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Bills’ starting cornerback position far from settled with young trio battling

There’s a three-way battle at cornerback

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Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills drafted cornerback Kaiir Elam in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was heralded as a long-term answer at CB2 opposite Tre’Davious White who could come in and start right away. Elam has struggled during his first training camp and it’s opened the door for two other young players to step in and potentially snatch the starting spots in Week 1.

It was less than a week ago that we first started talking about sixth-round pick Christian Benford and his climb up the depth chart. Since then, he’s proven it’s no fluke and drawn praise from head coach Sean McDermott and beat reporters alike.

“He’s had a good start to camp,” said McDermott last Thursday. “He seems to have a good way about him—his disposition, his football IQ, his size, and his ability to move. He’s achieved when the odds have been stacked against him, both in life and on the football field.”

Since that day, he’s continued his solid play.

On Monday, he had a highlight breakup of a pass intended for Isaiah Hodgins over the middle and saw significant snaps with the first-team defense. He nearly came down with an interception on an underthrown ball, as well.

Defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier praised the rookie last week, as well. Coming from FCS Villanova, most didn’t expect Benford to have such an impact right away and there was even talk about trying him at safety. Instead, he’s been consistently proving his worth at CB.

“[Benford]’s another one of those young corners who has some maturity about him and some instincts and playmaking ability that really gets you excited,” Frazier said. “So we’re looking forward to just seeing his progression. He doesn’t back down in a situation.”

Elam is the one who has been losing time as Benford has gained it. Going against Stefon Diggs every rep is difficult, but Elam has been incredibly handsy during camp and frequently would have been called for illegal contact or holding. He’s also been beat by Diggs and Josh Allen on multiple occasions, which, again, is nothing to be ashamed about. Still, expectations were high for the first-rounder coming into St. John Fisher.

He had his best practice of camp on Monday, says Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic.

“On Elam’s first rep against wide receiver Gabriel Davis, Davis broke to the middle and the rookie first-round pick slipped in coverage. Then against Stefon Diggs, Elam bit on a double move and lost Diggs to the middle of the field. But on a different Diggs rep, Elam stayed step for step with Diggs as he tried to deceive him both to the inside and outside. Elam stayed firm against Diggs, stayed in his hip pocket and gave Allen no window to throw the ball. It was a great rep to build on,” notes Buscaglia.

The third player in the competition for the CB2 spot is Dane Jackson, who started in place of White last year following his ACL tear on Thanksgiving. The veteran played okay in those games and provided a floor as a backstop heading into 2022, and he may be pulling ahead.

At Sunday’s practice, Jackson took only first-team reps while Elam and Benford split first-team and second-team snaps. On Monday, he had some nice run fills and worked well on short routes. The run support and tackling is especially important for McDermott, who values that ability in his corners.

Ultimately, this three-way battle is going to be decided during preseason games when they aren’t going up against All-Pro Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, who may be having the best camp of any player.

We’ll also have more information soon about the return to play timeline of White, who is still not on the active roster following his surgery. If they decide to keep him on the PUP list to start the season, that gives him another month to work back into game shape. That would still be ten months post-injury, and he won’t be 100%.

If they can get two good starting cornerbacks out of these three players, maybe they can take more time with White. Either way, the Bills seemingly have some really nice depth at the cornerback position, something they haven’t been able to say in a while.