Greer, Youboty in the mix at CB (Photo Source)
Note: As Buffalo Rumblings counts down the days until the start of the Buffalo Bills' 2008 training camp (current count: 8), we'll be breaking down some of the bigger battles we're sure to witness during summer practices as part of a comprehensive package of pre-camp topics we'll explain in more depth in the near future. For now, we'll continue our Battles series by looking at the battle for the team's starting cornerback position. Previous installments: Backup TE, Backup LT
There is currently no bigger logjam on the Buffalo Bills' roster than the one at cornerback. Six players will be competing for playing time, and with only three positions seeing consistent work on the field, the competition should be fierce. Veteran Terrence McGee will once again man one starting role. Who should be his running mate? Meet the candidates...
The Favorite: Jabari Greer (33)
After taking over for two injured players - Jason Webster and Ashton Youboty - at this starting position last season, Greer hasn't let go of his new role. Yet. A notoriously excellent training camp performer - even as an undrafted rookie free agent - Greer is very likely to hold off what has become a stiff competitive field for the starting role he claimed last season. He's certainly not the long-term answer at this position (in fact, he may not hold onto this spot long if he does win it), but he's currently the player most likely to start on opening day.
The Upstart: Leodis McKelvin (28)
Bills fans aren't giving McKelvin enough credit - if there is one player who can erase Greer's penciled-in name as a starter, McKelvin is the guy. First-round picks, unless they're quarterbacks, rarely sit the bench these days, and while guys like Greer and Will James are excellent competition for the #11 overall pick, it's clear that McKelvin is on the fast track to being Buffalo's top cover guy. He's been taken under the wing of strong safety Donte Whitner, so we know he's working hard. He's certainly got the athletic prowess to be elite. McKelvin has a much better shot than most people believe at landing a starting role on opening day.
The Darkhorse: Will James (21)
He's currently believed to be the leading candidate to land the nickel corner role, but James has a wealth of starting experience at the NFL level - something his running mates don't have. He's a big, physical corner as well - again, a leg up on his competition. In three-corner sets, James will almost certainly play inside against slot receivers, as his long arms and length will allow him to jam and/or redirect those receivers. But that wouldn't stop him from playing outside in normal alignments. He's more of a darkhorse/longshot hybrid, but we can't count James out of this race yet.
The Longshot: Ashton Youboty (26)
He's certainly got the biggest hill to climb to see any sort of playing time, but we tend to quickly forget how young Youboty still is, and how much potential is still there. Youboty can make plays, but he's still lacking in the mental department - chalk that up to his being inexperienced thanks to some bad luck and injuries. There is still plenty of upside with this kid. I wouldn't be shocked to see him have a very strong training camp - and he still has the talent to start in this league.
Predicting the Winner
Yes, it's really rather obvious that Greer is the clear front-runner at this stage of the game. He's been with the club, he knows the coaches, he's played relatively well while on the field. I get that. But there's just something about this McKelvin kid. We tend to assume that the Bills don't have to rush him onto the field right away (mostly because it's very true), but that tends to overshadow the fact that he could very well earn the right to play right away. Plus, if the plan is really to play James at nickel, then McKelvin will need to be on the field in some other capacity - likely over, or splitting time with, Greer. I think the former will happen. My first bold prediction - I think McKelvin is starting next to McGee, if not on opening day, then by Week 4. This kid has Pro Bowl talent. He won't be playing sub-package roles for very long.
Ultimately, my opinion is as good as all of yours'; let's hear it, folks. Who should/will be Buffalo's starting cornerback heading into the 2008 season?