The Buffalo Bills are going to be without the services of Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White for at least the first four weeks of the season. Buffalo’s talented boundary cornerback continues to work his way back from an ACL injury suffered during a win over the New Orleans Saints last Thanksgiving night and begins the season on the PUP list.
White’s absence has created an opportunity for a pair of Buffalo’s rookie cornerbacks—first-round selection Kaiir Elam and sixth-rounder Christian Benford—to step up, become familiar with Leslie Frazier’s defense, and contribute right away.
Leading up to the start of the 2022 NFL season, which kicks off Thursday night with the Bills traveling to Southern California to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, general manager Brandon Beane and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Frazier provided some updates on how the team plans on utilizing its talented rookie cornerbacks.
“The best man plays,” Beane told reporters last Thursday. “I know those guys have been battling and I think if it was the way that it can be, you would just say hey, I’m going to make Kaiir fail multiple times before I turn it over to a sixth-rounder. But no, once they’re here, it’s an even playing field. It doesn't matter how you got here, whether you played at Florida (Elam) or Villanova (Benford) or wherever. That’s been a good battle with those guys and I know that will continue. They’re both great, they work well together, and it’s not like they’re rooting against each other. They both want to win, they’re both competitors and I think both of them are going to help us this year.”
Beane said that the pressure of adapting to playing in the NFL for a rookie is tremendous, especially for cornerbacks, who, as Beane mentioned, have the added challenge of trying to learn their position in the pass-happy NFL. But Buffalo’s general manager thinks his team has the right support in place, combined with the right veteran talent in the secondary, to set up Elam and Benford for success.
“They’re going to have some bumps in the road. They’re rookies playing a very difficult position. Quarterback is probably the most difficult to play, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell me something harder than cornerback in this league with the rules. The rules are very favored towards offense and points and things like that. But we feel like the guys we have up front, with the safeties we have in the back, that we can support these guys. You’re going to have to rely on young guys someplace, and right now it's at outside cornerback for us,” Beane said.
On Monday, three days before the season opener, Frazier gave his take on Buffalo’s young cornerbacks and how they will fit into Buffalo’s scheme, telling the assembled media at practice that the team is still sorting through its options with both Elam and Benford, and that Buffalo will “mix it up” with them in the game. Which could mean the team will turn to the hot hand to determine who plays when.
Does Beane care about the optics of a sixth-rounder pushing his team’s first-round draft pick for playing time in the secondary? Absolutely not.
“Those guys have battled, and just because Christian was drafted in the sixth and Kaiir was in the first round, doesn't mean that Christian doesn't get to play as much as Kaiir,” Beane said. “Guys are exposed to different things at different times. I think Christian probably was exposed to a little more variations of defense that we do than Kaiir, who was playing a lot of press at Florida, which is good. So they came in with different strengths and now you’re fitting them into your defense and your scheme with your talent. It goes back to what we said earlier: players know players and everyone is paying attention to all competitions that happen. So no, if at some point this year we felt that Christian gave us the best chance to win, we’re here to win and that’s what we would do. Those guys have rotated and it hasn’t just been handed to Kaiir or anybody else for that matter.”
The top cornerback spot appears to be locked up by Dane Jackson, the third-year former seventh-round pick. Jackson stepped in for White during the stretch run of last year’s games following the veteran’s injury and performed admirably as the CB2. Now we’ll see if he can handle the CB1 responsibilities for a little bit, or if the Bills will rotate all three players at some point.