The Buffalo Bills entered the 2022 NFL season with a lot of unproven players at the cornerback position. They started a rookie at outside corner — though not always the same rookie — in 10 out of their 16 regular-season games. While there were growing pains, it allowed those rookies to gain valuable experience, and they both played quite well for long stretches.
Fast forward to the 2023 season, and Buffalo now has plenty of depth at corner. It’s essentially the same top-end of the group from the 2022 season, but now the young guys have more experience, one of the veterans is much healthier, and one of the other veterans doesn’t have to start every game. It’s a nice situation to be in for the Bills, as they have myriad options at the position.
It’s a difficult position for a young player to break into the lineup, however, thanks to the top of the depth chart that the team has at present. In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile a young player looking to stick on the roster as a rookie.
Name: Alex Austin
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 191 pounds
Age: 22 (23 on 5/22/2024)
Experience/Draft: R; selected by Buffalo in the seventh round (No. 252 overall) in the 2023 NFL Draft
College: Oregon State
Acquired: Seventh-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Austin signed his rookie contract, a four-year pact worth $3,917,776 overall. For the 2023 season, he carries a cap hit of $769,444 if he makes the roster. Buffalo will carry a dead-cap number of $77,776 if they release him. That total represents the signing bonus on the contract.
2022 Recap: Austin played in and started 12 games for the Beavers, and he had his finest collegiate season as a redshirt sophomore. He accounted for 57 tackles, 12 pass breakups, and two interceptions, one of which he returned 42 yards for a touchdown. He also recovered a fumble and notched a sack. He was named All-PAC 12 Honorable Mention for his efforts, and he also earned an invite to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. He ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash, had a 33” vertical, and a 10’2” broad jump. All of those numbers were towards the bottom of all corners tested at the combine.
Positional outlook: The Bills have a wide array of corners competing for time this offseason. Tre’Davious White, Kaiir Elam, Christian Benford, Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Dane Jackson, Cameron Dantzler, Ja’Marcus Ingram, and Cam Lewis are the other corners in camp.
2023 Offseason: Austin is healthy and participating in offseason activities.
2023 Season outlook: The cornerback group is stacked at the top, with White, Elam, Benford, and Johnson all shoe-ins to see time on defense, and Neal certain to be one of the team’s top special teams players yet again. That basically leaves the remaining players fighting for one spot on the 53-man roster.
Can Austin be better on defense than Jackson while also being better than Lewis on special teams? That’s the question the team is going to have to discover an answer to this summer, and it’s what Austin is going to have to prove to make the roster. My guess is that he’ll start off a little worse than both of the incumbent players at their respective strengths, but he’s going to be a little better than each of them at their respective weaknesses, which is a long-winded way of saying that he’ll be better than Lewis on defense and Jackson on special teams.
Athletically, Austin reminds me of a stronger Levi Wallace. He isn’t the fastest guy out there, but he’ll do a great job in zone coverage. He’ll need help over the top playing man, which limits what Buffalo can do defensively if he’s on the field, but we’re talking about the fourth corner spot, not a starting role. Does Austin have more long-term potential than Dane Jackson? My gut says yes, but the rookie will need to prove himself this summer. Austin is a fringe player whose fate will be watched closely all summer long.