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Time will tell if safe pick is the right one

Boy, some crazy things happen in the NFL Draft excuse me, the "NFL's Annual Selection Meeting."

The Browns gave the Vikings three late draft picks for the privilege of moving up one spot in the order. That's how high they were on Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

Teams will go to great lengths if they truly love a player. Clearly, Cleveland was worried that some other team would jump over them and steal Richardson, who must be one of the best backs to come along since Jim Brown.

At that point, Bills fans had to be wondering: Are the Bills similarly infatuated with a player? Earlier in the day, the hot rumor had Buddy Nix, the general manager, trading up with Minnesota to take left tackle Matt Kalil.

So much for that. I guess Nix didn't love Kalil enough. He holds onto his picks the way a dog clings to a new bone. If the Vikings wanted three picks to move down one spot, what might they have tried to extort from the Bills?

The greatest hope for any fan was that Nix and Co. had targeted a guy they really loved, someone they were certain would be a star in the NFL and be an instant contributor to a team that is now expected to contend in the AFC East.

So when five offensive players went off the board with the top five picks, I figured the Bills had a good chance at a player they really loved. And it would be one of four highly regarded defensive players: linebacker Luke Kuechly, safety Mark Barron or cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Stephon Gilmore.

Claiborne, Barron and Kuechly flew off the board before the Bills picked. That left Gilmore, and they grabbed him. We'll never know which one they loved best. Nix, naturally, wouldn't say how he had them ranked.

"I think there's some very good players that either you get them at this point or you don't," Nix said.

It doesn't really matter how they had them ranked. Gilmore seems like a safe, solid choice at 10. As Nix and coach Chan Gailey keep reminding us, the NFL is more and more of a pass-happy league these days.

The Bills have been weak against the pass in recent years (against the run, too). Opponents completed 63.3 percent a year ago. Over the last two seasons, they've allowed 58 TD passes, which is 30th in the NFL.

"It wasn't all the rush," Nix said. "We need some help in the secondary. As we've said before, we'd like to take two corners in this draft. So we got one of them."

It's hard to quibble with them taking a cornerback who was considered the second best in the draft. Gilmore is 6-0, 190 pounds. He has run a 4.40 in the 40. He started 40 games in the SEC for South Carolina. He'll give them much-needed depth in the secondary.

"You can never have enough good corners," Gailey said. "I believed it 10 or 15 years ago, and even more so today. This gives us an opportunity to have two good, young corners to work with [along with second-year man Aaron Williams]."

Gilmore had better be good. Lest we forget, the Bills reached for cornerback Leodis McKelvin with the 11th overall pick four years ago and let Jabari Greer go. They're still chasing after that mistake. They reached for Donte Whitner in '06. But why dwell on past horrors?

Well, it's good to be reminded that this isn't an exact science, and that Buffalo has employed some bumbling draft professors over the past dozen years or so. When you've covered the Bills for this long, you develop a well-earned skepticism.

It's foolish to make definitive judgments this early in the process. It's one thing to make a pick at a position of need. It's quite another to nail it, to add a player to the roster who makes you better and plays at a high level for a decade.

When a team drafts for need, it's easy to nod your head and call it a smart pick. We did it when they drafted Mike Williams. The Whitner pick was defensible as long as you bought the notion that he was a playmaker.

Experience teaches you to be wary. In the end, I usually arrive at a simple position: They'd better be right. That's all that matters. Get a guy who will be a starter and difference-maker for a decade, regardless of position.

Make the team better. If Gilmore is as good as advertised, the Bills got better Thursday. In the AFC East, that means closing the gap with the Patriots and the great Tom Brady.

They've been trying to do that for a decade. Last year, they finally beat them. But they didn't really stop Brady. In fact, the defense wasn't any better than in previous years. Really, 49 unanswered points in the finale?

That's why they signed Mario Williams and Mike Anderson. But they needed more than pass rush. They needed to upgrade their coverage guys, too. They knew it. That's the refreshing thing about Nix and Gailey. They don't hide from their team's shortcomings.

It's not just about the top pick. The Bills need to hit home runs on some picks in the later rounds and deepen the talent on the roster. Nix needs to do better than Torell Troup and Alex Carrington in the second and third rounds today.

People act as if the Bills will be a sure-fire contender because they signed Mario Williams. There's plenty to like about this team. But wait and see how these draft picks work out before you open your heart to loving them.