The Buffalo Bills are set to kick off the NFL season against the Los Angeles Rams. When they do, a pair of rookie corners may both be called into action. Tre’Davious White is officially on the shelf to start the season which is officially opportunity knocking. Both Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford drew rave reviews during the preseason and to make things even less clear, defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier indicated the Bills may “mix it up” with the two. I did a quick look at Elam and Benford, but with the recent developments let’s dig a little deeper.
If you clicked into the article covering the comments by Leslie Frazier (or read it before swinging by) you saw that Frazier indicated that Elam played more press in college than Benford did. When Leslie Frazier speaks, listen to the man. There’s no way to write this without some comparison and I tried to get good GIFs to do that despite limited snaps.
Elam is making contact first, he hits with his arm extended and look at his right foot. It’s drifting back at impact so he can pivot and follow his man. He doesn’t disrupt the route as much as you might like, but Elam doesn’t lose his own balance either.
Now THERE’S the disruption you want to see! Pay close attention to the receiver’s left leg. There’s a stutter there as he regains momentum. In a game of inches, that’s quite a few of them that he’s now delayed.
Frazier also suggested that perhaps Benford had been asked to do a wider variety of things in college and the suggestion when paired with his commentary on Elam doing a lot of press is that maybe Elam is a bit behind on other things. Buffalo has often asked their defensive backs to play with cushions and close when the ball is on the way.
It’s likely that some of this large cushion is due to Buffalo playing zone and Elam believing he’d have help. His potential help, though, is covering someone else. The bottom line is that even a halfway decent throw results in an easy first down.
Elam is much more clearly on his man for this play, but at the top of the route a little separation turns into a good deal more separation. It’s possible Elam recovers if the ball had been thrown his way, but his hips suggest otherwise.
And let’s do the opposite for Benford who I took a look against the Broncos. Here’s Benford versus the Colts.
This is most similar to Play 4 of Elam’s. Christian Benford bails later and is on his man pretty tight. This isn’t a perfect comparison mind you, but so far Benford is looking more natural turning and shadowing.
While Benford can press, I didn’t feel he was as natural as Elam. He’s a little later to make contact and his feet are too tight together when the hit comes. The result is pointed out in the GIF. That said, what an amazing recovery.
This one goes better for Benford, but doesn’t do much to disrupt the route. Overall, this is similar in many ways to Elam’s Play 1 with a pretty similar result. Both stick to their man pretty well after the contact.
While Benford did seem more natural playing this style, let’s remember they’re both rookies. The sideline can be your friend with a play like this as theoretically the receiver could find themselves out of room having to turn to your back this close to the edge. In the NFL though, most players have plenty of room to the sideline with this much space. Yes it’s 2nd & LONG, but there’s a real risk of giving up half of the needed yardage right here.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is the expert and I’m just echoing what he said as the Buffalo Bills continue to say what they mean. Both rookies have a lot to learn still, which should shock no one. It’s also true that both offer some versatility. Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford have different strengths and the Bills aren’t afraid to tinker with different parts to see how things come together.
Elam seems to be playing well enough to make pundits feel he’s on track for a first-round pick. The shocker then is Christian Benford fell all the way to the sixth round and is performing at a level where Buffalo is pretty much forced to give him playing time. Not a bad problem to have. We’ll see how well both hold up starting this Thursday. Go Bills!