The Buffalo Bills addressed their biggest weakness Thursday by choosing University of Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus with the third pick in the NFL Draft.
Dareus, 6-foot-3 and 319 pounds, immediately upgrades Buffalo's woeful run defense. Buffalo ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed last year and has ranked in the bottom 11 in the 32-team league against the run six straight seasons.
The Bills made the choice after Carolina selected Auburn quarterback Cam Newton first overall and Denver picked Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller second.
Dareus is the highest Bills draft choice since the team picked Bruce Smith first overall in 1985. He's the biggest and most talented defensive player the team has drafted since Smith.
"What we liked about him is his size, his speed and his athletic ability, and on top of all that how hard he plays," Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said. "He has a great motor, plays hard, tries to make a play every snap and we need him."
Dareus has the bulk to stuff the run and showed great ability to crash the passing pocket in his college career. He was the defensive most valuable player in Alabama's win over Texas in the national championship game at the end of the 2009 season.
He figures to step in immediately as an end in the Bills' 3-4 defense. In passing situations, he most often would shift to a defensive tackle spot in a four-man line.
"The great thing about Marcell," said Bills coach Chan Gailey, "is he played on the tight end, he played on the tackle, he played on the guard, he played on the center. He gives you a lot of versatility. We'll play him at defensive end initially in our scheme but I can see him lining up in a lot of different spots for us as time goes on."
"I think he is a forceful player," Gailey said. "You can't say that about every defensive player that comes along. There's a lot of people who can make plays but he is a force. He creates havoc on the offensive side. That was one of the things that we obviously like about him."
Dareus left college a year early. As a junior in 2010, Dareus finished with 4.5 sacks, 33 tackles and 11 tackles for loss. He sat out the first two games due to a suspension related to improper contact with an agent. He also played the first part of the season with an ankle injury.
In 2009, Dareus had 6.5 sacks. He knocked Texas QB Colt McCoy out of the title game with a big hit and later returned an interception for a touchdown.
Buffalo allowed 169.5 rushing yards a game last season, the second most in team history. The Bills have had particular problems matching up physically with their division foes. The New York Jets have averaged 279 rushing yards a game in their last four meetings with Buffalo. The Bills have not had an elite run-stuffer the likes of Dareus since Pat Williams left the team after the 2004 season.
Dareus' bulk and steady production over the past two years prompted the Bills to pick him ahead of the second-rated quarterback in the draft, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. If Dareus had been picked second by Denver, the Bills would have had to decide between Gabbert and Texas A&M's Miller. The Bills could use another pass rusher, but they had some questions about whether Miller's size -- he's 237 but played lighter -- merited making him the third pick. Nix acknowledged Gabbert would have been a strong consideration if Dareus was off the board.
Dareus' signature game was the national title match against Texas. His signature play probably was a sack of Auburn's Newton this past season.
"How many 320 pounders do you see who can do that?" Nix said. "Keep him (Newton) in the pocket and then make the tackle."
The Bills had huge problems "setting the edge" against opposing running attacks last year. Dareus, lining up across from the offensive tackle as a 3-4 end, should solve that problem.
"I guess if you were really chiseling him out you might make him an inch taller," Nix said. "But he might even be better that he's the height he is, because you can't knock him out of there. I think he's close to being the prototype."
"We want a guy who's gonna play as hard as he can every play, and he's one of 'em," Nix said. "He don't take plays off, he don't quit on the long chase. He gives you everything. You know what you're gonna get every play."
Dareus' versatility should help the Bills, too. Buffalo wants to play a hybrid defense, alternating between a three-man line and a four-man line.
Dareus has impressive agility for a 319-pounder. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.93 seconds. His split times for 20 and 10 yards were 2.83 and 1.68 seconds, respectively. Last year's No. 2 pick, 307-pound Ndamukong Suh, was timed at 5.03, 2.81 and 1.69 at those distances. Last year's No. 3 pick, 295-pound Gerald McCoy, had times of 5.04, 2.85 and 1.68 at those distances.
The Bills have the second pick in the second round, No. 34 overall.
"The 34th pick to me is like a first-round pick," Nix said. "You're talking one or two guys. We're excited about being with that 34th pick. We think we can get another starter."
The second round starts at 6 p.m. Friday. Nix said the Bills' decision-makers will convene Friday morning and reevaluate the draft board.
"We'll do just like we did this morning," Nix said. "This morning we had three. In the morning we'll have two and we'll get one of them. I think we've got several needs. We don't have as many as everybody thinks, but we've got several. And the best layer to fill one of those needs is who we'll take."