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Bills hope to reverse spotty drafting history this weekend

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- At first glance, Buddy Nix's plan entering the NFL draft appears to be as easy as 1-2-3.

Once the first two selections are made Thursday night, the Buffalo Bills general manager figures all he has to do is look down the list of his top-three prospects and pick the one still available.

"We've got three guys and we figure one of them will be there," Nix said. "Actually, I could tell you exactly who we're going to take if you would guarantee me who the first two picks are."

It sounds simple enough. With so many holes to address on a team that's coming off a 4-12 season, the Bills aren't in a position to be choosy.

A pass-rushing or run-stopping linebacker's an option, with Texas A&M's Von Miller listed in numerous mock drafts as a potential selection. Buffalo's porous defensive line can use help. How about an offensive tackle?

Who knows, with coach Chan Gailey's reputation for developing quarterbacks, maybe this is the year Buffalo takes a serious run at filling the face-of-the-franchise-sized position that's been left unsettled since Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season. Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, anyone?

Nix, of course, won't provide any hints. But with four picks among the first 100, and nine overall during the three-day draft, he considers this weekend an ideal opportunity to help make the Bills relevant once again.

"We feel really good about making the next step," Nix said in addressing season-ticket holders last month. "I know you've heard that before, but we're optimistic."

He was right about one thing, at least.

In his second season on the job, Nix isn't the first Bills general manager to have made that claim to a win-starved fanbase that's endured 11 seasons without a playoff berth -- tied with Detroit for the NFL's longest active drought.

If Nix intends on delivering upon his high hopes, it begins with reversing a spotty drafting history that has put the Bills in this position as a perennial NFL pushover in the first place.

Of all the holes the Bills have, the one thing they don't need is yet another first-round bust.

There was offensive tackle Mike Williams, who flamed out and was cut three seasons after being selected fourth overall in 2002. The Bills got very little in return from trading back into the first round to land quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd overall in 2004) and defensive tackle John McCargo (26th overall, 2006).

Then there's supposed pass-rushing specialist Aaron Maybin, who has as many NFL career sacks as he does starts -- namely, zero -- since being selected 11th overall two years ago.

"Certainly we've had our misses up at the top," chief scout Tom Modrak said. "But there are a bunch of things that go into making a team. In this draft, you're going to try to solve some of those problems. I don't think that you can solve them all."

Nix set an even higher goal.

"Where we're picking, we've got to hit it on the nose," Nix said. "There's no way around it."

The Bills braintrust has made it no secret that their top priority is bolstering the front-seven of a defense that was undone by injuries and had difficulty making the switch to a 3-4 scheme. Buffalo allowed 200 yards rushing eight times last year, and 2,714 overall -- the second-highest total in team history. The 425 points allowed was also second worst.

To make matters worse, the Bills were unable to generate a consistent pass rush, failing to fill the loss of Aaron Schobel, who was cut in August after Buffalo couldn't wait any longer for the veteran player to decide on whether to retire.

The Bills did claim Shawne Merriman off waivers in November, but the former star pass-rusher failed to make an impact. He didn't play a snap for Buffalo after aggravating an Achilles' tendon injury.

Despite the injury, the Bills re-signed Merriman to a two-year contract in January.

Don't rule out the Bills selecting a quarterback, if not with the No. 3 pick then potentially in the second round, 34th overall, which makes Florida State's Christian Ponder a possibility.

Though confident in how journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick provided the Bills offense a spark last year, Nix and Gailey haven't ruled out finding his eventual replacement.

"Now, our greatest need is not quarterback," Nix said. "But if there were to be a franchise guy there and one we deem as a guy that can go eight or 10 years, be the face of the organization and take us to the playoffs and win every year, you can't pass him up."

Gailey maintains Fitzpatrick will remain his starter next season. That was particularly apparent during a telephone conference call last week.

In fact, in promoting the Bills annual game in Toronto, Gailey was asked who his starter would be Oct. 30, when Buffalo "hosts" Washington.

"I would expect Fitz to be that," he said, "unless you think he's going to get hurt or something."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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