Another regular season of Buffalo Bills football has come and gone. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for this version of the Bills who have suffered multiple injury and health scares throughout the season. The Bills persevered through adversity in their regular-season finale against the New England Patriots despite an extremely somber week surrounding the medical status of safety Damar Hamlin. A short week was made shorter with less practice time and game prep.
The rookies made a large impact on this game — it wasn’t always positive impact, but there were a lot of plays involving the first-year investments en route to a 35-23 win for the 2022 AFC East champions.
CB Kaiir Elam
There were a lot of opportunities for Elam to make plays against the Patriots. Elam continues to do well with staying in phase on his reps. But the athletic SEC product still looks like he’s swimming at times — attempting to react late rather than anticipate. Elam was victimized on an explosive 50-50 touchdown by receiver DeVante Parker. Elam had decent positioning, but didn’t react fast enough through the hands of the acrobatic Parker. On the subsequent two-point conversion, it looked as though some sort of miscommunication took place between the defensive backs on the field, which included Elam.
He’s certainly still in the learning stage, but there will likely come a point during the playoffs when the Bills rely on Elam stepping up in a big moment.
RB James Cook
Suddenly, Cook looks like he’s the Bills’ best option week in and week out out of the backfield. The one time he put the ball on the ground all year was his very first touch in an NFL game. Veteran running back Devin Singletary fumbled on the shadow of Buffalo’s own goal posts last weekend; Singletary has had fumbling issues throughout his career. Cook continues to see things navigating through the line of scrimmage at a higher level each time he touches the football. It would come as a bit of a shock if Cook doesn’t outsnap Singletary the rest of the way, considering the trajectories of the two. Cook does more with less.
LB Terrel Bernard
Bernard made a very nice special teams tackle against New England. His name doesn’t pop in the box score often, but his tackle on the kickoff unit was notably a strong play by the third-rounder. Bernard’s role is as a special teams player this season, and he may continue to play in that role beyond the 2022 season.
WR Khalil Shakir
We’ve had two weeks in a row of Shakir sightings for the offense. It wasn’t too long ago where it looked like the fifth-round rookie had carved himself a nice little role as the primary punt returner. That all changed with the addition of running back Nyheim Hines. On Sunday, Shakir had one reception for 26 yards, where he sat down in a pocket in the middle of the Patriots’ zone coverage. Shakir then turned and shrugged off a would-be tackler to gain over 10 yards after the catch. He’s a smart player who many would probably like to see more of from a targets vantage point, especially with veteran wide receivers Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie having disappointed when given larger roles. Quarterback Josh Allen could truly utilize another reliable option. I believe Shakir brings that to the table.
CB Christian Benford
Benford came off of Injured Reserve this past week. He was, however, inactive for Week 18. It’s possible that Benford won’t be a full-time active player throughout the playoffs. But it’s also possible the Bills were just giving Benford a week off before gearing him back up into game shape.
LB Baylon Spector
Spector is now a consistent inactive on game days.