With the help of the pressure brought on by the front seven of the defense, and with a couple of roster improvements, the Buffalo Bills cornerbacks had a better year than they did in 2012. The position struggled mightily in the early going of 2013, but once usual starters began to return from injury, the corners settled in a bit more.
Even still, the Bills are bringing in a number of top cornerback prospects to meet with coaches and see the ground in Orchard Park for pre-draft visits. It’s interesting considering their current roster makeup and for the fact that cornerback is one of the forgotten positions when it comes to the draft.
Could it be that where there is smoke, there is fire as well? Might the Bills actually draft a cornerback earlier than anyone is thinking at this point? Let’s examine:
What they have Starters: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey (nickel) Reserves: Corey Graham, Brandon Smith, Ron Brooks, Mario Butler
What they need
- Regardless of when it comes to fruition, the Bills will eventually need to find a longterm starter to pair with Stephon Gilmore to finally put the cornerback need to rest. Entering his third season, the Bills are hoping Gilmore can put his injury behind him and continue down the same path he was on during training camp of developing into a shutdown corner.
They’ll need him to regain that form, because the defense under coordinator Jim Schwartz will likely have a much different feel to it. While Mike Pettine specialized in bringing blitzes from all different places and sending more than four rushers on occasion, Schwartz shifts the philosophy back to having a dominant front-four and, in turn, putting more pressure on the cornerbacks on the field.
The big question is not about Gilmore — at least not at this point. One would have to believe that the concern is how Leodis McKelvin, who is heading into his seventh year, will do with more time in coverage. There isn’t any doubt that his season in 2013 was the best he’s had since his rookie year. If you study the tape, however, it’s fair to ask if it was merely a byproduct of Pettine’s pressure-packed defense.
Here’s another caveat to consider: McKelvin’s cap number takes a 50-percent jump up from the 2013 season to 2014. And if you go based on his 2013 number, his 2015 cap hit goes up nearly 61-percent. While there is no immediate danger to McKelvin, who turns 29 in September, it would be shortsighted to not at least wonder if the Bills are trying to find that longterm replacement.
Considering his age, his past struggles, a lack of playmaking ability (interceptions) and with more dynamic return specialists on the roster currently, it’s fair to consider if the former first-round pick could be in trouble after 2014. After all, McKelvin is owed a $750,000 roster bonus ahead of the 2015 season, and the normal rule of thumb for cornerbacks is to gently bring them up to the starting lineup after learning the NFL game.
Some will ask about free agent acquisition Corey Graham, but it seems he’s more of a situational player that will be used at both cornerback and safety depending on how the offense lines up. Graham will likely be a jack-of-all-trades type based on his skill set.
Nickell Robey is a solid nickel corner and will continue in that role, so there isn’t any reason to move on from the former undrafted free agent. Past those four, though, the Bills lack depth. Former fourth-round pick Ron Brooks has been a humongous disappointment in the rare times that he’s been healthy and could be entering a “prove it” training camp in 2014. Brandon Smith is an intriguing developmental player, but is far from being ready to contribute.
If the right player is available and depending about how they feel about McKelvin, cornerback could be the sneakiest “need” position for the Bills in 2014.
How will they do it?
- If the Bills stand pat at ninth overall, it would be a bit of a stretch to consider one of the top cornerbacks being in consideration for that pick. Based on the talent level of this draft that will likely push the top cornerbacks down the draft order, the Bills could be in prime territory at 41st overall to land a cornerback that could have been selected in the first round during weaker draft years. They’ve been bringing in numerous fringe-first round cornerback types, and some that could even be available in the third round. It would not be surprising at all if the Bills used a Day Two selection on the position, considering the type of pressure that will be put on them this coming season.
Players connected to the Bills (will be updated)
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (Pre-Draft Visit)
Bradley Roby, Ohio State (Pre-Draft Visit)
Phillip Gaines, Rice (Pre-Draft Visit)
Bashaud Breeland, Clemson (Pre-Draft Visit)
Ross Cockrell, Duke (Pre-Draft Visit)
Walt Aikens, Liberty (Pre-Draft Visit)