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Opinion: Kaiir Elam gives the Buffalo Bills the CB reinforcement they badly needed

Young, athletic, experienced—Elam could compete to start as a rookie

The Buffalo Bills, known for their top-tier defense, needed a cornerback. Everyone knew it. Dane Jackson and a few UDFAs weren’t going to cut it, especially if Tre’Davious White missed time rehabbing his torn ACL, and the team struck out in free agency (or just decided to spend their dollars elsewhere). And so, unlike in 2020 and 2021 where general manager Brandon Beane tried his best to stage a backup plan everywhere on the roster, the Bills entered the 2022 NFL Draft with a glaring need at the position.

For most of the first round of the draft, they were in a strong position to land one, with only two CBs off the board after 20 players were picked. But shortly after Trent McDuffie went with the 21st pick to the Kansas City Chiefs, Beane worked the phones and traded a fourth-round pick to move up for Florida’s Kaiir Elam.

Here’s the skinny on Elam: He fits the size and speed prototypes for an outside cornerback (and if you’re familiar with Beane’s draft history, that was a given). A 6’1” 191-pounder, Elam has almost 31” arms. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and added a 37.5” vertical at his pro day. Elam is also one of the youngest prospects in the class, turning 21 in a week. Again, if you’re familiar with Brandon Beane, you know he was thinking about that.

For a young rookie, Elam already comes in with ample experience, because he became a starter and played in eight games as a true freshman. He’d start 30 games in his three college seasons, breaking up 20 passes and intercepting five.

Elam’s fast and fluid movement is the biggest selling point. The Bills lacked speed in their secondary, and it killed them against a team like the Chiefs. Elam plays with good patience in coverage, but when he needs to “click and close,” he closes the gap in a hurry.

The biggest concerns with Elam have to do with his tackling technique—he’s enthusiastic about making hits, but he frequently ended up with poor angles or diving and failing to wrap up the ball carrier. He was also prone to being stacked up on deep routes and getting grabby downfield, which is obviously a much worse offense in the NFL than in college.

When you think about Elam, think that he’s going to be treated closer to other Bills “projects” as a rookie: like Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau, he’ll push to start early on, but he won’t be thrust onto the field like Tremaine Edmunds. But he’s not a redshirt player—he could be the starter across from Tre’Davious White by the end of the year, and that’s a major reassurance. Beane can check the biggest need off of his list, and it only cost him an extra fourth rounder.

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