If you ask any "expert" about the Bills' off-season, most will point out that the biggest loss suffered by the team was cornerback Nate Clements. It's hard to argue this - Clements is one of the better cornerbacks in the league. But contrary to popular opinion, our cornerback situation is not as dire as most people like Bills fans to believe. Why is that? Simple: Terrence McGee is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL.
Before any of you try to have me committed, hear me out. I know there is a huge contingent of Bills fans that will point out that McGee was picked on early and often last season and surrendered a lot of big plays. There are more Bills fans who will cite his size (5'9", 198) as prohibitive of McGee being a top-flight corner in this league. And there are some Bills fans who believe that McGee shouldn't be playing cornerback at all; these people claim (not incorrectly) that McGee's value as an elite kick returner should relegate him to sub-package duties on defense.
Unfortunately, this team doesn't have that luxury. It's not fair to keep a talent like McGee on the sidelines, at any rate. In the Bills' Tampa-2 style of defense, McGee has all the necessary tools to be a dominant force. He's not the biggest man, but he's built solidly, which makes him a fine tackler (he finished tied for fourth on the 2006 Bills with 77 tackles, six more than Clements, considered one of the best tackling corners in the game). His solid build also makes him adept at jamming receivers at the line. He obviously has above-average speed, which gives him good recovery skills. With continued experience in this defense, McGee has what it takes to permanently lock down the #1 corner job in this defense. Seriously.
So why the issues last year?
McGee's subpar '06 season was a product of three factors: having Clements working opposite him; an extremely porous run defense; and working with two rookie safeties. The Clements situation was obvious - if you had to choose which side to throw to, would you honestly choose Clements' side? With McGee being picked on as opponents stayed away from Clements, he was often left alone on an island due to the fact that we had to stack eight or sometimes nine in the box to stop the run. Even when he did have help behind him, it was usually Ko Simpson. As effective as Simpson was as a rookie, he has the propensity to allow big plays due to his lack of top-end recovery speed. These factors, in my mind, were the biggest contributors to a poor season for McGee.
What Needs to Change
There is one thing we need from McGee that we only saw one glimpse of last season: playmaking. McGee's zero interceptions last season didn't exactly scream "starting material", and his one big play defensively was a long fumble return for a touchdown in the 17-16 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Obviously, as our top defensive back this season, McGee is going to have to come through with big plays for us. With Clements (3 picks and a touchdown) out of the picture, we need McGee to become our "turnover specialist", so to speak, so that the Bills can avoid a few shootouts this season.
In no way am I saying that McGee is going to make Bills fans forget Nate Clements. In no way am I saying that McGee could be a starter for any team in the league. Just keep in mind that heading into last season, McGee was viewed in a much more positive light by fans than he is now. He's a talented guy. Give him a chance to prove it this season - he's a playmaker, he's talented, and now he has a platform to show it. I don't expect any drop-off from our secondary this season, but I do expect to see a lot more of Terrence McGee in the highlight reels.