The Buffalo Bills used the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to select cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but the need for a cornerback is just as great as it was last offseason. The Bills had the 10th ranked pass defense in the National Football League in 2012, in terms of yards allowed, but this was due to teams running the ball at an extremely efficient rate.
The Bills’ secondary allowed 3,473 pass yards and 25 touchdowns, and cornerbacks accounted for just three of the team’s 12 total interceptions for the season. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine blitzes safeties quite a bit, which leaves cornerbacks alone in one-on-one coverage with opposing wide receivers. Cornerbacks in Pettine’s defense must be physical and should be counted on to be left alone on an island.
The Bills are very young at the cornerback position, as the six players currently under contract on the team have a combined 11 total years of NFL experience. With Leodis McKelvin set to hit the open market in March, coupled with the release of veteran Terrence McGee, it’s safe to say the Bills will be in the market for at least one cornerback this offseason.
Another possible scenario that could be a sign for a cornerback is the release of strong safety George Wilson. Second-year cornerback Aaron Williams had a down year in 2012, and many fans feel he may be a better fit at the safety position. In fact, Williams was a five-star, No. 1 safety prospect coming out of High School, and many draft pundits projected him as a safety in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Sam Shields, 25, Green Bay Packers (RFA)
Sam Shields is a restricted free agent this offseason, but the nickel cornerback could draw some attention this offseason. Undrafted out of Miami in 2010, Shields proved himself enough in rookie training camp to earn appearances in 14 games that year. He’s made 21 starts throughout his three years with the Packers, but the 5’11” 184 pounder is best used in the slot, where his 4.30 speed is put to best use. In his career, Shields has recorded 96 tackles and nine interceptions, while defending 26 passes. ProFootballFocus ranked Shields as the 6th best cornerback in pass coverage for the 2012 season after opposing quarterbacks posted a mere 69.8 passer rating when targeting him.
Sean Smith, 25, Miami Dolphins
Sean Smith is a big, long corner that is going to earn a big contract this offseason. The 6’3” 218 pounder was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Utah, and has only missed one game in his four years with the Dolphins. In 2012, Smith played 1,068 snaps and recorded 59 tackles, two interceptions and forced three fumbles while defending 12 passes. He was targeted 113 times, more than any cornerback in the National Football League, and allowed just 62 catches and 188 yards after the catch. Smith reportedly wants a hefty deal, but the Bills should at least discuss a deal with his agent. He’s exactly what Pettine looks for in his cornerbacks, and lining him up opposite Gilmore would create a lot of opportunities for safeties to rush the passer.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 26, Philadelphia Eagles
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was thought of as one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL just a few seasons ago, but ever since being traded to the Eagles, his production has dropped. The Cardinals selected the 6’2” 185 pound corner out with the No. 16 overall pick in 2008 out of Tennessee State. In his five years with the Cardinals and Eagles, he’s recorded 211 tackles, 16 interceptions, and defended 84 passes. After a poor 2011 showing when the Eagles played him extensively at nickel cornerback, Rodgers-Cromartie returned to the outside, opposite Nnamdi Asomughua in the Philadelphia secondary.
Brent Grimes, 29, Atlanta Falcons
Brent Grimes is coming off on an Achilles injury that caused him to miss all but one game during the 2012 season. Grimes was undrafted in 2006 and spent time playing in NFL Europe before joining the Falcons exclusively in 2008. Grimes broke out the following season, and from 2009 through 2011, he recorded 187 tackles, 12 interceptions, and defended 50 passes. In 2011, ProFootballFocus graded Grimes as the No. 4 overall cornerback in the NFL after he allowed just 25 receptions and 77 yards after the catch, while holding quarterbacks to a 62.9 passer rating. Grimes’ injury and age may prevent him from garnering a big deal this offseason, but he’s definitely a player that should be on the Bills’ radar in March.
Derek Cox, 26, Jacksonville Jaguars
Derek Cox is the cornerback that I’d prefer this offseason, as he’s got the size (6’1” 195 pounds) and strength to compete with the bigger wide receivers. He’s played in a division that features Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne, and has still performed at a high level. He’s been labeled as injury prone, after missing 14 games in the past two seasons, but when healthy, he’s a premier talent in the secondary. In his four years with the Jaguars, Cox has intercepted 12 passes while making 203 tackles, and defended 32 passes.
Cary Williams, 28, Baltimore Ravens
Cary Williams went from being a seventh round draft pick in 2008, to playing 1,101 snaps for the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Williams was asked to play man coverage extensively this year, and took on a big role with fellow cornerback, Ladarius Webb, missing the year with injuries. In the past two seasons as a starter, Williams has made 189 tackles and intercepted four passes while defending 33.
Aqib Talib, 26, New England Patriots
Aqib Talib has always been a good cornerback, but finally got the attention of the national media when he was traded to the New England Patriots midseason. At 6’1” 205 pounds, Talib has the ability to press, play man coverage, and be physical with wide receivers. The former first round pick was suspended for four games this year, and has dealt with some off-the-field issues as well. However, in his 50 games in the league, he’s racked up 196 tackles and 19 interceptions, while returning four for touchdowns.
Keenan Lewis, 26, Pittsburgh Steelers
Keenan Lewis finally emerged as a full-time starter on the Steelers’ defense during the 2012 season, and he performed admirably. The former third round pick started all 16 games, recording 69 tackles and defending 23 passes. He was targeted 112 times, and allowed just 59 catches. Opposing quarterbacks posted an 80.7 passer rating when targeting Lewis, and he allowed just 212 yards after the catch and three touchdowns, according to ProFootballFocus. Lewis’ potential value in free agency will be interesting, as he has only one year of starting experience. Will a team offer a long term deal, with the hopes of him building on his 2012 campaign? Or will they be weary of his limited experience?
Tracy Porter, 26, Denver Broncos
Tracy Porter made a name for himself during the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl run in 2009. The former second round pick out of Indiana signed a one-year deal to play with the Denver Broncos for the 2012 season, but played in just six games due to injury. Porter is a fast defensive back with good ball skills, and if he checks out medically, he should be signed to a decent contract. He’s probably best utilized when playing over slot receivers, but he has the ability to play outside as well. In his five-year career, Porter has recorded 218 tackles, eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and has defended 40 passes in 43 games played.
Kyle Arrington, 26, New England Patriots
Kyle Arrington went undrafted out of Hofstra in the 2008 NFL Draft, and was released by the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before finding a role with the New England Patriots in 2010. Arrington has struggled over the last two seasons in the Patriots’ secondary, allowing quarterbacks to post a 119.9 passer rating when targeting him in 2012. He allowed 46 catches and five touchdowns this year, but in his career he’s recorded 251 tackles and eight interceptions, while defending 31 passes.