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Bills do the predictable thing and take Lawson

On an opening draft night generally lacking in intrigue -- save for the Laremy Tunsil pot smoking video -- the Bills had no surprises. They made the predictable and necessary pick, using the 19th overall pick on defensive end Shaq Lawson, an edge rusher from Clemson.

Rex Ryan certainly had to love the pick. His son, Seth, plays for the Tigers, who lost last year's national title game. Ryan was a frequent onlooker at Clemson games, and he desperately needed help for an defense that badly underachieved last season in his first year with the Bills.

They had a gaping hole at outside linebacker after parting ways with Mario Williams. It was chic to suggest that losing Williams, who went through the motions last season, was addition by subtraction. But it wasn't the moping Mario of 2015 the Bills needed to replace, but the dynamic pass rusher who made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014 and helped set sack records when he was motivated and on top of his game.

The draft board fell right for the Bills. When they picked at No. 19, three of the most talented defensive players were still available: Lawson, Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. Paxton Lynch, the third-rated quarterback, was also on the board.

Evidently, they had no interest in Lynch. True, the Bills have been searching for a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly played his final game 20 years ago. They're still not sure about Tyrod Taylor and will almost surely pick a quarterback at some point in this draft -- perhaps as soon as the second round on Friday evening.

But it would have been difficult to justify taking a quarterback with the 19th overall pick and passing up a prize from a defensive line class that has been lauded as one of the best in draft history.

For one thing, they hadn't drafted a defensive front seven player in the first round since 2011, and hadn't picked an edge rusher of any consequence since drafting Bruce Smith at No. 1 overall.

It would have been a declaration of their lack of faith in Tyrod Taylor as the long-term answer. Investing that pick in a QB would have been tantamount to drafting Taylor's replacement -- after his first year as an NFL starter.

"We're extremely excited to have Shaq Lawson," said general manager Doug Whaley, who said Lawson will start at outside 'backer opposite Jerry Hughes from Day One. "We never thought he would be there at 19."

The Bills desperately needed an infusion of talent on a defense that underachieved a year ago in Ryan's first year as head coach. Whaley downplays the coach's role in the selection process, but Ryan's defensive genius and coaching future will be on the line next season.

Ryan is a weakened figure, but he remains the most powerful man in the football department. It's hard to imagine him signing off on an offensive player at No. 19 overall with his defense in need of immediate help.

This has been referred to as the Bills' most important draft in years. They're supposedly in win-now mode (when aren't they?), despite a defense that has been hit hard by attrition. When Whaley said they needed a difference-maker, he wasn't talking about a developmental quarterback.

The defense regressed in Ryan's first year. Months later, it still staggers the mind to know they had only 21 sacks, the team's fewest since 1977. They also finished 24th in yards allowed per rush at 4.4 a carry.

So it was high time for Whaley to go defense with a high pick. The Bills hadn't taken a defensive player in the first round since Stephon Gilmore in 2012 -- or addressed the defensive front seven since drafting Marcell Dareus third overall in 2011.

They needed a dynamic defender who could step right in and contribute -- to use this year's trendy draft expression, a "plug and play" guy. As Whaley asserted, they'll plug Lawson right into their defensive front.

Mel Kiper, the ESPN draft guru, had Lawson rated the 12th-best prospect on his big board and agreed with Whaley that Lawson would be an immediate contributor. Lawson, who is 6-3, 270 pounds, blossomed in his third season at Clemson and was dominant against the pass and run.

Lawson is versatile and can play different places along the defensive front in a 3-4. That, along with his passion for football, should endear him to Ryan. We probably haven't seen the last of Rex wearing a Clemson helmet to press conferences.

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