It’s going to be a common theme throughout this article: does Tre’Davious White bounce back to his All-Pro, pre-ACL tear self? Can Kaiir Elam take a sophomore leap and display the first-round talent the Buffalo Bills hope him to be? If the answer to both of those questions is “yes” then the Bills have one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. If the answer is still unknown by the mid-point of the 2023 season, Sean McDermott has a brewing issue on his hands.
I believe the answer lies closer to the former than the latter and that Buffalo will again have a top three-to-seven CB unit in the league. Last year, we saw White work his way back into form, and Elam looked more comfortable as the season went along. Bills fans also saw some talent from sixth-round pick Christian Benford and the depth proved to be better and more valuable than we thought.
I know the end of the season – a playoff loss to Cincinnati – is still a raw wound. An ego puncture that continues to fester every time we see the corners playing off on third and short. Sean McDermott taking over the play-calling duties might just be the ointment needed in Orchard Park. Before we fully crap on last year’s Bills’ defense, let’s not forget it was once again one of the best units in football. Buffalo was second in points per game allowed in 2022 at just 17.9 per contest. They gave up 319.1 yards per game, good enough for sixth-best in the league. Football Outsiders’ ranked the Bills fourth in their DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). They came in third in rush defense DVOA and eighth in pass defense DVOA. In conclusion, counting stats and analytics love the pro team in Orchard Park.
The Bills didn’t make any out-of-organization additions to the cornerback room. Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott decided to keep their own in this cycle bringing back both Dane Jackson and Cam Lewis. With White and Elam holding down the top two spots in the rotation, these two are solid depth pieces we saw could play in a pinch last season.
The Bills didn’t lose a corner during the 2023 free agency process.
The best corner in the AFC East might very well be the best corner in all of football for the next decade. Of course, I am talking about New York Jets sophomore Sauce Gardner. As a rookie, he proved himself to be ‘HIM’ at CB. After Sauce, I would still put Tre White as the second-best corner in the division. Bills fans hope Elam can take a step up in year two and throw his name in the ring with Miami’s Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard for the third spot. I’ve watched Josh Allen shred Ramsey (he allowed five catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Bills last year) for me to get too excited about what the Dolphins are doing. So, all that said, here are my rankings:
To the joy of the top three, New England deploys no one that really scares me as of writing this article.
White was a first-team All-Pro in 2019 and second-team All-Pro in 2020, but after an ACL I need to see him regain that level before I put him up with the likes of Garnder, Surtain, Alexander, or Bradberry. Starting from there I believe the Bills are in the mix to slot into the fifth through 10th best corner groups in the league. The pieces are there to vault into the top three. Buffalo used a first-round pick on a corner last year, they have a fully healthy White, and don’t forget Bedford is right there, too.
The Bills addressed CB2 at the top of last year’s draft when they traded up to select Florida product Kaiir Elam. His growth coupled with a fully healthy Tre White, makes me more than (shrug emoji) about Buffalo drafting a corner. It’s fair to say that corner is only ahead of QB on positions the Bills DO NOT need to use high draft capital on in 2023. If a player like Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, or Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. is somehow on the board at 27, I would love for Beane to utilize that fall and trade back for a CB-needy team. However, if there is a name I would love to hear called late in the draft it is Old Dominion’s, Tre Hawkins. He has all the traits in the world to possibly grow into a solid contributor, but at less than 190 lbs, he does need to grow. I love taking fliers late on guys who have awesome athletic testing, and TH3 is certainly one of them.
“Outside of quarterback, kicker, punter, and long snapper, there is one position the Bills don’t need to draft in 2023: cornerback. Tre White and Taron Johnson are under contract through at least 2024 (White 2025) while the combination of Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford make up at least one starting-caliber corner. Unless it’s a late day three pick with position versatility at safety, cornerback should be off the Bills board on April 27 and April 28,” – @UberHansen
“If there’s one thing the Bills require on the defensive backend, it’s more speed! Speedy Michigan product (DJ Turner) was one of the fastest at the combine, clocked at 4.26 on the 40! While his ability isn’t limited to just having world-class wheels, Turner is truly a sound prospect. Gifted with superb athletic ability (teamed with his speed), Turner can stick to wide receivers with the best of them. Possessing above-average jam on the line as well does provide a physical nature to his game. While Turner is more suited to play man-to-man, his speed to stick with the likes of Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle would be of great benefit to the Bills. There are some technique issues to round out, but Turner is a sound player overall,” – @Chris_Chous.
“It will seem sacrilegious, but Tre White is not getting younger. CB1 has been a mainstay for the Bills in the McDermott Era, but entering his seventh season and having returned from a major injury suggests he is in the back half of his career. Enter Jaylon Jones (CB, Texas A&M), a player who has all the physical tools (he scored a 12.5 in my Bills Relative Athletic Score series). A three-year starter for A&M, Jones only allowed one explosive play in 2022 (Brugler), and he has experience on special teams. And if he doesn’t pan out at CB, some teams are already scouting him as a safety.” – @ LowBuffa.