Cornerback is one area where the Bills have done well in strengthening over the past few years. When healthy, the tandem of Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin provides two first round draft choices with lock-down ability against opposing offenses.
Each of those two have had some fantastic moments individually and if they can stay on the field together this year there should be some talk of them being in the top 10 tandems in the league. Yes, they are that good.
Some may believe Gilmore hasn’t produced the numbers to be placed in that category, but they are probably looking for flashy stats, he will not produce those. What he does produce is reliable physical play against any #1 in the league with a very under appreciated tackling ability. I know Bills fans remember when Antoine Winfield was in Buffalo, arguably one of the best tackling corners of all time. In his first season in Buffalo he produced 39 tackles from his DB alignments, where in Gilmore’s first season he totaled 61. This should show how much Stephon still has to display in coming years as his broken hand took him a half step back in his growth last season.
The recent acquisition of Corey Graham was a great move by the Bills, adding another pro bowl caliber player to their group of corners. Graham has played for good teams and produced good numbers on the field. His size (at 6 ft.) and experience most likely put him at the #3 corner on the depth chart, with a good chance to nip at the starting lineup throughout the year.
Hopefully Bills fans aren’t forgetting who is next in line at corner, that man is Nickell Robey. Call him small, call him undersized, but do not call him insignificant on the football field. Behind Kiko Alonso, Robey had the most impressive rookie campaign for the Bills. Limited to a nickel DB role, Robey still had:
· 39 tackles
· 1 forced fumble and 1 recovery
· 1 pick six
· 10 pass deflections
· 3 sacks
The young man is fast and rather feisty for someone his size and he is not afraid to mix it up when battling for the football. Aside from the stats, there is something else to take away from Robey’s rookie season- his improvement.
We may have seen Nickell’s worst game in week 8 against the Saints. It seemed that the New Orleans offense could do whatever they wanted against the Bills D anyway, but Robey was at the brunt of a few long TD connections. Both Jimmy Graham and fellow rookie Kenny Stills attributed to a rough Monday morning film session for Robey.
However, as a good football player does, Robey learned from his mistakes and played great games later in the year. Specifically against the Jaguars where he produced a critical fumble, and at home against the Dolphins where Ryan Tannehill could not get Robey off of his back.
With a new defensive scheme being implemented this season, it is exciting to see where Nickell Robey will fit as his production on the field cannot deny him a spot somewhere. Ron Brooks will be a descent fill-in to round out the main corps, with ups and downs displayed over his career so far. If the Bills are looking to add any more corners for depth they should keep their eyes open in the later rounds of the draft (nothing before round 5). The other needs on the team are too pressing and this is one area that the Bills look rather safe when approaching next season.
As far as the rest of the secondary goes, depth at each safety spot, well that is a completely different story. Unfortunately, it is a story that contains more questions than answers.