Let the debate rage on: with the Buffalo Bills running a Cover-2 defense - a zone-based scheme that requires a specific type of cornerback - how high is this position on Buffalo's off-season list of needs? Despite enduring a rash of injuries at the position in 2007 (what position didn't escape this fate?), Buffalo's cornerbacks found a way to perform consistently throughout the season. There were some surprises at the position (Jabari Greer), and there were also some disappointments (Ashton Youboty).
Before we determine how much of a need the position is, let's examine the personnel:
Don't underestimate the season that McGee had in 2007. He'll always be a cornerback who gives up some plays - his size and this type of defense pre-determine that - but he's also a very tough player who makes a lot of plays on his own. McGee finished the season fourth on the team with a whopping 78 tackles (#12 among all league cornerbacks) and picked off four passes to boot (leading the Bills). He's as sound a tackler as you can find at the position, and his big-play ability could make him an elite corner if the Bills ever find a pass rush. The 27-year-old is just entering his prime, and should be in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.
Will Improve in '08 if - the Bills can bolster their pass rush :: he becomes quicker at leaving deep routes, jumping underneath ones :: he can continue to stay healthy
After losing two starters (Jason Webster and Ashton Youboty) to injury, Jabari Greer stepped in as a starting cornerback and even after Youboty returned to the lineup, Greer held on to the starting job. Like McGee, his size often hinders his play in this style of defense (where strength, height and tackling ability are required skills), but he makes up for his shortcomings with great ball skills and a knack for the big play. He may be a player better suited for nickel and dime work (although the Bills do like Kiwaukee Thomas there due to his bigger stature), but one thing is certain: Greer proved in '07 that he deserves a long look in '08.
Will Improve in '08 if - he's utilized more in man coverage :: he refines his tackling technique a bit
The biggest enigma at this position as we enter the off-season. If the Bills decide that they'd like an upgrade over Greer on the outside, do they look elsewhere, or re-sign Webster? The oft-injured veteran was injured in the season opening loss to Denver and missed the entire season; he'll also be on the wrong side of 30 when the 2008 season starts. My guess: he's not a Bill next season.
Thomas, who was signed to what is believed to be a two-year deal last off-season, was placed on IR on November with a groin injury. Thomas is a favorite of the coaching staff as the nickel back because at 5'11" and 188 pounds, he brings a physical, technically sound presence to the underneath areas of Buffalo's zone defense. Expect him to re-assume that role next season simply out of familiarity with the staff; if Greer is able to join him in those underneath duties, it would really diversity Buffalo's defense, especially in terms of making plays.
Year Two of the Youboty Experiment is in the books, and as of yet, the former third-round pick has not been able to lock down sufficient playing time. Injuries, family tragedies and a steep learning curve have kept Youboty on the sidelines; when he has been on the field, he has often looked lost. However, he still shows flashes of potential - his interception of Donovan McNabb in the season finale being the obvious example. He's got the makeup to play the position; with an off-season of diving into the playbook and getting stronger, he may surprise and steal Greer's starting spot back next season. Call that a very early gut feeling.
Will Improve in '08 if - he can stay healthy :: he gets stronger :: he refines his tackling technique :: the young man studies up
A veteran of the Cover-2 defense, Butler was added mid-season after injuries ravaged the position. He, too, missed time due to injury, and was an inconsistent performer on special teams. It was nice to have his experience, but with the position much healthier heading into the off-season, Butler's time in Buffalo seems to be up.
Fox is another former third-round pick (of the Minnesota Vikings) who has failed to live up to expectations at the NFL level. He's got solid size (5'11", 200) and the pedigree (Ohio State); he also played well on special teams. He may earn a spot on next year's roster, but only if this position goes untouched during the off-season.
Other Team Members: E.J. Underwood. Underwood is currently on the practice squad.
Off-Season Outlook: Really, there isn't a ton of work for the Bills to do at this position. McGee is a certain starter - whether it's as a #1 or #2 - and they also have solid veterans in Thomas and Greer, along with a developmental project that could still pan out in Youboty. An unexpectedly stable position, if in need of further stabilization, will get it from either a mid-round draft pick or a veteran; it might be hard to find something in between.
Possible additions: mid-round rookie, Tier 2 veteran free agent
Possible subtractions: Webster, Fox