ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Bills general manager Doug Whaley did what he set out to do: surround quarterback EJ Manuel with more talent from the early rounds of the NFL draft.
A day after making a big splash by trading up to select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick, Whaley provided Manuel some big-bodied protection in the form of Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round on Friday.
"When I do say something, I do it, and I mean it and I try to fulfill it," said Whaley, who is overseeing his first draft in Buffalo after Buddy Nix stepped down last year. "We wanted to improve the offense, and we think, outside, we brought some weapons in. But we also needed to solidify the line. And that's the plan with drafting Cyrus."
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 322 pounds, Kouandjio was selected with the 44th pick, after the Bills traded down three spots in a deal with St. Louis. They also acquired the Rams' fifth-round pick (153rd overall).
Kouandjio started 26 of 35 games in three seasons at Alabama. In Buffalo, he addresses a need at tackle, and will be given a chance to compete for the starting job on the right side.
"We expect him to be contributing early. Opening day? Not sure. I can't put a timetable on it," Whaley said. "But your first- and second-round picks have to contribute early. Even your third."
In the third round, Buffalo turned its attention to defense by selecting Louisville linebacker Preston Brown with the 73rd pick.
The 6-1, 251-pound Brown started 36 of 52 games over four seasons. He's versatile enough to play the outside and middle positions. He finished with seven career sacks, including a career-best 4-1/2 last season, and 21-1/2 tackles for a loss.
Brown provides depth to a revamped group of linebackers with the Bills making the switch to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Jim Schwartz. The former Lions coach was hired by the Bills in January after Mike Pettine took over the Cleveland Browns' head coach.
The defense will feature two new starting linebackers after Buffalo signed Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers in free agency. And Kiko Alonso is shifting outside after a solid rookie season last year.
The Bills have four selections left over the final four rounds to be held on Saturday.
Kouandjio's stock dropped in the months leading up to the draft after questions were raised about a lingering left knee injury.
Whaley said the player was cleared by the Bills medical staff, and also noted the Kouandjio missed minimal playing and practice time in college.
Last year, he was credited with allowing 1-1/2 sacks on 365 pass attempts.
Kouandjio is from Cameroon. He was five, when his family moved to the United States and settled in Maryland.
His addition comes after the Bills added Watkins, who was regarded as one of the draft's most dynamic playmakers.
Watkins' addition prompted Buffalo to trade receiver Stevie Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers hours before the second round began. In return, Buffalo picked up an undisclosed pick in next year's draft.
After six seasons in Buffalo, Johnson became the odd-man out in what has emerged as a new-look passing attack. Whaley acquired receiver Mike Williams in a trade with Tampa Bay last month. Last year, Manuel was the first quarterback taken in the draft, and the Bills followed up by selecting receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Grissom in the second and third rounds.
Manuel oversaw an inconsistent offense that contributed to 6-10 finish and extend the NFL's longest active playoff drought to 14 seasons. His development was also slowed by three separate knee injuries that caused him to miss six regular season and two preseason games.
Though their running game was among the NFL's best behind Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, the Bills passing attack sputtered.
Manuel finished with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Overall, the Bills finished 22nd in the NFL by scoring 339 points, and their offense was limited to scoring two or fewer touchdowns 11 times.
"We've got to win games, and to win games, you've got to score more points," Whaley said. "So we wanted to improve the offense."
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