Bills turn to defensive need on final draft day
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — After stocking up on offense early in the NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills turned to a glaring need on defense on the draft’s third and final day.
Buffalo selected safeties with back-to-back picks on Saturday, selecting Nevada’s Michael ‘Duke’ Williams 105th overall and Clemson’s Jonathan Meeks 143rd overall.
The Bills had a need on the back end due to the departure of veteran safety George Wilson, who has since joined the Tennessee Titans, and the uncertain future of standout Jairus Byrd. Byrd, one of Buffalo’s top playmakers, is unsigned after receiving the franchise tag on March 1. The Bills had no update regarding Byrd but team president Russ Brandon said there has been dialogue between the Bills and Byrd’s agent, Eugene Parker.
“They were the two best guys up there at the time we were picking,” general manager Buddy Nix said. “Obviously we want to be prepared for whatever happens.”
Listed at 5-foot-11, 201 pounds, Williams is considered a playmaker in the secondary and is known for his speed and physicality. Williams played mostly at strong safety at Nevada and finished with 292 tackles, 18 pass breakups and four interceptions.
Williams is the second Bills draft pick to have encountered off-field problems. He was arrested in 2009 for underage possession of alcohol and in 2011 for driving with a suspended license and without insurance after being involved in a car accident. In 2010, Williams had a fight with a teammate that sent the other player to the hospital. On Friday, the Bills selected Oregon linebacker Kristian ‘Kiko’ Alonso, who was suspended for the entire 2010 season due to separate alcohol-related offenses.
“We think they’re OK,” Nix said. “We think we can handle whatever problems; either they’ve handled them before now or we can when they get here, so that’s the answer.”
Meeks, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, had 157 tackles, seven interceptions and 13 pass breakups in 50 career games, including 24 starts. Meeks is a versatile prospect who could play at strong or free safety in the pros and has good size and range.
The additions of Williams and Meeks give new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine more options to work with as he attempts to overhaul a Bills defense that finished in the bottom third of the league in most major defensive categories. The Bills are switching to a hybrid 3-4 scheme under Pettine, the former New York Jets defensive coordinator, that will benefit from more versatile additions.
“It comes in again with the versatility and the ability,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “I think when you look at Duke ... he can play safety, he can play nickel, he can play corner. Meeks is someone who’s a deep-field safety but also has good range, good speed and can do a lot of things.”
The Bills went away from defense for their final two picks, selecting Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins 177th overall and Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg 222nd overall.
The selection of Hopkins places the future of veteran Rian Lindell in question. Hopkins is the NCAA’s career leading scorer for kickers with 466 points. He also holds an NCAA record with 88 career field goals. He has a strong leg and was successful on nine of his 15 attempts from over 50 yards with the Seminoles.
Lindell, 36, is the longest-tenured player on the Bills roster after joining the team in 2003. He’s the most accurate kicker in Bills history with a field-goal percentage of 82.9 percent.
“It means he’s got to compete, I would say,” Nix said of Lindell.
This is the second year in a row that the Bills have selected a kicker in the draft. Last year, the Bills picked former Western Michigan kicker John Potter.
With their final pick, the Bills addressed another need at tight end. Gragg, listed at 6-foot-3, 244 pounds, is a converted receiver who can help in the passing game. He’s expected to play multiple roles as an H-back in the pros. Buffalo’s starter at tight end, Scott Chandler, is making his way back from a torn ACL.
After a weekend that may define his legacy in Buffalo one way or another, Nix also put to rest any speculation regarding his future. The 73-year-old said that nothing has changed regarding his timetable for retirement, a statement that Brandon echoed.
“There’s a lot of speculation for whatever reason related to that but Buddy Nix is our general manager and will be for a long time,” Brandon said.