Possibly the least talked about off-season move the Buffalo Bills made was the signing of local native Corey Graham to a four year, $16 million contract. It was seen as a depth move by the team and made for a nice story in bringing a local product back home. What many people don’t realize is that Corey Graham can play a monumental role in the success of the defense this upcoming season.
Graham started his career as a special team standout for the Chicago Bears, and really earned this contract when he became the nickel corner in Baltimore two seasons ago. His development from role player to borderline starter is where the Bills hope to cash in.
Graham’s importance may be subdued by other media outlets due to the presence of former first round picks, and presumed starters, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Between those two and last season’s surprise, Nickell Robey, there is good reason why Graham isn’t being talked about much. What was a good trio is set to become a lockdown unit this season with Graham’s addition.
With the evolution of today’s offenses, a team needs four corners to rely on. Just look at what the Seattle Seahawks did to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. You can go one year earlier and see Graham’s Ravens, and how their pass defense propelled them to a Super Bowl victory. In fact, it was Graham’s two interceptions against Denver that helped key the Ravens victory on their path to the Super Bowl.
Beyond the coverage skills though, Graham is an emergency lever for the vacated strong safety position. Aaron Williams is being moved to Jairus Byrd’s old spot, and that leaves Da’Norris Searcy, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks to fight out for the open position. If all of them fail, expect Graham to get an opportunity there. He provides enough instincts in pass coverage to play strong safety.
Graham provides coverage skills that allow him to match up against receivers, and namely tight ends. The overwhelming thought is that Searcy will be coming into the box on third down situations with Kiko Alonso now sidelined for the year. For a non-pass catching threat it may make sense. However, if the tight end is a threat expect Graham to come in at safety and the Bills to use Ross Cockrell as the fourth corner.
The reasoning is simple. Searcy has yet to prove that he can cover consistently and Duke Williams is an unknown at this point. Moving Graham into that specialized role for sub packages makes sense from a coverage standpoint, and brings versatility to the secondary.
Another area that Graham will likely make an impact is on special teams. For a unit that ranked 31st, according to Rick Gosselin, a special teams ace is really needed. The Bills only had one clear gunner in Marcus Easley. Graham has experience as a gunner and has been viewed as a special teams standout, making the Pro Bowl in 2011. Having a second contributor will help eliminate some of the mistakes that plagued the Bills in 2013. Graham being able to compliment Easley as a gunner on kickoffs and punts is a needed shot in the arm.
So as fans watch camp practices pay attention to how new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz uses his pass protecting Swiss Army knife Corey Graham. He could, and should, be used in a multitude of ways that will only make Buffalo’s pass defense better.