The Buffalo Bills are heading into week 15 of the regular season and are still tweaking their roster. It was announced today that they plucked cornerback Breon Borders off of the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad. Borders is a lengthy corner who went undrafted in 2016 after playing in 49 games over the course of four years for the Duke Blue Devils.
Dating all the way back to high school, Borders has had a knack for making plays on the ball. As a senior in high school, he registered 91 tackles, 14 pass breakups, 7 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles, of which he took 2 fumbles to the house. His best asset has and will always be his ball skills. The ability to track the ball and ultimately make a play on it is not a skill that you can really teach.
That type of production in high school, especially on the ball, followed him to Duke. According to Sports Reference, Borders finished his career with 149 tackles, 1 sack, 12 interceptions, 34 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries.
While at Duke, Borders was coached up by cornerback coach Derek Jones. Jones worked all four seasons with Borders and was crucial to his development. While at Duke, Jones also had a hand in developing a corner with whom Bills fans are familiar: former 4th round pick Ross Cockrell. Cockrell was drafted by the Bills in 2014. Both players are very similar in nature.
Like Cockrell, Borders doesn’t flash top end speed or change of direction. This is why you won’t see him in a backpedal long; he has to open his hips and transition well before the receiver breaks his cushion. He has trouble planting and driving without wasting footwork consistently
Duke CB coach Derek Jones coached Breon Borders his entire 4 years. Also coached up former #Bills 4th round pick Ross Cockrell
Borders-35 starts,148 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 1 QB sack, 12 INTs, 34 PBUs, 2 FFs
Cockrell-36 starts,187 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 QB sack, 9 INTs, 29 PBUs, 1 FF pic.twitter.com/7S2kjqQ1T6
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 17, 2017
He’s not a defender who can play press man and run with NFL receivers. That’s why you will see him in soft press, off coverage, or utilizing the press-bail technique as the ball is snapped. Here he is in soft press. He bails at the snap and gets his eyes on the #2 WR who runs a vertical route against Duke’s cover 3.
Duke utilized a ton of pattern matching coverage out of their zone packages, especially when they dropped into their cover 3 looks. The NFL isn’t a spot drop coverage game anymore. Players aren’t taught to drop to a specific spot or landmark, they are coached to find threats in their areas. Borders starts in press, bails, and as two receivers sprint deep, he gains depth and he and the other defensive backs squeeze the routes, forcing the quarterback to go somewhere else with the ball. Taking away quarterbacks’ options while in zone defense is the primary responsibility of a zone defender.
While at Duke, Borders played outside and had a productive career, but he went undrafted. The Raiders picked him up and he drew very good reviews in camp, but in preseason he struggled. In 119 snaps in preseason he was targeted 15 times, allowing 9 receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
He had a rough preseason and gave up some deep shots like this touchdown versus the Cowboys. Although it’s credited to Borders, I believe one of the safeties let him down. But nonetheless, look at the slow backpedal, how quickly the receiver closed the cushion and got to the post on the Yankee concept.
His 15.9 yard average per completion really didn’t make much sense until I turned on the film. The Raiders utilized him in the slot a fair amount. Borders was in the slot on 53 snaps, during which time he surrendered seven completions, including this deep route on the switch release while in man coverage. Borders takes too flat of an angle at the receiver while that receiver shows no signs of running a shallow route. It wasn’t bad coverage, but based on his athleticism, I do not see him succeeding as a slot corner long term.
Having played primary field corner in college, learning the slot was going to be a challenge from a mental perspective. Routes from the slot are usually short and timing-based, so they happen quicker and therefore need defenders who are good in closer quarters. I wouldn’t say that Borders is there yet.
But, if he wants to play in the slot for this team, then this tackling technique is unacceptable.
Although it was preseason, he did show progress all around, and one thing that still shines through after all of these years is his ball skills. Even on the plays where he was burned, you could see Borders attempting to rip the ball through contact. On this play versus the Seahawks the Raiders drop into what appears to be cover 3 match. As the #2 WR to the bottom of the screen gets vertical, Borders matches it and reads QB Boykin like a book. Borders backpedals, widens to outside leverage with his eyes on the QB. As the QB hits the top of this drop to throw it down the seam (#1 cover 3 zone beater), Borders breaks on the ball and registers the interception. This was a very good display of his zone eyes, something that the Bills’ staff will want to maximize in their scheme.
Given the system that Borders played at Duke, the lessons learned while manning the slot in Oakland and his ability to show disciplined zone eyes and make plays on the ball, signing Borders was a fantastic move by the Bills. Kudos to the scouts who did their due diligence and helped the team land a player that has major upside.