CB McKelvin is defense's biggest wild card (photo source)
Now that the 2009 NFL Draft is in the books and off-season player acquisition will crawl at a snail's pace, Buffalo Rumblings has begun re-examining the Buffalo Bills' revamped roster. We wrap up our 'State of the Roster' series this afternoon with a look at the cornerback position. Previous installments: QB, RB, WR, TE, OT, G/C, DE, DT, LB, S.
If there is one position that the current decision-making regime of the Buffalo Bills strongly believes is in constant need of additional depth, it's cornerback. As the saying goes, "you can't have enough cornerbacks" - and the Bills certainly ascribe to that belief. In the past two seasons alone, they have drafted five cornerbacks, attempted to re-sign one more (Jabari Greer), and successfully signed another (Drayton Florence).
There aren't any superstars at this position in Buffalo (though hopes are clearly high that second-year man Leodis McKelvin can eventually reach that status). But with five players that are deserving of serious amounts of playing time, the Bills clearly aren't lacking at the position. Preparing to face several strong aerial attacks this season, the guys on the roster had better be ready to play - and, perhaps far more importantly, stay healthy.
STARTER: Terrence McGee
Entering the final year of a four-year deal he signed in 2005, McGee is not only playing to hold off some upstarts at the position, he's playing to potentially finish his career as a Bill. He'll never be considered a top-flight corner in this league, but as Kurupt pointed out yesterday, he's consistent to the point of under appreciation. McGee is a good football player, and clearly the team's top starter at cornerback. Hopefully, his being relieved of kick return duties for a full year will lead to him staying healthy and avoid getting banged up; McGee hasn't played a full 16 games since 2004 (though he's hardly injury-prone).
STARTER: Leodis McKelvin
Pressed into the starting lineup last season thanks to injuries to the departed Greer and nickel corner Ashton Youboty, McKelvin played about as you would expect a first-year player from Troy to play - he flashed brilliance (see: two INT and a TD in a win over Kansas City), but he also made a lot of mistakes (see: misdiagnosing a play so badly that he allowed now-retired Jets QB Brett Favre to pick up 30 yards on a bootleg scramble). There is undeniable star power with McKelvin. But there are also major concerns, including stamina, as he'll be involved in the kick and punt return departments as well. Don't be floored if he's not a full-time starter at cornerback, folks. But the Bills clearly need McKelvin to be the playmaker of this group.
The second-year man out of Akron has been given an opportunity to win the nickel job, and he hasn't come close to disappointing to date, making plenty of big plays in the team's OTA practice sessions. He's small, but he's also quick, which should help him match up with slot receivers as he gets further acclimated with Perry Fewell's defensive system. Don't get over-excited yet, but the Bills may just have unearthed a nice player in the fourth round last year.
Signed to replace the departed Greer (New Orleans), Florence has a strong chance to lock up the nickel role if Corner can't, and he can also play outside as well. His value will come as a reserve, but don't take that to mean that he's just an injury replacement - Florence has been productive at the NFL level (not counting his disastrous 2008 season in Jacksonville), and that experience makes him a valuable asset in a very young Bills secondary.
Entering his fourth season, the only hindrance to Youboty's development has been his frail health. Through three NFL seasons, Youboty has been active for just 19 games - but when he's been on the field, he's proven to be a smart player, a sound tackler and has showcased a flair for the dramatic (1 INT, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 defended passes). It's a safe bet that if Youboty can stay healthy, he'll find his way onto the field - but it's clearly not a safe bet that he can stay healthy. Youboty is currently rehabbing from a foot injury and hopes to be ready by the starting of July training camp.
A rookie sixth-round pick out of USC, where Harris lacks in measurables (such as timed speed) he makes up for with big-game experience and a solid skill set for the Cover 2. He's got a future in this league; the real question is whether or not the Bills will be able to find a spot for him on their final roster.
Like Harris, Lankster is a rookie looking for any way to stick with the team. His best chance is to do so on the practice squad, and with a strong OTA under his belt to this point, he's got a strong chance at that. Buffalo's coaching staff likes Lankster's mental make-up and thinks he has a shot to play in the league.
I won't pretend to know anything about him. As pretty much everyone on the roster has a shot at the practice squad at this point, we'll leave it at that for Ward's synopsis.
He's found a way to stick on Buffalo's roster for the past two seasons only because of the sheer amount of injuries the position has incurred. He's also worked at safety some in Buffalo, but he's a longshot.
See: Ward, Kyle.
Contract situations: McGee and Youboty are in contract years. Florence signed a two-year deal in March. The only corners that are locked up for three years or longer are McKelvin (4), Corner (3), and eventually the Harris/Lankster duo. In a position that seems to be in a constant state of flux (almost out of necessity), re-signing McGee very well could become Buffalo's top priority from a personnel standpoint.
There's a lot to like about this position, particularly in terms of its excellent depth and potential. But it's also a position that has failed to stay healthy in recent seasons; the fact that McKelvin played in all sixteen games last season was something of a godsend. There are other question marks as well. Who will be the playmaker? Can McKelvin avoid a sophomore slump? Will the winner of the nickel job actually be a difference-maker? This is one of Buffalo's strongest personnel areas, but there is still a substantial amount that this group needs to prove. Practicing against Lee Evans, Terrell Owens and Josh Reed on a daily basis will hopefully help their cause.