ravens like Tennessee's Arron Sears, too.

30. San Diego: Needs: S, WR, OL, LB. Pick: Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee.

31. Chicago: Needs: OL, OLB, WR, S. Pick: Dwayne Jarrett, WR, Southern California.

32. Indianapolis: Needs: OLB, DT, CB. Pick: Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee. Fills a need for the champs in close call over a wideout.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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