clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

90 Buffalo Bills players in 90 days: CB Kaiir Elam

The physically gifted second-year man looks to earn a larger role this season

NFL: Buffalo Bills Training Camp Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have a wealth of depth and talent at the cornerback position. Truthfully, they have plenty of depth at safety, as well, as the team has drafted and developed a defensive secondary group that is as good as, if not better than, every other unit in the league. While they may not necessarily have the name recognition of some other groups, Buffalo is legitimately four-deep at safety and four-deep at outside corner, as well.

While that’s a great problem to have for a coaching staff, it’s definitely a frustrating situation for a player. Being the third-best corner in Buffalo while you’d be the second-best corner in most other places could mean that a talented player is riding the bench more than he ever has. As we learned last season, injuries happen all too frequently in the NFL, so players need to be ready at all times. However, as competition builds for a starting spot, each player needs to fight for every snap they can.

In today’s installment of our “90 players in 90 days” series, we discuss one of the three main participants in the battle for a starting spot at cornerback. While this young man may have a first-round draft pedigree, he’s not guaranteed a thing.

Name: Kaiir Elam

Number: 24

Position: CB

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 191 pounds

Age: 22 (23 on 5/5/2024)

Experience/Draft: 2; selected by Buffalo in the first round (No. 23 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft

College: Florida

Acquired: First-round draft choice

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Elam enters the second year of his four-year rookie contract. The deal is worth $13,690,809 overall. For the 2023 season, Elam carries a cap hit of $3,111,548. Buffalo is on the hook for a dead-cap total of $11,201,572 if he’s released or traded, as first-round contracts are fully guaranteed. The team doesn’t have to make a decision on the fifth-year option built into contracts for first-round picks until 2026.

2022 Recap: After Buffalo drafted Elam in the first round, most of us assumed that he would walk right into the starting gig across from Dane Jackson while Tre’Davious White recovered from ACL surgery. That’s not what happened, as the Bills chose instead to start fellow rookie Christian Benford, the sixth-round pick out of Villanova. Benford and Jackson started Buffalo’s first two games, but Elam entered the starting lineup in place of Jackson for Buffalo’s Week 3 contest. He stayed in the starting lineup consistently, making the next six starts for the team. Those were his only six regular-season starts, however, as his snap count started to dwindle in his final few starts before an ankle injury suffered against the New York Jets in Week 9 caused him to miss the next two games. He was active against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, but he didn’t start, and then he was inactive the following week against the New England Patriots. Head coach Sean McDermott explained it by saying he wanted to see what the team had with veteran corner Xavier Rhodes. After that odd little interlude, Elam played in every game for the rest of the season, starting only one more contest: Buffalo’s 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs. Elam finished his rookie year with 41 tackles, four pass breakups, and two interceptions, adding six tackles, two pass breakups, and an interception in the playoffs.

Positional outlook: Elam is locked in a three-way battle with Jackson and Benford for the right to start across from White this season. In Buffalo’s preseason opener, it was Jackson who drew the start, but Elam who played more snaps (40) than anyone else on defense for the Bills. Alex Austin, Kyron Brown, Ja’Marcus Ingram, Taron Johnson, Cam Lewis, and Siran Neal are the other corners in camp.

2023 Offseason: Elam has drawn some praise for his play, but he’s also drawn the ire of his teammates — specifically Stefon Diggs — for his physicality in practice.

2023 Season outlook: The CB2 spot is one of the most closely watched positions on the roster, and if it weren’t for the competition happening at middle linebacker, I’d argue that the corner competition would be the most important one on the team. The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that I could truthfully hear arguments for all three players at corner and be okay with them starting. With Jackson, we know what we have, and after performing much better than expected while miscast as a CB1 for much of last year, he’d likely be just fine when playing in a secondary with three All-Pros. Benford was magnificent last year when he was healthy, and while he lacks the high-end athleticism that Elam possesses, he too would be just fine in head coach Sean McDermott’s zone-heavy scheme.

Elam, of course, is the player I believe has the highest upside given his athleticism, but he also seems to have the farthest to go in terms of understanding the nuances of the position. Of the three players in question, Elam was by far the worst of the group in terms of passer rating allowed (96.2) and completion percentage allowed (70%). He was better in the playoffs, but the team doesn’t seem convinced that he is the guy at the moment. Defensive backs coach John Butler has said that the team may even deploy a rotation in the secondary, and given the talent the team has in the back end, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me so long as a certain player’s presence doesn’t start to act as a “tell” regarding the defensive call that’s about to be run. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, while Elam’s athleticism and draft pedigree point to him being “the guy” across from Tre’Davious White at outside corner, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”