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Bills think safety first at draft’s end

The Buffalo Bills took the safety-in-numbers approach to the safety position on the third day of the NFL Draft.

Buffalo used both its fourth- and fifth-round selections Saturday on defensive backs, Nevada’s Duke Williams and Clemson’s Jonathan Meeks, respectively.

“They were the two best guys up there at the time we were picking,” Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said. “Obviously we want to be prepared for whatever happens.”

The last part of that quote is in regards to the team’s ongoing negotiations with Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd. Buffalo used the franchise tag on Byrd earlier this offseason, but the player has yet to sign it. Byrd was the only player not to attend the team’s recent voluntary workouts.

“You always want to have all your guys here, but we understand the situation, and we’ll keep working through it,” Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon said. “Obviously, [the franchise] tag is an asset that we have in our holster, and he has the opportunity to wait until he’s comfortable. We’ll continue that dialogue.”

Brandon called re-signing Byrd a priority for the organization. Franchise players have until Week 10 of the regular season to sign or they become ineligible for the season.

The picks of Williams and Meeks add to a position that has Da’Norris Searcy penciled in as a starter, and also features recently converted cornerback Aaron Williams.

“The big thing about Duke is the fact that he can play more than one spot,” Nix said. “Our coaches and everybody else thought he could be a nickel guy, maybe even an outside corner, and also a safety.

“Now Meeks is a safety. He’s a big guy who can run. He’s a center-field guy.”

For the second straight day, the Bills did not shy away from a player with off-the-field issues. Like their second-round selection, Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso, Williams has had issues related to alcohol.

He was suspended multiple times as a freshman after being cited for underage alcohol possession, being involved in a theft and taking part in a fight that left one of his teammates in the hospital. He was also arrested in 2011 for driving with a suspended license and without insurance after an auto accident.

“I went through some ups and downs through my college career,” he said. “I had a few minor incidents that occurred. I got suspended for a few games and it’s something you learn from as a person growing up. One thing I’ll say is I became a better person from those mistakes I made.”

Nix said the Bills did their due diligence in researching Williams’ past and were satisfied at what they found.

“Most of it was, like a lot of things, bad judgment,” he said. “The thing about him, football means a lot to him. … When you start to take something away from him as important as football, they straighten up. I think that’s what they did with him and the last couple years, he’s been a model citizen and good player.”

Williams, 5-foot-11 and 201 pounds, started 38 games at Nevada. The Bills had him clocked in the range of 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He’s known as a solid tackler who fits what the Bills want to do defensively in that he’s versatile.

“You can slide him inside in nickel as well as playing in the deep secondary. I think there are a lot of things you can do with this kid,” said Bills scout Brad Forsyth.

The Bills sang a similar tune about Meeks’ versatility.

“I think he can be a strong safety or a free safety. I think he’s got good size. He’s got a good 40 time,” said national scout Darrell Moody. “I think he can be explosive. His stats are probably not as good as some other people because of the system that they played at Clemson. He was more of a free safety than a strong safety because the other safety didn’t run real well. … He wasn’t around a whole lot of plays. You had to look at a lot of film to see him around a lot of plays. I think he has tremendous upside and when he did have a chance to hit people, he hit people.”

Meeks, who was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, flew under the radar of most national draft analysts. ESPN rated Meeks as the 36th-best available safety in the draft.

“They say the draft is definitely not the end, it’s the beginning and I haven’t been able to express that the chip is still on my shoulder,” Meeks said. “Things happen for a reason so that’s just going to make me more hungry as a player and as a person.”

Meeks is from Rock Hill, S.C., the same hometown of Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

“That’s one of my real good friends,” Meeks said. “We grew up competing against each other throughout high school and college and we kept our relationship when he went to the NFL.”