The Buffalo Bills have one of the best secondary groups in the NFL. Sure, that might be a little bit of a “homer” statement, but it’s not a crazy one. The Bills have three All-Pro players in their secondary, they have one of the best slot corners in football, and they have eight players who would almost certainly be good starters on other teams.
That level of depth is great when it comes to withstanding the grind of an NFL season, but it does present an interesting problem for the coaching staff: When everyone is healthy, who plays? At cornerback, the team currently has one guaranteed starter on the outside, and three other players who started at least five games for the team last year fighting for a spot in the starting lineup this season.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss one of the combatants in the battle for CB2.
Name: Christian Benford
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 205 pounds
Age: 22 (23 on 9/21/2023)
Experience/Draft: 2; selected by Buffalo in the sixth round (No. 185 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft
Acquired: Sixth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Benford enters the second year of his rookie contract, a four-year pact worth $3,854,276 overall. For the 2023 season, Benford carries a cap hit of $918,569 if he makes the 53-man roster. Buffalo is on the hook for a dead-cap charge of $145,707 if he’s released.
2022 Recap: Benford wasn’t the first cornerback that Buffalo chose in the NFL Draft last spring, but he was the first of the rookies to earn a start. On opening night, it was Benford lined up across from Dane Jackson as the Bills’ starting outside corners. Benford started each of Buffalo’s first three games, and he played quite well in each. However, a fractured hand suffered in Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins caused him to miss the team’s next two games. Benford returned in a limited role for victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers. He played the majority of the snaps off the bench against the New York Jets before starting Buffalo’s games against the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns. He didn’t start against the Detroit Lions, and it was in that Thanksgiving Day game where he suffered an oblique injury. Benford spent time on injured reserve before being activated at the end of the year. While he returned to the active roster for Buffalo’s final few contests, he didn’t appear in another game for the club. Benford finished his rookie campaign with 24 tackles, five pass breakups, and one interception across nine games — five of which were starts. He played on 363 defensive snaps, the fourth-highest total among Bills corners in 2022.
Positional outlook: Benford is joined by Kaiir Elam, Tre’Davious White, Dane Jackson, Alex Austin, Kyron Brown, Ja’Marcus Ingram, Cam Lewis, Taron Johnson, and Siran Neal on the current roster.
2023 Offseason: Benford is healthy and engaged in a three-way battle for the CB2 gig. He’s up against Jackson and Elam for the right to start across from White on the boundary.
2023 Season outlook: After a rookie season that far exceeded the usual expectations for a sixth-round pick, Benford is rightly being hyped as a strong contender for a starting gig once again this season. The difference is that his draft mate, Elam, has also made great strides entering his second season, and the veteran Jackson has had a strong camp. Defensive backs coach John Butler has suggested that the team may deploy a rotational system at CB2, which could limit Bedford’s play time. After spending so much time injured last season, though, playing on limited snaps might help to keep him healthier for longer, too.
The preseason games may give us a good indication of who will take the majority of the snaps, but it’s also possible that the Bills could choose to utilize their players based more on matchups. Benford is the best of the three in zone coverages, while Elam is the best of the three in press-man and Jackson offers a little more balance (though I’d argue he’s better in man even despite his size limitations). Really, Benford’s quick success is a feather in the cap for the team’s scouting department, and it’s also another indication of how good this coaching staff is when it comes to extracting the most out of their defensive backs. Benford is, at best, a viable starter on the outside, and at worst, he’s excellent depth. If he can stay healthy, he’s in line for a big second season.