Sunday’s slow start nearly cost the Buffalo Bills a win against the Baltimore Ravens. Fortunately, a furious 17-point comeback led by a heroic defensive effort sent the Bills back home with a 3-1 record. Despite a long list of injured players heading into the game, especially on defense, and a host of continued defensive injuries going into the game, it was one of Buffalo’s most impressive defensive performance in recent memory. Linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, in addition to safety Jordan Poyer, were tremendous in this game.
Rookies didn’t seem like a big part of the Bills’ plans upon first glance, but late plays by one should draw some eyeballs. Let’s dive into the numbers to see who contributed and who didn’t amongst the 2022 NFL Draft class.
CB Kaiir Elam
Elam was certainly a factor in this game. His contributions in coverage were quite impressive. You didn’t see a bunch of him in pass coverage, but that’s because he was completely blanketing receivers the entire game. He played 69/70 possible defensive snaps on the day. There are currently no signs of an imminent return for cornerbacks Tre’Davious White or Christian Benford, which means Elam is likely to start once again against the Pittsburgh Steelers next week. Elam has a real chance to cement himself as a starter across from White, even with cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Benford clearly in the picture.
RB James Cook
In order to play as a rookie, players have to make the most of their opportunities—that’s especially the case with young players who are part of a Super Bowl-caliber roster. Cook hasn’t made plays in key opportunities when the games are close. Issues began with a fumble on his first regular-season NFL snap, and things haven’t gone much better since Week 1. The first-year back out of Georgia has dropped multiple passes designed for him in his very limited amount of snaps. His two snaps against the Ravens resulted in a dropped catch on one designed play. Cook has a legitimate shot to be inactive in future weeks because of his failure to produce when given an opportunity. Eventually faith sours, but hopefully the talented back can turn the corner as we get into the meat of the season.
LB Terrel Bernard
There isn’t too much new to mention with Bernard because he just isn’t getting defensive reps at this point. He’s hardly played on defense, and didn’t play a snap outside of special teams in Baltimore. It’s fairly disappointing to see both Day 2 selections failing to contribute in almost any way near the quarter point of the season. Bernard’s role is likely to be the same throughout the season, barring injury.
WR Khalil Shakir
At long last, we saw some meaningful reps for Shakir on offense, mostly due to wide receivers Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder suffering injuries in the second half. Shakir made a couple of key plays on Sunday. One of his impressive snaps included a broken play on the final game-winning drive where Shakir worked himself open for Josh Allen, who was in the middle of quite the impressive scramble drill. He also ran out to return a punt after the injury to Crowder; the punt resulted in a touchback. Shakir should be in line for more opportunities after making the most of his chance on Sunday. Crowder may be out for the season, which should allow Shakir to be active each week. There’s also a good chance he could find himself as the team’s permanent punt returner.
CB Christian Benford
Benford will be out for another week or two with the broken hand he suffered against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3. Elam’s play may result in questions about where Benford stands in the pecking order when he returns. But that isn’t something to consider until the sixth-rounder is fully healthy once again. Benford was playing quality football before his injury, so the team should have a good problem on their hands concerning who gets snaps throughout the season.
LB Baylon Spector
Spector was active again in Week 4, but wasn’t afforded any defensive snaps. Truthfully, we probably don’t want to see him playing defense this season unless it’s in garbage time. Spector’s role in 2022 is as an insurance policy. He’s also someone the team likely hopes to stash away on the roster for future years.