The Buffalo Bills have kept a relatively low number of cornerbacks on their active roster over the past few seasons. But the injury to Tre’Davious White will linger into the season and some excellent play by the younger players in camp should make them re-think this approach.
Obviously White is going to be on the roster somehow, either the 53-man active roster or the PUP list for four weeks. First-round pick Kaiir Elam and last year’s starter Dane Jackson are the two likely opening-day cornerbacks, joining slot CB Taron Johnson in the starting lineup. Siran Neal signed a contract extension, and is a lock as a depth cornerback and special teamer. That’s been the extent of their cornerback room the past few years, with a few rotating pieces on their practice squad receiving call-ups.
This spring, they also drafted Christian Benford in the sixth round. While some folks thought he might transition to safety, the team wanted to try him at cornerback first. The former Villanova Wildcat has adjusted well to the big leap from the FCS to the NFL, and come on strong during the past few practices. He almost intercepted Josh Allen on Monday but it bounced off his hands—and he had an even better day Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Benford was lined up across from Stefon Diggs and locked him down on several consecutive plays before burning the rookie with a double move for a red-zone touchdown, per Matt Parrino of NYUP.com. (Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic) also talked up this sequence.) You can’t expect him to win every rep, but staying in the hip pocket of Diggs on any red zone attempt is a win for the rookie. Benford’s play has impressed defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier thus far in camp.
“He’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.”
Speaking of the young corners, Cam Lewis has been catching a lot of eyes during the first half of training camp. I still think he has a significant uphill climb to make the 53-man roster after repeatedly going unclaimed when the Bills released him, but he’s more than shown he belongs in the NFL by now.
Another player getting a ton of respect is Nick McCloud. Unlike Lewis, McCloud has been claimed off waivers from the Bills before. He spent two months with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021 after the Bills cut him to get to their initial 53-man roster before rejoining Buffalo in November following his release. To further his roster case, McCloud has been cross-training at safety with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer sidelined.
Before training camp, I had the Bills keeping six cornerbacks including Benford, while adding Lewis and McCloud to the practice squad. That’s more than they have kept previously, but I think would reflect the reality of White’s injury and the inexperience of Elam, Jackson, and Benford.
On Thursday morning, head coach Sean McDermott was asked about Benford and offered up heaping praise.
“He’s had a good start to camp. 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.”
Pretty strong words from the guarded McDermott.