Nam Y. Huh
April 29, 2016

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Bills general manager Doug Whaley had a singularly focused approach in addressing Buffalo's most immediate needs during the first three rounds of the NFL draft.

Defense, defense and more defense was Whaley's theme in a bid to provide coach Rex Ryan's under-performing unit a fresh start with a youth-laden makeover.

It's a process that began with Buffalo selecting Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson in the first round on Thursday. And it continue Friday, when Buffalo traded up eight spots to pick hard-hitting Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland at No. 41, and closed by plugging a hole in the middle with Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington.

Whaley didn't even wait for a question to be asked when he stepped to the podium for one final time and proclaimed: ''Defense again.''

Whaley and the Bills were left with little choice but to overhaul a high-priced unit that had such difficulty adapting to Ryan's system that several players - led by Mario Williams - publicly complained about it last year. Williams was cut last month and the Bills opened another spot by failing to re-sign starting linebacker Nigel Bradham.

''We had some holes. We had to make it over. If we didn't, we'd be going into the season with nobody,'' Whaley said. ''And we're very excited with how we filled those holes.''

Buffalo's defense dropped 15 spots from the previous season in finishing 19th in yards allowed, and managed just 21 sacks - a franchise low in a 16-game season.

Lawson is already pegged to take over Williams' starting job. Ragland, the SEC's defensive player of the year, will be given an opportunity to fill Bradham's spot. And the Bills are counting on Washington to play a supporting role behind starters Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.

The Bills were so keen on selecting Ragland that they traded their first of two fourth-round picks (117th overall) this year and a fourth-round pick next year.

Whaley said the Bills considered selecting Ragland with their first pick, but had Lawson rated ahead of him on their draft board.

Starting Friday morning, Whaley said he began contacting other teams in a bid to trade up. He began by contacting Cleveland, which had the first pick of the second round, and then moved through the list before reaching a deal with Chicago.

Ragland is listed at 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds and was a consensus All-American after he had a team-leading 102 tackles, including 6 1/2 for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles. He was also a finalist to win the Bednarik Award (linebacker of the year) and Nagurski Trophy (defensive player of the year).

Though he played middle linebacker for the Crimson Tide last season, Ragland also had experience playing the weak-side spot. He was a two-year starter at Alabama and finished with 17 1/2 tackles for a loss, four sacks and four forced fumbles over four seasons.

The one pressing question about Ragland came from the pre-draft combine in Indianapolis in February, when tests revealed the player had an enlarged aorta.

Whaley said Ragland was cleared by the team's medical staff. He added the Bills had so few concerns about the condition that they was prepared to select him with their first pick, but had Lawson rated higher.

Ragland said he was unaware of the condition until the tests results came back. He said he was also was cleared to play after visiting a specialist following the combine.

''I'm ready to go. I'm ready to play,'' he said.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 301 pounds, Washington was a three-year starter with the Buckeyes and had seven tackles for a loss, including four sacks last season. The big knock against Washington was a question about his maturity.

He was suspended from playing in the Fiesta Bowl last season after being arrested for soliciting a vice squad officer in December. The charges were dismissed under a plea deal.

''It was a mistake,'' Washington said. ''I learned from it and that is what you do, you learn from your mistakes.''

Whaley described Washington as being honest, apologetic and embarrassed, when asked about what happened by team officials during his pre-draft visit to the Bills headquarters.

Buffalo has four selections left, starting with a fourth-rounder (139th overall) on Saturday.

Whaley intends to turn his attention to other needs, including the possibility of drafting a quarterback.

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