Report Card Grades for Every Buffalo Bills Rookie Through Preseason Week 2
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The Buffalo Bills received plenty of praise for their 2012 draft class, and through two preseason games, some of these rookies have exceeded expectations. While it will likely take a few years to truly evaluate the 2012 draft class, the Bills rookie class can be evaluated based upon their play thus far.
How will the grading system work? Well, it's quite simple. The higher the rookie was drafted, the higher the expectations are for each player. That said, if later draft picks are performing poorly, they too are at risk of a low grade.
On the following slides, each player will be listed along with their position, round and pick selected, current grade and analysis. Let's see which Bills are currently making the grade and which players are in need of improvement.
Stephon Gilmore Has Not Looked Like a Rookie
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Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback
Round 1, Pick 10
When the Bills drafted Stephon Gilmore in the first round, it was no secret that he'd be a day one starter. The Bills' cornerback position needed immediate help.
Terrence McGee, the veteran cornerback, has missed 22 games in the last three years. It's clear that he cannot be depended on to play a full season.
Leodis McKelvin, the Bills' first-round pick in the 2008 draft, has been a maddening player. He's had far more bad plays than good as a corner for the Bills. While McKelvin can run step for step with just about any wide receiver in the league, he is extremely poor at playing the ball. Leodis McKelvin is in a contract year, and it's not likely that he'll return to the Bills in 2013.
The rest of the Bills cornerbacks have no more than two years of experience. Out of the young corners, it is likely that Aaron Williams will be the other starting cornerback for the Bills.
Luckily for the Bills, Stephon Gilmore has looked nothing like a rookie. During training camp at St. John Fisher, it's safe to say that Gilmore was the defensive MVP. He covered every wide receiver on the roster and often blanketed the players. This led Stevie Johnson to give Gilmore the highest praise possible, a comparison to Darrelle Revis.
"Everything I see in Revis, I see in Gilmore," says wideout Stevie Johnson. "Of course, Revis does a few things better, and I think Gilmore has a few things that may be better than Revis. I can't say too much like that, because I don't want to put too much out there. But he's definitely going to be a shutdown corner. You definitely can tell."
Time will tell if this comparison holds true, but Gilmore has been phenomenal through two preseason games. Further praise was given to Gilmore in an article done by John Kryk of the Toronto Sun.
"But he's probably better than we thought he was, I'll just be honest," Bills GM Buddy Nix told me a few weeks ago.
"Stephon is getting better every day," (Defensive Coordinator Dave) Wannstedt told me. "I couldn't be happier with him at corner."
"And I think you can throw at Stephon whatever you want to throw at him — just off the little I've seen ... I think he has the mindset to handle whatever you throw at him." -Head Coach Chan Gailey
Gilmore's strong play has continued through two preseason games. Even with the praise and strong play, Bills fans need to remember that Gilmore is a rookie and will experience some growing pains.
That said, it appears the Bills have found the No. 1 cornerback that they coveted.
Cordy Glenn Will Start at Left Tackle
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Cordy Glenn, Offensive Tackle
Round 2, Pick 41
Cordy Glenn was expected to be a first-round pick, so when he fell to the Bills in the second round, the team was pleasantly surprised. General manager Buddy Nix thinks Glenn will play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
His agent called me before we went down for the draft at about six o'clock and said, "I knew you liked this guy. And whoever gets him, he is going to make these other guys pay." I really do think it motivated him. He was embarrassed by it. He thought he was a top-10 pick.
Glenn was expected to come in and compete immediately for the left tackle spot. In training camp, Glenn received the majority of snaps at left tackle as his main competitor, Chris Hairston, had to play on the right hand side while Erik Pears recovered from hernia surgery.
The Bills liked what they saw out of Glenn in training camp, and on August 20, the Buffalo Bills announced that Cordy Glenn would be the starting left tackle for the 2012 season. Having a rookie protecting the quarterback's blind side can be worrisome, but luckily for Glenn, the Bills play in a quick-pass offense.
Through two preseason games, Glenn has been inconsistent. In both preseason games, Glenn has been called for false start penalties. He was also flagged for holding in the second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
The good news for Glenn is that he has not given up a sack yet in the preseason, and his competition has been impressive. Glenn has gone head to head with Brian Orakpo and Jared Allen, two sack-masters that combined for 31 sacks in 2011.
Chan Gailey believes in Cordy Glenn's ability and thinks that extra reps are what Glenn needs to be successful as a left tackle.
"Cordy's got great ability," Gailey said. "Ability's not the issue. It's just playing time. He needs as much playing time as he can get. I think if he gets playing time he's got a chance to be a really good football player. He's not done great against the two good pass-rushers he's faced [Brian Orakpo and Jared Allen], but he's done OK. And I think that we see a great upside with him."
To Glenn's credit, he knows there is still plenty of work to be done.
"I don't really put anything into it," Glenn said. "It's a business. I still have to do my job. I still have to perform good, still have to play good and help this team out. That's really my main goal and focus right now."
Glenn needs to work on eliminating his penalties. Overall, the Bills and their fans should be happy with Glenn's play thus far. The third preseason game against Pittsburgh will be Glenn's next big test. The third preseason game is a dress rehearsal, and the Steelers are likely to throw a lot at Glenn to see how well he performs.
Graham is off to a Fast Start
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T.J. Graham, Wide Receiver
Round 3, Pick 72
Many Bills fans and draft analysts bashed the Bills for "reaching" for T.J. Graham. The Bills, however, were high enough on Graham to move up two spots in the third round to select the speed receiver out of North Carolina State. Through two preseason games, Graham looks nothing like a reach.
Through two preseason games, Graham leads the Bills wide receivers corps in yards and receptions. Graham has a total of five receptions for 106 yards, and two of his five receptions have gone for over 20 yards. The Bills hoped that Graham would be a vertical threat, and so far, he's been just that.
"It was far," Graham said of Young's pass. "I love that as a speed guy. A quarterback always wants to show off his arm, and as a speed guy I want to go get it. I'm really excited about it. It made my day."
When asked what Graham did to make the play, coach Chan Gailey was pretty straightforward.
"Ran by the guys. That's what he did."
T.J. Graham is not beginning the season in the starting lineup, but the Bills will definitely pick their spots to insert him into the lineup. Not only will the Bills look to him on deep passes, but expect Graham to get some screen passes thrown his way, some rushes in end around plays and other looks to let him use his speed in the open field.
All in all, Graham has done his part to make the Bills look intelligent for selecting him in Round 3.
Nigel Bradham Hopes to Move Up the Depth Chart
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Nigel Bradham, Linebacker
Round 4, Pick 105
Nigel Bradham, an outside linebacker from Florida State, was the Bills' first pick of the fourth round. Bradham came to a Bills team that lacked depth at the linebacker position.
Jared Kracker, a correspondent for BuffaloBills.com, expects Bradham to play mostly on special teams in 2012. Bradham played plenty of special teams for Florida State and hopes to contribute with the Bills this season.
“Yes, most definitely I am sure hoping I will be able to get out there and contribute on special teams anyway I can,” said Bradham. “Pretty much I just hope I can impact the team in any kind of way.”
Bradham, through two preseason games, has not done much to get noticed as a linebacker or on special teams. Against the Redskins, Bradham finished with two solo tackles and one assist, but against the Vikings, Bradham did not record a tackle.
To be fair, Bradham has not received many snaps, as the starting job at strong-side linebacker is being played out between Arthur Moats and Kirk Morrison. Bradham will likely see limited snaps against the Steelers, as Moats and Morrison again will play most of the game.
Bradham is currently buried with the third team on the Bills' depth chart, but I expect him to eventually win the job as the team's backup strong side linebacker this season.
There is a small chance that Kirk Morrison gets released when the team trims its roster to 53. If so, Bradham would benefit greatly and see a significant increase in the number of reps at outside linebacker.
Ron Brooks Appears to be a Steal for the Bills
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Ron Brooks, Cornerback
Round 4, Pick 124
The former LSU Tiger was never a starter in college, playing behind high-first round picks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne. But to Brooks' credit, he did play in every game for LSU and benefited from playing with such great cornerbacks. He's come to the Bills and made a great impression upon the team.
Through training camp and two preseason games, Ron Brooks has been the Bills' second-best cornerback behind rookie Stephon Gilmore. In two preseason games, Brooks has six solo tackles and an interception. Besides the basic stats, Brooks has also played terrific man-to-man defense.
Leodis McKelvin is expected to start the season as the Bills' slot cornerback, but look for Brooks to eventually take over the starting job this season.
"He has done a very good job," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "He is kind of an underrated guy. He has a lot of ability. He just could not get on the field at LSU so people did not know a lot about him. He has some talent and I am anxious to see how he can progress. He could help us out a lot this year."
Brooks is happy to be receiving looks both on the outside and from the slot, stating, "The more positions you can play, the easier it is to get on the field."
Based on his play and attitude, it's easy to see why Ron Brooks has excelled for the Bills through two preseason games this season. Look for him to make an immediate impact this season.
Zebrie Sanders is Struggling With the Bills
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Zebrie Sanders, Offensive Tackle
Round 5, Pick 144
The grade may seem harsh for a fifth-round pick, but Zebrie Sanders has not looked like an NFL offensive lineman through two preseason games.
Sanders entered the game against Washington as the third team-right tackle. He's currently listed behind Erik Pears and Sam Young. Sanders wasn't expected to compete with Pears, last season's starting right tackle, but he was expected to beat out Sam Young.
Young was claimed off of waivers on September 6 and played in four games in 2011. During training camp, Young performed more consistently at right tackle than Sanders.
Technically speaking, Sanders is currently the Bills' fourth-team right tackle. Chris Hairston will back up Erik Pears and Cordy Glenn as a swing tackle and may even challenge Pears for the right tackle spot.
As of this writing, I fully expect the Bills to cut Zebrie Sanders. That said, the Bills were hoping that Sanders would be the Bills swing tackle of the future, so don't be surprised if the Bills place him on their practice squad.
Look for Tank Carder to Contribute on Special Teams
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Tank Carder, Linebacker
Round 5, Pick 147
Tank Carder, much like Nigel Bradham, was drafted to improve the Bills' depth at linebacker. Early in training camp, Carder was impressive, getting his hands up and batting many balls, and Chan Gailey was impressed.
Yeah, he has gotten his hands on more passes defensively than maybe any other player to this point, which has been pretty impressive. It would be hard not to notice him on the field. He has a nose for the ball. He has some instincts. We will see when we get the pads on. Some guys do it better. Some guys do not do it as well. Some guys keep doing it just like they have been doing.
Carder is not expected to see the field in 2012 as a middle linebacker, though. He's currently listed behind starter Kelvin Sheppard and Scott McKillop, who is having a great training camp and preseason. In two preseason games, Carder has registered one solo tackle and four assists.
It is not a guarantee that Carder makes the Bills' 53-man roster, but I'd be surprised if he were cut. Carder will contribute on special teams in 2012 and look to climb the Bills' depth chart at middle linebacker as the season wears on.
Mark Asper is in a Battle with Colin Brown
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Mark Asper, Offensive Center/Guard
Round 6, Pick 178
Much like my grade of Zebrie Sanders, it seems harsh to give a sixth-round pick such a poor grade. That said, Asper is clearly on the outside looking in when it comes to making the Bills 53 man roster.
Asper is currently listed as the Bills' third-team center. Eric Wood is the team's starter, but has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries.
When the Bills drafted Asper, I thought he had a good chance to challenge Colin Brown for the backup job. Brown entered the league in 2009, and the Bills are the third team he's been with. He's the definition of a journeyman player.
Brown seems to have the edge due to his play last season with the Bills. Brown appeared in 11 games with the Bills in 2011, starting in one game. The Bills offensive line didn't miss a beat with Brown in the lineup, and his play improved as the season wore on.
Asper can play at center and guard, so if he were to make the team it'd be due to his versatility. That said, it is highly unlikely that the former Oregon Duck makes the Buffalo Bills' 53-man roster.
John Potter Hopes to Make the Roster as a Kicking Specialist
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John Potter, Kicker
Round 7, Pick 251
A kicker is never a popular pick by a team's fanbase regardless of when they are drafted. John Potter, the Bills' last pick of the 2012 draft, was brought in because of his powerful leg. Through two preseason games, it's clear what Potter brings to the table.
Through two preseason games, all of Potter's kicks have gone for touch backs. General manager Buddy Nix likes what he sees out of Potter, noting:
This guy is a kickoff guy. He kicked through the uprights kicking off and if you can make, or kick the ball in the end zone and make them start on the 20 it gives you a much better chance defensively.
It is hard to justify a team carrying two kickers, but Potter knows he could be very valuable to the Bills.
“I think that every yard counts in field position,” Potter said. “Every yard matters, but it also helps on kickoff because it is a brutal part of the game for both the kickoff team and return team. If you are able to hit touchbacks then you can save your guys and allow them to go and make plays in other parts of the game.”
It remains to be seen if Potter makes the Bills final roster, but he's done everything possible to convince the team that he deserves a spot so far.