Bills Training Camp Battles Part Six: Nickel Cornerback

The Buffalo Bills were believed to be in the market for a cornerback during the 2013 NFL draft, but after re-signing Leodis McKelvin to a four-year deal, the team decided to add playmakers on the back-end of the secondary at the safety position instead.

With Stephon Gilmore entering his second professional season and Leodis McKelvin penciled in as starters on the outside, who will the Bills’ third, or “nickel” cornerback be?

Today’s NFL is turning into more of a passing league, so teams need to have at least three serviceable cornerbacks as opponents are spreading defenses out with an extra wide receiver.

Ron Brooks

The Bills selected Ron Brooks out of Louisiana State in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft, but he saw limited action during his first NFL season. Brooks played just 162 snaps and was pretty inconsistent. He played very well when serving as a rotational player, but when thrown into a starting role against the Jaguars, he was targeted early and often, allowing eight receptions for 81 yards and a score.

Brooks finished the 2012 season with 19 tackles, but broke up four passes. He has a lot of room to grow if he wants to see significant playing time, but with the lack of experience outside the top two cornerbacks on the roster, Brooks could have the upper hand for the No. 3 job.

Justin Rogers

Justin Rogers has been average at the cornerback position during his first two seasons with the Bills after being a seventh round pick in 2011. Last year he recorded 37 tackles and an interception in his 547 snaps. The 5’10” 180 pounder out of Richmond showed solid tackling skills, but lacked the ability to break on balls and contest opposing receivers.

Rogers allowed receivers to catch 41 passes for 477 yards and two scores last year, with quarterbacks posting a 93.3 passer rating when targeting him.

Rogers showed real promise as a rookie when returning kicks, but shouldn’t be expected to compete for a starting job unless he progresses greatly in his second full professional offseason.

Nickell Robey

The Bills signed USC’s Nickell Robey as an undrafted free agent last month after the 5’7” 169 pound cornerback wasn’t selected in the draft. In his three years with the Trojans, Robey started all 37 games as an outside corner, recording 163 tackles, seven interceptions (three were returned for scores), 24 passes defensed and forced two fumbles.

Robey’s size will be his biggest obstacle as he adjusts to the National Football League, as he was able to rely on sheer athleticism and ball skills over technique in college. However, Robey plays much bigger than his size, displaying the ability to read-and-react quickly to passes, breaking on balls and using physicality to break up passes.

Other Candidates

Aaron Williams

While Aaron Williams has been officially listed as a safety according to the team roster page, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him come down and cover the slot, matching up against bigger tight ends and inside receivers. Williams struggled in his second season with the team, but has the size and physical tools to be effective against the growing presence of pass-catching tight ends in the National Football League.

Don't sleep on Dominique Ellis. (Photo lifted from Dominique's Instagram)
Don’t sleep on Dominique Ellis. (Photo lifted from Dominique’s Instagram)

Williams is definitely best suited to play safety, where he can keep plays in front of him and add assistance in run support, but his versatility and familiarity with the cornerback position could help him see an increase in snaps in certain situations.

Dominique Ellis

Dominique Ellis was signed to the team following the regular season, and the versatile defensive back is really a perfect fit for the nickel corner position. Ellis doesn’t have a true position in the secondary, but he’s played at both free and strong safety while also seeing time at all three cornerback spots in college.

Ellis isn’t really known to many, but don’t sleep on the 5’11” 200 pound 23-year old out of South Carolina State.