This preseason has seen a few key battles within the Buffalo Bills’ roster, with that of cornerback opposite Tre’Davious White one of the most closely watched. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bills played their starters for a significant portion of the first half.
Between Dane Jackson, Christian Benford, and Kaiir Elam; which one saw time with the starters? Well, they all did. Let’s check in on Kaiir Elam, who many of us are hoping will take a massive step forward during the 2023 NFL season.
Play 1 — Jammin’
One of the commonly held perceptions of Elam is that he’s better-suited to man coverage, with the physical skills to press at the line. Buffalo does seem to agree with this sentiment, with Elam frequently being asked to play in this manner. At the pause I ask you to watch the shoulder as the receiver needed to dip to get away from the jam, causing a little stumble on the route. Despite this positive, Elam let his man hit the brakes and create a ton of separation at the top of the route.
Play 2 — Prevent the big play
On 3rd & 20, Elam started off with some cushion but was still playing man coverage. He had a bit of help to direct the route and cover underneath the route. Elam again had a bit of trouble at the top of the route, but likely would have been able to prevent the first down.
Play 3 — Missing jam
Ever wonder why corners don’t just jam the receiver on every play? Well here’s why. To effectively jam, the corner needs a stable body position to apply force. That doesn’t lend itself well to being fluid. Elam’s stable stance backfired when Calvin Austin cut right and made Elam miss. On 3rd & Short, Austin burned Elam for an easy first down.
Play 4 — Run support
The GIF does most of the work here. Elam pulled his opponent toward the right while stepping a shade left to shed the block and get in on the tackle. This was hands down my favorite Elam snap of the night.
Play 5 — Good recovery
Elam was tempting fate with an illegal contact or holding call. Especially with Land Clark’s flag-happy crew. He got away with it this time, and recovered very well on the route. One of Mitch Trubisky’s better targets on that side of the field was eliminated thanks to Elam.
Play 6 — Not all Elam’s fault
First of all, I’m pretty confident that above was blocking more than one yard past the line of scrimmage and might have been an uncalled offensive pass interference. That said, Elam was blown up pretty quickly. Due to the likely uncalled flag, I won’t place harm on Elam for the TD, but the clip shows how being physical can be hit or miss for corners.
Kaiir Elam did get time with the starting defense, but was the third corner to give it a go opposite Tre’Davious White. Dane Jackson started the game, followed by Christian Benford. Elam did end up with the most playing time out of any defensive back. Take that as you will.
For my two cents, Elam had an up-and-down night. He flashed his athletic talent and ability to disrupt routes at the line. As seen above, he had some struggles as well. Elam will be a name to watch for the final week of preseason. With the starters likely to sit for most or all of it, extended playing time for Elam might be ominous.