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Bills mum on draft picks despite obvious need at WR, CB

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Russ Brandon didn't land the second-most powerful position with the Buffalo Bills by being careless, and he's not about to start now.

Three months into his term as the Bills chief operating officer, Brandon shelved his marketing background by showing he's adept at the time-honored, highly secretive approach taken by football executives in the days leading up to the NFL draft.

The Bills open the draft Saturday with the No. 11 pick, and their needs might be obvious -- receiver, cornerback and tight end -- coming off consecutive 7-9 finishes and looking to snap an eight-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history.

But a tightlipped Brandon refused to spill a single bean regarding the Bills' specific plans during his first pre-draft luncheon with reporters recently.

"It's a good question," Brandon said when asked how important it is for the Bills to draft a receiver to complement Lee Evans and bolster an offense that ranked 30th in the NFL last year. "But you know we're not going to get too far into that."

It's an answer that would have made Marv Levy proud, considering Brandon directly credits the Hall of Fame coach's influence. And it was Levy's departure -- he stepped down as the Bills general manager in January following a two-year stint -- that led to Brandon's promotion as team owner Ralph Wilson's right-hand man.

Levy's soft touch is credited for helping settle a franchise that floundered during former team president Tom Donahoe's five-year tenure, a stint in which Buffalo went through two coaches and lacked direction, consistency and identity. It's now on Brandon to complete the transition and make the Bills competitive again.

The process started with free agency last month, when the Bills addressed their porous, undersized defensive line by landing tackle Marcus Stroud, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, in a trade with Jacksonville and solidified their linebacking corps by signing linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

The next step is the draft and Brandon sees his role as similar to Levy's: a consensus-builder, relying on the input of Wilson, chief scout Tom Modrak and coach Dick Jauron.

"We'll do what's in the best interest of the organization and, ultimately, it will be my responsibility," Brandon said.

It's in the Bills' best interest, then, to immediately address an offense that lacked punch last season during a transition at quarterback after rookie third-round draft pick Trent Edwards took over the starting job ahead of J.P. Losman.

Despite getting an immediate boost at running back last year from first-round draft pick Marshawn Lynch, the Bills offense lacked finish. It produced only 20 touchdowns, setting a franchise low for a 16-game season, much the result of a passing attack that failed to break 200 yards 11 times.

Evans struggled in particular, limited to 55 catches for 849 yards and five touchdowns, a year after he had 82 catches for 1,292 yards and eight TDs.

"We've made no secret of the fact we'd like to get a big receiver," Jauron said during the NFL owners meetings earlier this month. "We'd love somebody who can be covered but not covered: You can throw him the ball and he can out-muscle you for it. I'd like to do that."

The Bills haven't had that type of receiver since trading Eric Moulds to Houston two years ago.

There are several prospects in the draft that fit the bill, including Michigan State's Devin Thomas, Texas' Limas Sweed and Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly, who's stock has dropped dramatically.

All three are considered mid-first-round picks at best, and would require the Bills to pass up higher-ranked prospects that might be available at No. 11. Barring a trade down, Buffalo would consider drafting a cornerback should Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Troy's Leodis McKelvin be available. Another option could be bolstering depth at defensive end.

Losman's future with the team might also be determined this weekend. He has one year left on his contract, but has requested a trade.

Brandon said he expects Losman will be on the team this season, but that doesn't mean the Bills wouldn't entertain trade discussion. The Baltimore Ravens are suddenly in the market for an experienced quarterback after Steve McNair retired last week.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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