During the 2012 season, the Buffalo Bills played nickel or dime defense on roughly 54 percent of defensive snaps. The third cornerback that took the majority of those reps was second-year pro Justin Rogers, who played 49.4 percent of the team's snaps last season. (Remember, if you will, that Leodis McKelvin actually began the season as the nickel corner.)
Rogers has stiff competition for that third corner spot this season, and though he has far more experience than his top two competitors, he may also be looking up at one or both on the depth chart when training camp begins in a little more than two weeks.
Brooks, who missed half of his rookie season last year with a foot fracture, was on the field for just 162 snaps, or roughly 30 percent of Rogers' total. There is, however, more athletic upside with Brooks than there is with Rogers; Brooks is a more explosive natural athlete, which might make him a better physical fit on quicker slot receivers.
Hot on the heels of Brooks and Rogers is an undrafted free agent that has made his fair share of plays in spring practices.
"Nickell Robey has come in and done a real nice job," Pettine said last month. "You can tell he (was) very well-coached in Southern California. He's made big plays in big games. I don't think it'll be too big for him."
Robey, a junior entrant in the 2013 NFL Draft, likely was not selected because of concerns about his size (5'7", 169), which will limit how and where teams will use him at the pro level. That said, Robey is an outstanding athlete, as evidenced by how his physical numbers stand up next to Brooks', who is also a top-notch athlete. (We'll include Rogers' Combine workout numbers below, as well.)
With a brand new defense installed, the experience factor may not carry as much weight as it normally would - and as Pettine has come right out and said that Brooks is in line for a lot of playing time, he enters training camp as the obvious favorite. But Pettine has had nice things to say about Brooks' competition, and there's enough to like about Robey and Rogers to consider this one of the more intriguing three-horse races as camp approaches.
Who do you think is the best option for the Bills' nickel back role this season?