The 2013 NFL Combine is in the books, and while the fervor of the weekend will live on throughout the remainder of the pre-draft process, Buffalo Bills fans should be particularly aware of this weekend's results. Why, you ask? Because the Bills have spent three first-round draft picks on Combine standouts under the leadership of GM Buddy Nix. Let's review:
2010: C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
Spiller was one of the best play-makers in the history of college football, finishing his four-year career with 7,588 all-purpose yards and 51 touchdowns - 21 of which were 50 yards or longer. It was not surprising, then, when Spiller dazzled with a 4.37-second 40-yard dash (unofficially a 4.27, and with a 1.48-second 10-yard split), plus a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10'6" broad jump. The performance only re-affirmed what was plainly evident on tape: Spiller's speed and burst are rare, so much so that they made his size (5'11", 196 pounds - a bit small for a running back) very easy to overlook. He was, by a massive margin, the closest player to a "slam dunk" that the Bills have picked under Nix.
2011: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
A junior entrant in the 2011 NFL Draft, Dareus was only a one-year starter under Nick Saban before the Bills picked him at No. 3 overall. His college production did not wow anyone (20 tackles for loss, 11 sacks over two seasons), but his athleticism did - so much so that well-known draft analyst Mike Mayock rated Dareus as the best overall prospect in his very deep, very talented draft class. Measuring in at 6'3" and 319 pounds, Dareus impressed with a 4.93-second 40-yard dash (1.68-second 10-yard split), and his size, strength and movement ability had scouts raving about his scheme versatility - which will come in handy with a hybrid defense in 2013.
2012: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Another junior entrant, Gilmore was a three-year starter in college, amassing 181 tackles, seven sacks, seven interceptions and 23 defended passes in that time frame. Yet he flew under the radar for a while - until the Combine, that is, when Mayock pointed out that cornerbacks with Gilmore's size (6'1", 190 pounds), length and athletic numbers (4.38-second 40-yard dash, 1.47-second 10-yard split, 36-inch vertical jump, 10'3" broad jump) are very rare. As a result, there was some talk that Gilmore could go as early as No. 7 a year ago, but wound up being Nix's guy at No. 10.
The bottom line here: yes, the Bills have used first-round picks on productive starters from big-time programs in power conferences. But these were also thoroughbred athletes that did great things in Indianapolis. Bear that in mind as we continue to discuss the 2013 NFL Draft in the coming months.