Youboty making his presence felt early (buffalobills.com)
"The pass defense of the Buffalo Bills in 2007 ranked next-to-last in the NFL." "He's injury-prone." "The Bills signed a cornerback and drafted three more in the off-season." "He's buried on the depth chart."
These were all used, once upon a time, as reasons why Buffalo Bills cornerback Ashton Youboty - just now entering his third season in the league - might not make Buffalo's final roster in 2008. After two years of misfortune, however, Youboty has emerged from the bowels of the Bills' depth chart. His work ethic is impeccable, and his potential is through the roof. What's more, he's backed up what he's done in the practice setting with results on the field.
In short, Ashton Youboty may have saved Buffalo's entire defensive backfield.
Youboty the player
The strides that Youboty have taken in just one off-season aren't completely shocking - there is, after all, a very good reason that the Bills made Youboty their third-round selection in the 2006 draft. The kid's got talent, and a lot of it. But his progress leading into the 2008 season can certainly be filed under the "pleasant surprise" category.
He hasn't hit his full potential yet. Particularly while back in coverage, Youboty has some polishing to do on his game. On one play in particular in the team's win over Seattle (you may remember it as the play in which Seahawks WR Nate Burleson shredded his knee, ending his season), Youboty got his hips turned badly almost immediately by Burleson. Had the receiver not been injured, it likely would have been a big gainer. Youboty's relatively new to playing the slot, so he needs to work on his leverages and his hips to become more effective in that role.
Where Youboty has made his mark, however, is as a playmaker. The Bills, by and large, have solid cornerbacks, but Youboty alone of the group has shown that he can consistently make plays from the position. He was even doing it in last year's season finale, intercepting a Donovan McNabb pass in one of the few highlights of that game. Youboty was effective making plays in the backfield against the Seahawks; Perry Fewell routinely used him in blitz packages, and Youboty ended up leading the team in tackles on the day.
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The Future of the CB position in Buffalo
The positives that Youboty's presence brings to the Bills goes beyond what he's done on the field. The Bills kept five cornerbacks on the roster this season - Youboty, starters Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer, and rookies Leodis McKelvin and Reggie Corner. Of that group, only two - the two rookies - are signed beyond the 2010 season.
Greer's contract comes up first; he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the current season. He, too, has been a pleasant surprise as a corner for the Bills, but it's not certain how he factors into the team's long-term plans. Both McGee and Youboty are free agents at the end of the 2009 season; while neither would ever pull a Jason Peters, you can bet that, if their current play continues, both will have their agents make inquiries about contract extensions.
Clearly, McKelvin was drafted to become an eventual starter, and Corner figures to factor in as a sub-package cornerback at some point in the future as well. Youboty's emergence bridges the gap between the two veterans (McGee and Greer) and the two rookies. It gives the Bills options - highly talented options, it should be noted - as they attempt to figure out exactly how this position will shape up in future seasons.
Regardless of how the future plays out, what's known is this: Youboty's emergence has been a pleasant surprise for this team, and it's put them in a good place at the cornerback position both on and off the field. Give the kid some credit - he's overcome a lot to get here. If he continues to play the way he has, Youboty should be here for a long time.