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Bills' pick should fit right in

In the end, it was a simple call. The Buffalo Bills had the worst run defense in the NFL last season. Their pass rush has been weak for years. They saw Alabama's Marcell Dareus as the best defensive player in the draft, a big and remarkably agile defensive lineman who could help them in both deficient areas on 'D.'

Dareus was there at No. 3, and they got him. It's hard to argue. The Bills were facing the most important draft pick in a quarter-century, a choice that would determine the fortunes of the franchise for years to come. They got their most promising and highly regarded defensive player since Bruce Smith in 1985.

At some point, they have to get a franchise quarterback. Ultimately, that's how you win Super Bowls. If Cam Newton had been there, the Bills would have taken him. General Manager Buddy Nix admitted he would have given serious consideration to Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert if Dareus had gone second to the Broncos.

But when Denver took Von Miller, that cinched it. Dareus was the perfect fit for Buffalo's 3-4 defense, a versatile 320-pounder with the ability to play end or tackle, a rare athlete who can push the pocket from the inside or get pressure from the edge.

There was a lot of debate last season about the Bills' 3-4 defense, which became more of a hybrid scheme later in the year to maximize the talents of the linemen and present confusing looks to the opposition. It made Dareus an ideal addition.

"Oh, yeah," said coach Chan Gailey. "He fits in every scheme. That's the great thing about him. He fits in every scheme. It doesn't matter. He fits in all of them. He's a force to be reckoned with. He is a big, strong physical, athletic man. I think we got better today. We're better than we were at 8:08 tonight."

They ought to be better. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starting quarterback, regardless of what the Bills do at the position in the draft. Given a full year as starter, he should be better. Stevie Johnson should be better. The offense should be improved in its second year with Gailey in charge.

And the defense almost has to be better. We're talking about a unit that allowed an average of 204 yards per game rushing in its last 11 games against AFC East foes. The stats were almost identical the last two seasons. If Dareus is as good as the Bills believe, he will make a difference right away. He'd better.

"There will be a transition," Gailey said. "I don't care who you are or what position you play, there is a transition."

Gailey said Dareus' transition should be smoother, though. He played in a 3-4 at Alabama. Gailey said much of the terminology and the defensive structure will be similar. Dareus is accustomed to playing against top competition. Did you see the highlight film of him chasing down Newton in an SEC game?

This doesn't guarantee that Dareus will be an immediate sensation, or an NFL star. But he has a lot better chance than many of the players the Bills have taken high in recent years. They actually went big this time. If you discount Aaron Maybin, who has been small in every way, the Bills hadn't gone big with their top pick since '02.

After so many years of boutique picks and finesse players, they finally addressed their defensive front in a big way. Between Bruce Smith in 1985 and Thursday night, they had not chosen a single defensive lineman in the top 20 of any draft. It's no wonder their run defense and pass rush have been so consistently dreadful.

There were only two options with the pick: defensive stud or franchise quarterback. They didn't reach. They didn't panic. They hadn't expected Dareus to be there until recently and when he fell to them, they didn't hesitate.

"You guys always use 'safe pick,' " Nix said. "I don't think there's any such thing, but he's as close as he gets."

One defensive lineman isn't going to solve all the franchise's woes, but it's a start.

The franchise quarterback is another issue. As expected, there was an early run on quarterbacks. Jake Locker and Christian Ponder went higher than expected. Four quarterbacks went among the top 12 picks.

It wasn't a surprise to see some teams reach for quarterbacks. Nearly half the teams in the league need them. The Bills, evidently, are content to ride Fitz for now and deal with the franchise quarterback later.

They got better Thursday. The question is, how much better, and how long before they're a real contender? In the short term, I suspect most fans will be happy if they can stop the run now and then.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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