ORCHARD PARK, NY - MAY 11: Stephon Gilmore #27 of the Buffalo Bills runs drills during Buffalo Bills Rookie Camp on May 11, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
We have not run a State of the Buffalo Bills Roster article here since January, well before the team enjoyed its most productive and fan-friendly off-season in recent memory. Now that the team's 90-man roster appears set heading into the summer months, it's time to re-visit this series before training camp starts.
We'll start the process at cornerback, where things look vastly different than they did nearly four months ago. On January 23, we were talking about Drayton Florence being the "safest" of the team's three veteran corners; now he's the only one of the three no longer with the team, having been released shortly after the draft.
Head on in after the jump for a closer look at the cornerback position in Buffalo. Things have changed, and there's a huge burden of expectation being placed on a lot of young players.
Age: 21 (22 in September 2012)
Contract: Currently unsigned. Will get a fully guaranteed four-year deal in the $12 million range.
Little-discussed (or perhaps little-known) fact: Gilmore is the highest-picked cornerback in the history of the franchise, and only the second defensive back that the Bills have ever spent a Top 10 pick on (the other being Donte Whitner). Clearly, he's the man at corner, and the guy around which the position will be built (which we've now said about at least two more players on this list). We know what Gilmore was in college: a long, highly athletic, physical and versatile corner with good durability and tons of experience in the nation's best conference. How that translates to the NFL - and how Gilmore handles a high amount of responsibility as a 21-year-old rookie - remains to be seen.
Contract: UFA in 2015. Entering the second year of a four-year, $5.2 million rookie contract.
With the Bills in a full-on youth movement at the position, last year's second-round pick is being looked at as a starter, despite the fact that he missed large chunks of his rookie season with collarbone and knee injuries. That's concerning given that he is one of two major investments the team has made at the position in the last 13 months. When he played last year, Williams had his moments and looked the part, but he also took his lumps and gave up some plays. He's got the potential to emerge as a high-quality starting cornerback, with health concerns and inconsistency the two major hurdles for now.
Age: 31 (32 in October 2012)
Contract: Signed a re-structured deal on February 22 that is essentially a two-year deal with salaries under $1.5 million annually.
McGee is still with the team thanks to his willingness to accept a low-money contract re-structure; had he not made that very wise decision, he'd be long gone (and Florence might not be), as his health has been a major issue in recent seasons. He's missed 22 games in three years - that's nearly half of each season on average. In the brief time that he was healthy in 2011, he was Buffalo's best cornerback. He may still be Buffalo's best cornerback, and it would be equally unsurprising if McGee unseated one of the young corners as a full-time starter, or if he got hurt again. He's the true wild card of the position.
Age: 23 (24 in October 2012)
Contract: Signed a four-year, $2.5 million rookie deal in early May.
A top high school recruit, Brooks enters the NFL fairly raw and somewhat inexperienced having played a limited role at LSU thanks to the likes of Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Athletically, he's got everything you look for save elite length, with good-enough size and great speed and agility. He profiles as a sub-package cornerback that will play in the slot, and he also had a flair for the dramatic in college, making big plays on special teams. That'll be his initial role in Buffalo, and while that might be where he settles in, he's got down-the-line starting potential.
Contract: Terms are undisclosed, but he's entering the second year of his rookie deal.
Rogers was a pleasant surprise as a rookie seventh-round pick, emerging as a very dangerous kick returner, where he averaged 28.7 yards per return and broke off several huge gains. When injuries got the best of this position, Rogers stepped into a nickel role and was competitive. He's got his work cut out for him competing for a sub-package role, but he's the top kick returner entering the season, and has outstanding potential in that role.
Age: 26 (27 in September 2012)
Contract: Will make $1.32 million this year, which is the final year of his rookie contract.
The highest-drafted cornerback in franchise history up until just a few weeks ago, McKelvin will have his work cut out for him making this team, let alone competing for playing time at a position loaded with younger talent. McKelvin's struggles come when he has to turn and run, as he was beaten early and often on deep throws in 2011, ultimately leading to his benching. To his credit, he responded to his demotion very well, emerging as an elite special teams player (including averaging 19.5 yards per punt return and scoring a touchdown) and competing hard to earn his keep. His punt return and special teams coverage abilities could very well make him worth keeping around in the final year of his deal, and he has consistently shown the ability to make plays on the ball coming forward through his career, which makes him an option in the competition for a sub-package role, as well. Don't count Leo out yet, but his 2011 benching means he's got some work to do to earn playing time.
Contract: Under contract for 2012 after signing a reserve/future deal in January.
Miller survived a tumultuous off-season at this position and will compete for a roster spot in training camp, by all current appearances. The former Georgia player spent the 2011 season on the team's practice squad.
Contract: Signed as an undrafted free agent in early May.
Though he's a bit slender for a Bills cornerback (178 pounds), Hill is an interesting athlete that didn't get much opportunity to play until his senior season at Virginia Tech. He'll compete at the back end of the roster in camp, and has a shot at the practice squad.
POSITIONAL OUTLOOK: For now, it's safe to pencil Gilmore and Williams in as starters thanks largely to McGee's injury history. If McGee can get through camp healthy, there's every chance that he starts, relegating Williams to nickel duty to start the season (McGee would play in the slot in those packages). Brooks, Rogers and McKelvin will all offer competitive depth at various positions. Since January, the team has a lot more clarity (not to mention talent and youth) at this position, but there are still question marks here.