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'Perfect time' for Bills to draft a QB; But defensive pick not ruled out by Nix

If the Buffalo Bills want a quarterback in this year's draft, they are in a great spot to get one.

That was General Manager Buddy Nix's take during the Bills' annual pre-draft news conference Tuesday.

Nix indicated there could be "a record number" of quarterbacks taken in the first round because so many teams have a need at the position.

Cam Newton of Auburn and Blaine Gabbert of Missouri are considered the elite in this year's class, and one of them will be on the board when the Bills make the third overall selection.

"There's no doubt it's an important position," Nix said. "It's a quarterback-driven league. But we think that we're in a good position. And actually, as hard as it is to say when you've got other needs it's probably the perfect time to take a quarterback."

The Bills list quarterback as a priority despite the presence of starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have reiterated that they won't pass on a guy they believe can be a franchise quarterback.

They have raved about Newton since the NFL Scouting Combine, but they are just as high on Gabbert, whose stock has risen steadily even though he didn't have great production this season.

"His stock hasn't risen with us," Nix said. "It's always been high."

Newton, Gabbert and Florida State's Christian Ponder are the only quarterbacks to visit One Bills Drive.

Taking a quarterback in the second round is a possibility. Nix recalled the success San Diego had when the Chargers took Drew Brees at the top of Round Two when Nix ran the college scouting department.

If the Bills decide to pass on a quarterback, their first pick will definitely be a defensive player. The Bills allowed the second-most points (26.5 per game) and second-most rushing yards (169 per game) in team history.

Nix indicated stopping the run was more important than rushing the passer. The Bills couldn't do either last season. They were last in the NFL in run defense and only three teams had fewer sacks.

"I don't think you're going to get where you want to be unless you stop the run," Nix said. "Then you rush the passer."

Alabama's defensive lineman Marcell Dareus would address both problems, Modrak said. Dareus could end up going No. 1 overall to Carolina or No. 2 to Denver. But it is possible he'll be there for the Bills at No. 3.

"He has the ability to obviously play the run and he can push the pocket," Modrak said. "He gives you the best of both worlds."

Nix dismissed the notion the Bills won't take an outside linebacker with the third pick because of the money they have invested in the position with Shawne Merriman, Chris Kelsay and Aaron Maybin.

The only linebacker rated as a top-five pick is Texas A&M's Von Miller. A number of published mock drafts have the Bills taking the pass-rushing talent.

"You can't have too many good players," Nix said. "If you go into a year -- and I've had this happen a lot of times -- where you think 'This is a strong position. We don't need anybody here.' And you wind up with two or three injuries and you're always glad you got the guy."

In addition to the third pick, the Bills have the second selection in the second round (34th overall). They have four of first 100 picks.

Drafting so high in every round, the pressure is on to make every pick count. That's especially the case for the Bills, whose early-round misses have contributed to their decade of mediocrity.

"It obviously is extremely important," said Bills vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak. "Especially where we're picking, we've got to hit it on the nose. There's no way around it. We got to get it done and we've got to hit those picks -- hard."

Some other highlights from the 45-minute media session:

* Nix said the Bills are in the process of putting their draft board together and would narrow their top pick down to three players by April 28, the day of the draft.

* The Bills aren't likely to trade down from the third spot in Round One, though Nix said he'd listen to offers: "It would be determined by how far down you move. I wouldn't rule out anything, but there will be a guy there [at No. 3] that we really want. So, probably wouldn't move down. It would have to be a rare situation."

* Nix said the lack of free agency due to the NFL lockout has not impacted the Bills' approach to the draft: "Nothing's changed. We've gone about the draft the same way. We're going to try to take the best player and hopefully we can fill our needs by doing that.

* Nix is not that concerned about the top pick being a starter, but he expects that player -- if he's not a quarterback -- to contribute a lot immediately: "We sure hope he is [a starter]. We'd like him to be. He should be. And if not, it should be a guy that plays 40 snaps a game. It should be a guy that figures in making you a lot better."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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