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Buffalo Bills rookie review: Christian Benford up and down against Minnesota

Benford played like a sixth-rounder punching above his weight; plus, how the rest of Buffalo’s rookies fared

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are on a string of poor performances through three straight weeks. The latest performance came in a 33-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in one of the more heartbreaking and wild games imaginable. Quarterback Josh Allen played a normal Allen game outside of an awful end-of-game interception. The defense cannot stay healthy, and became more banged up throughout the afternoon. The Bills went from the AFC’s No. 1 seed to the No. 6 seed with this loss.

A couple of rookies were thrust into bigger roles in this game. It was certainly a mixed bag. Let’s take a look.

Kaiir Elam, cornerback

Elam did not play in this game after apparently spraining his ankle in the third quarter of the Week 9 loss to the New York Jets. The Bills certainly missed him in their pursuit of attempting to guard Vikings all-pro receiver Justin Jefferson, who had nearly 200 yards receiving in this game. Nobody in the lineup could combat Jefferson’s route running on a play-by-play basis.

The Bills need Elam back in the lineup as soon as possible.

James Cook, running back

One of the more frustrating aspects about the 2022 Bills is their running back usage. Veteran Devin Singletary is not providing much of a spark to the offense. Cook has been running much better the last handful of games while his snap counts only minimally increase. The same can be said about trade acquisition Nyheim Hines (six snaps). It’s a major fault. While Allen continues to carry the offense entirely, the running game lacks. Cook needs more opportunity to at least see what is there.

Terrel Bernard, linebacker

Bernard was not the next man up when middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds re-aggravated a groin injury late in the first half. It was veteran Tyrel Dodson who received the snaps, and the play was subpar. Bernard hasn’t done enough to prove he belongs on the field in 2022. With injuries occurring at separate times to Edmunds and Matt Milano, the Bills have desperately needed someone else to step up to plug the hole. Effectively, nobody has done that, including Bernard.

Khalil Shakir, wide receiver

Shakir acted as the Bills’ No. 4 receiver in this game, which netted him 15 total offensive snaps. He had one reception for six yards, and another target on the game. Shakir is clearly on the Gabe Davis plan. Davis was the No. 4 receiver at best most weeks for the Bills in 2020 while his role saw a slight bump in 2021. Now, he has finally received the opportunity to be the true No. 2 in the offense. There is likely a plan in order for the fifth-round rookie. He was also demoted from his one full-time duty as punt returner when general manager Brandon Beane made the move to trade for Hines.

Christian Benford, cornerback

Benford played 80 snaps in this game, and it was among the most night-and-day halves of football you’ll see from a player. His first half was more than commendable, as he made several plays in the run game and broke up multiple passes intended for Jefferson—who he was in coverage against very often in this game. Benford was the beneficiary of a Kirk Cousins overthrow and came away with an interception. His second half was brutal. Jefferson found opportunity and broke off Benford multiple times. One zone drop late in the game resulted in a pass interference penalty, when he lost vision of the receiver and had little to no awareness of where he was on the field. While shrinking the gap, Benford ran directly into the receiver—resulting in a pass interference that extended a long down-and-distance for the Vikings.

It’s bound to happen for a sixth-rounder that he takes his lumps, and it was a less-than-ideal situation to put the rookie in. Dane Jackson, his counterpart, had a much more down performance than up despite an interception that Cousins threw directly to him. The Bills need Tre’Davious White and Elam back in a big way sooner rather than later.

Baylon Spector, linebacker

Spector was inactive once again for the Bills. I’m sure some Bills fans are ready to see him get a chance as one of the primary reserves at linebacker, but that seems relatively unlikely at this point.