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Bills top picks better be good enough to start Based on their needs and the perceived talent on the board, the Bills got solid value

Experience teaches you to be wary of an NFL draft. You understand the danger in rushing to conclusions, in making instant evaluations of a team's performance on draft day. In the end, you learn that time is the most reliable judge.

Last year, the pundits savaged Marv Levy and the Bills brass for taking Donte Whitner with the eighth overall pick. It was dismissed as a reach. But Whitner had a terrific rookie year. The Bills' draft, which laid the foundation for a young, promising defense, wound up as one of the best in the NFL.

So I'm reluctant to make any snap judgments on this year's draft. But I'll admit, it's difficult. Based on their needs and the perceived talent on the board, the Bills got solid value with their first two picks Saturday.

The Bills had three glaring needs: middle linebacker, running back and cornerback. They got the second-rated player at two of those positions with their first two choices -- California running back Marshawn Lynch at No. 12 overall and Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny at No. 34.

Levy said the Bills had three players targeted with their first pick. Lynch was at the top of that list. Posluszny was also one of the three, which means they were prepared to draft him 12th if the other two were gone. So you can imagine how thrilled they were to trade up with Detroit and snag Posluszny at 34.

"There's a fine line I try to walk when I talk about these guys with you," said Tom Modrak, assistant general manager. "I don't want to praise them too highly. But we're very excited. They've got a whole lot of talent and a lot of the intangibles we talk about."

Lynch and Posluszny have plenty of tangibles, too. Lynch is a tough, versatile back, who could have a much larger role in the passing game than Willis McGahee had. Some experts believe he will be a better all-around NFL back than Adrian Peterson, the only back who went ahead of him in the draft.

Posluszny can play either linebacker position. He's strong against the run and quick enough to drop back in pass coverage. The Bills were wowed by his athletic ability and his leadership qualities. Most mock drafts had him going in the middle of the first round.

"We can't believe it," said owner Ralph Wilson, who was part of the Bills' draft-day brain trust. "We can't believe that we got those two picks. We've had a number of drafts where nobody came in and started. These fellows will come in and start."

They'd better be good enough to start. The Bills created massive voids at two vital positions by trading running back McGahee to Baltimore and allowing veteran middle linebacker London Fletcher to sign with the Redskins as an unrestricted free agent.

The Bills wouldn't have used the 12th overall pick on Lynch unless they expected him to contribute right away -- as Joseph Addai did for the Colts and Laurence Maroney for the Patriots last season. Addai and Maroney played in two-back systems. Lynch will be in a similar role, sharing time with Anthony Thomas. But if Thomas is the main back, it won't be a good thing for the offense.

"We have to realize this young man is a rookie," said coach Dick Jauron, "and it's brand new for him. But he is a talented player. He's got a great upside and a great future with the franchise. Otherwise, we wouldn't have spent a draft pick on him. We took him for a reason."

The Bills need Lynch to produce and take some of the heat off their rising young quarterback, J.P. Losman. Losman made huge strides last season. But the Bills' offense was 30th overall in the NFL. They need to find out for certain if Losman is the long-term answer. Losman's contract expires after the 2008 season, but he could command a big extension after this season if he continues to improve.

The first move was signing free-agent offensive linemen Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker to big deals. Drafting Lynch gives Losman a running back who can be a threat in the passing game. Lynch often lined up in the slot for Cal. He could become the Bills' most complete back since Thurman Thomas.

Most pre-draft analysts had the Bills taking Mississippi middle linebacker Patrick Willis with the 12th pick. But Levy said the Bills had Posluszny rated higher than Willis. So they clearly expect Posluszny to step in and be the hub of their 4-3 defense right away.

It's a lot to ask, but the Bills don't have much choice. Wilson couldn't pronounce Posluszny's name, but his enthusiasm for the choice was quite pronounced.

"He's a Buffalo-type guy, he really is," Wilson said. "He's a Shane Conlan type, a tough guy. Both of these two picks are very good players. I think the fans should be excited about them. I know I'm excited."

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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