When the Buffalo Bills’ defense took the field versus the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday, Bills fans were likely keying in on who got the start at cornerback opposite of Dane Jackson. All offseason long, the battle for that spot was one of the biggest storylines on the team
To the surprise of many, Christian Benford was the one on the field instead of first-rounder Kaiir Elam. At the end of the game, Benford finished with 39 snaps (58% of the Bills’ defensive snaps) and Elam with 30 (50%).
Let me be the first to say that I loved this decision. Not every NFL team would make the decision to start a sixth-round rookie over their first-rounder. Believe it or not, some of these teams will set merit aside and make decisions based on optics.
Not the Bills, though.
By starting Benford, they sent a resounding message to the locker room that this is a meritocracy. The best player gets the start, period. This isn’t to say Elam is a bust or anything like that, just that Benford did enough to get the start over the first-rounder. And that’s okay!
That’s exactly the kind of culture you want to have on a Super Bowl-contending team.
That being said, Elam has to do better for Buffalo moving forward. He ranked 12th out of 12 eligible rookie cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus grade. In a recent article published by Sam Monson, Elam was ranked as the 23rd best first-round rookie around the NFL in Week 1.
Here’s the full analysis from PFF:
“The Bills raised eyebrows back on opening night when Elam didn’t start the game, preferring fellow rookie Christian Benford alongside Dane Jackson and Taron Johnson. Elam ended up playing 30 snaps, nine fewer than Benford and allowed a catch on each of the three targets into his coverage. Elam has work to do to get himself higher up the depth chart.”
To be fair, Cooper Kupp was listed as Elam’s principal opponent. There’s not much you can say against the Bills cornerback. He’s one game into his career and should trend upward throughout the rest of the season.
Shoutout to the Bills for giving Benford the start but the sixth-rounder knows the battle is far from over.
Featured image via Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports