Buffalo Bills' Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin strong bets to start

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Thanks largely to a new coaching staff, the Bills will look different at cornerback in 2013 - even without making major personnel moves at the position.

The most significant personnel move that the Buffalo Bills made at cornerback this off-season was to re-sign veteran Leodis McKelvin to a four-year, $17 million deal. No veteran free agents or draft picks were added to the group for the first time since 2010. Thanks largely to a new coaching staff that's blurring the definition between cornerback and safety, however, the Bills will look quite a bit different at this position heading into the 2013 season.

Stephon Gilmore

  • Age: 22 (23 in September)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make a fully guaranteed $939,280 base salary in 2013.

Buffalo's unquestioned top corner from the moment he stepped onto the field as a rookie last season, Gilmore suffered through some ups and downs as a rookie; he had some stretches of excellent play, but also took a lot of penalties and proved himself rather rough around the edges technically. There's little question that he is the Bills' most talented and, frankly, most reliable corner at this point - and while that's not something to get excited about, his potential as a top-notch cover corner is. Whether or not he can outgrow the growing pains is the big question heading into the new year for Gilmore.

Leodis McKelvin

  • Age: 27 (28 in September)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2016 season. Scheduled to make $2 million in base salary in 2013.

At times within the past two years, McKelvin has fallen as far as to the No. 5 slot on the Bills' cornerback depth chart after stretches of terrible play. Each year, he's bounced back to (near) the top of the depth chart in the off-season, only to fall back down the pecking order quickly. Now, he is Buffalo's highest-paid cornerback and is being counted on to hold onto a starting job for a full season. McKelvin has a spot on any NFL roster thanks to his elite-level return ability, but without seeing McKelvin in Mike Pettine's new defense, calling him a starter seems a bit rich at this point.

Justin Rogers

  • Age: 25
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $555,000 in base salary in 2013.

A pet project of outgoing defensive backs coach George Catavolos, the 2011 seventh-round pick saw significant playing time as a nickel and dime cornerback in 2012, but didn't show much in the way of NFL-caliber coverage or play-making ability. The mere fact that Rogers has a lot of on-field experience gives him an edge over most of the other players on this list, and he's a gifted athlete with return ability, but when it comes to the cornerback picture, he's got the look of a guy that could get passed by quickly.

Ron Brooks

  • Age: 24 (25 in October)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $480,000 in base salary in 2013.

His rookie season was essentially a wash thanks to a broken foot that cost him a little more than two months, but when he did get playing time, he showed that he's a gamer - even if he was also roundly abused by opposing receivers from time to time. A top-notch athlete, Brooks can play outside or in the slot, has blitz ability off the edge and solid instincts despite not much playing time since he arrived at LSU, and should slide into a punt gunner role quickly as well. Whether or not he can make waves and push for playing time at cornerback remains to be seen.

Crezdon Butler

  • Age: 26
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $555,000 in base salary in 2013.

The Bills added Butler to the roster during the 2012 season, but the front office liked him all the way back to when he was a fifth-round pick in Pittsburgh in 2010. A big-bodied athlete with good workout numbers, Butler hasn't made it onto the field much in his three pro seasons bouncing between three teams, but has as much athletic ability as anyone at corner on this roster. He'll have a chance to climb the depth chart and compete for playing time this summer.

T.J. Heath

  • Age: 25 (26 in September)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $555,000 in base salary in 2013.

Another 2012 season addition, the 6'0", 188-pound Heath was on the team's practice squad, then called up to the active roster in early December. He didn't play a down on defense or special teams, however. Heath fits the theme of every player on the roster from this point forward: an interesting athlete that will compete at a developing position this summer.

Dominique Ellis

  • Age: 23 (24 in August)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

One of the team's most prolific tweeters, Ellis is an interesting player for the back end of Buffalo's roster because he has the safety/corner experience that fits the profile of Pettine's defense. He's a name to keep an eye on this summer as a sleeper candidate for roster consideration.

Nickell Robey

  • Age: 21
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

Nickell Robey was born in 1992; enjoy feeling ancient for the rest of the day. Robey is also an interesting story: the 5'7", 169-pound junior entrant went undrafted despite big-college experience (USC) and excellent athletic numbers (he ran 4.35 and jumped 40.5 inches at his pro day). Robey is another player to watch closely this summer.

Kip Edwards

  • Age: 23
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

A big-conference player with the size/speed combo to reasonably be called a safety/corner hybrid, Edwards is likely getting a look for that exact reason.

Vernon Kearney

  • Age: 24
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

An undrafted rookie free agent out of Lane, the 6'2", 185-pound Kearney fits the profile of the type of defensive back the Bills like - long, lanky and athletic.

Jumal Rolle

  • Age: 23
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

Hey, look - another 6'0", 188-pound defensive back with excellent athleticism that will try to be molded into a serviceable pro football player this summer.

Outlook

The Bills will be keeping a high number of defensive backs on the 53-man roster this season - 10 seems like a conservative projection at this point - but the real question is how many of those slots will be designated for an unproven group of cornerbacks. Buffalo has a talented (yet mostly equally unproven) group of safeties, and at least two of them - Aaron Williams and Duke Williams - can play some cornerback. It's only safe to assume that three of these players (Gilmore, McKelvin and Brooks) are mortal locks for the final roster at this point, but it's also possible that as many as six of these players will make the team. It's going to be an interesting summer at cornerback for the Bills.

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