Youboty, rookies pushing James off roster? (Photo Source)
One of the more intriguing positional battles that the Buffalo Bills were keeping tabs on heading into training camp was the battle going on for five - perhaps six - slots at cornerback. The Bills had three incumbents, a free agent addition, and three drafted rookies battling for spots on the team - and given the unique situations of players like Jabari Greer, Ashton Youboty and Leodis McKelvin, there were plenty of story lines to follow at the position.
Now, a month has passed since the onset of that battle, and not surprisingly, there have been some surprises, some disappointments and some depth chart shuffling at the position. We're three games into the pre-season, which means roster cut-downs are looming. We've seen enough from the top six corners on Buffalo's roster to boil the battle down to one fact: if the Bills feel they must cut a cornerback and keep only five on the roster, it's veteran Will James that needs to go.
Five or Six?
Buffalo's top six cornerbacks are all certainly talented enough to remain on the final roster - that's not very debatable. The problem with keeping all six players is that the Bills are virtually certain to keep five safeties, as John Wendling's special teams prowess locks him in behind the team's top four safeties. Eleven defensive backs is an awful lot to keep, and if the Bills decide to trim that number to ten, it's a cornerback that's getting the axe.
There is an argument to be made, however, that the Bills should keep the best 53 players on the team - and if that argument is followed, it very likely includes eleven defensive backs. If the Bills follow this strategy - and it seems like a very logical strategy to follow - don't expect any of Buffalo's top six corners to get cut. All of them have shown versatility and a willingness to play special teams to date. They're all good players.
Where potential meets veteran savvy
If the final verdict is five corners, however, the choice is clear in my mind: it's Will James that needs to go. The Bills have a solid starting tandem in Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer. Ashton Youboty - long thought to be the odd man out in this group - has two pre-season interceptions and has been the best tackler at the position. There's zero chance that the Bills will cut either of its two rookie corners, Leodis McKelvin and Reggie Corner - even if McKelvin's play has bridged between average and awful to date.
The main argument behind keeping James - besides the fact that he's been taking first-team reps at nickel corner since signing with Buffalo - is the fact that he's a veteran. It might be unwise for Buffalo to rely on a youngster at the nickel spot, as the position carries more importance in Buffalo's style of defense than it would for most other teams. But from what we can discern, the Bills are looking for size and physicality at the nickel spot - and Youboty can provide that. McKelvin and Corner are only going to get better the more they play, and the same can be said for Youboty at this point as well.
I've seen James making the same mistakes as the young guys this pre-season - he's flashed poor tackling habits and a tendency to get beat deep. So have the young guys. The young guys have potential; James doesn't at this point in his career. Ergo, easy choice for the Bills, in the estimation of yours truly - if the Bills axe a cornerback, Will James seems the most likely target.