ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Shortly after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, Marcell Dareus showed off his defensive skills by happily enveloping NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a giant bear-hug on the Radio City Music Hall stage.
The Bills are now counting on the Alabama defensive lineman to show how adept he is in wrapping up opponents in similar fashion on an even bigger platform next season.
With a big hole to fill on what's been a porous defense, the Bills wasted little time in plugging it by selecting Dareus with the No. 3 pick in the draft.
"I'll accept that (challenge) with open arms," Dareus said during a telephone conference call. "I'll do everything in my power to make that happen."
Listed at 6-foot-3, 308 pounds, he's a versatile lineman who can play either on the end or tackle, and showed an ability of pressuring the quarterback as well as stopping the run. Dareus was the defensive MVP in helping the Crimson Tide defeat Texas in the 2010 national championship game.
"He is a force to be reckoned with," coach Chan Gailey said. "There's a lot of people who make plays, but he is a force. He creates havoc on the offensive side."
That's exactly what the Bills were looking for in the draft to address their top priority: a leaky defense that finished last against the run last season, and had difficulty generating a pass rush.
Though Buffalo considered the possibility of drafting a quarterback with its top pick, general manager Buddy Nix said Dareus filled a much bigger need.
"You guys always use the words 'Safe pick,'" Nix said, referring to reporters. "I don't know if there's any such thing. But I think (Dareus) is about as close at it gets, because he's got the right character."
Nix credited Dareus for being a consistent producer in playing against elite SEC opponents, and for particularly coming up big in important games.
Dareus finished with 11 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures in 33 career games, including 15 starts. He was also part of a defense that finished in the top 10 in the nation against the run in each of its past two season.
His most memorable performance came in the national championship game, in which his hit knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game in the first quarter. Dareus then had an interception return for a touchdown.
He joins a Bills defense that took much of the blame for the team's 4-12 finish. The unit particularly struggled against the run. 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.
The Bills have also struggled generating a pass rush. They had 27 sacks last season, and have averaged 27.25 sacks over the past four seasons. The No. 3 selection was the team's highest since selecting defensive end Bruce Smith first overall in 1985.
Getting drafted ended an emotionally draining year for Dareus. His mother, Michelle Luckey, died in May. And he traveled to New York for the draft, while his home state was bombarded by a series of deadly storms.
Dareus, who is from Huffman, Ala., said he's exchanged texts with his brother and has been informed his family is safe.
"There's a lot going on," he said. "I can't wait to get back home to try to see what's going on so I can fill in the blanks."
After that, Dareus is looking forward to playing in Buffalo. And the prospect of playing in cold weather certainly won't bother him.
"This is a chance to shine some light on the city," he said. "They say it's too cold. I'm going to bring some warmth to it."
The Bills have missed the playoffs 11 straight years, and have enjoyed just one winning season in that stretch, a 9-7 finish in 2004.
Barring trades, the Bills have eight more picks through the three-day draft, including three more among the top 100. Their next scheduled is 34th overall.
Nix didn't rule out the possibility of the Bills drafting a quarterback in the second round. Nix noted the Bills were considering selecting Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the No. 3 pick if Dareus wasn't available.
Though Buffalo is comfortable continuing with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter next season, the team hasn't ruled out acquiring his eventual replacement.