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Opinion: Newly minted starters Bernard and Benford add feathers to Bills’ recent draft cap

Chalk two more up

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

One of the biggest narratives surrounding the Buffalo Bills during the 2023 offseason was their recent draft track record. Whether it was Kaiir Elam’s disappointing lack of a starting job going into year two or the idea that 2023 was a critical offseason, general manager Brandon Beane’s additions to the team through the annual NFL Draft have been a topic on the mind of the Bills Mafia for the last few months.

With the announcements of 2022 sixth-round pick Christian Benford starting at the second outside cornerback spot and 2022 third-round pick Terrel Bernard lining up next to Matt Milano with the first-team defense against the New York Jets, the Bills’ drafting grade just got a little extra credit.

There are two different circumstances at play with the two new starters. Benford was selected as the starting cornerback over trusted veteran Dane Jackson. Given McDermott’s noted affinity with Jackson, Benford being named the starter is meaningful. Jackson was the Bills’ number-one cornerback in the absence of Tre’Davious White in the early parts of 2022 while Benford and 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam rotated drives opposite him. Having Jackson become the man off the bench in favor of Benford speaks to Benford’s development over the last year.

Bernard, however, was named the starter over Tyrel Dodson, who struggled during the preseason and from camp reports. At one point, the job was down to the two of them and with Dodson failing to shine and Bernard suffering a hamstring injury that hurt his ability to compete, the recent Baylor draftee was set up to take the lead spot assuming he returned healthy in time to be ready for Week 1 — and his pre-injury spring and summer performances weren’t concerningly ineffective. In addition, the Bills’ acquisition of veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey means there might be a time limit on Bernard’s hold on the starting MIKE job if he’s not performing at a high level after the point where Kirksey is up to speed on the Buffalo’s defense.

So the Bills can say they added two starters to the team through the 2022 draft class, although it’s done with the caveat that in a few weeks, it’s within the realm of possibility that the number of starters drops to one. One of the starting elevations may be more impressive than the other at first glance, but either way, it ends up as a boost for the recent drafting record of the team. Drafting starters is good; drafting starters when your team is already a Super Bowl contender is better.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!