The Buffalo Bills selected South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Louisiana State’s Ron Brooks in the 2012 NFL draft, paving the way to release veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, who has been with the team for three seasons.
The battle for the two starting cornerback positions will be one of the most intriguing competitions to keep an eye on when the Bills begin their offseason training activities.
The Bills currently have seven cornerbacks on their roster: Aaron Williams, Leodis McKelvin, Terrence McGee, Stephon Gilmore, Justin Rogers, Ron Brooks and Prince Miller.
Buffalo renegotiated McGee’s contract earlier in the offseason, but chronic injuries have made him just a shell of his former self. Last year he played in just six games, making only 28 tackles and deflecting just two passes. He is a key veteran and leader on the team, so he will likely stick around as a mentor, but his days of starting seem to be over.
Leodis McKelvin is entering the final year of his rookie deal. After being selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, he has been inconsistent to say the least. Towards the end of last season he was beat out by rookie seventh-round pick Justin Rogers for starting time. While McKelvin appeared in all 16 games, he started just six, recording 39 tackles, deflecting eight passes and intercepting just one pass.
Aaron Williams showed a lot of promise in his rookie year, despite suffering several injuries. The second-rounder out of Texas started six games, making 32 tackles, five pass breakups, an interception and forced a fumble in his limited playing time.
Stephon Gilmore was taken with the No. 10 overall pick in order to shore up the secondary that was exposed by the talented receivers in the AFC East. With 40 SEC games under his belt, Gilmore has faced the best of the best in college football, and has excellent ball skills.
In his three years as a Gamecock, he made 181 tackles, intercepted eight passes while breaking up 17 and forced four fumbles. He is solid in his run support, as he made 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Justin Rogers was a diamond in the rough that Buddy Nix found in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL draft. Appearing in 12 games, he first proved his worth on special teams, averaging 28.7 yards per kick return. He started in place of McKelvin at the end of the season, and finished with 14 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception.
Ron Brooks went widely unnoticed due to the polarizing cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne at Louisiana State, but would have been a starter at almost any other program in the country. He appeared in 53 games, made 90 tackles (12.5 of which for a loss), recorded 5.5 sacks and intercepted three passes, all of which he returned for touchdowns.
With the release of Florence and the uncertainty of McGee’s health, it’s quite possible that Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore could be starting opening day, with McKelvin playing in nickel situations.
The Bills have a lot of depth at the corner position now, and are very young with the exception of McGee, who is 31. Rogers could also see significant playing time in the event that McKelvin continues his inconsistency, and Brooks should see a lot of time on special teams.