There has been quite a bit of noise forming around the fan circles when it comes to Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore. I really can’t peg when it all started, but between certain points in the preseason and this past Sunday’s loss to San Diego, the Gilmore debate has come to a head between Bills fans and media members.
No matter which outlet you follow, it seems that most fans have grown very critical of Gilmore, while the media continues to defend Buffalo’s No. 1 corner. That is very interesting to me, as most arguments between the two groups tend to trend in the opposite direction.
So who is correct in this spirited debate? Well, before I dive into this argument myself, let’s glance at the brief history of the 10th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Stephon Gilmore was an All-American and four-year starter at the University of South Carolina. He was drafted after fellow corner Morris Claiborne (Dallas, 6th overall) and before the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick (Cincinnati, 17th overall) and Janoris Jenkins (St. Louis, 39th overall).
Thrust into a top role immediately, Gilmore started all 16 games as a rookie and recorded 61 tackles, an interception and a team-best 16 pass break-ups. In 2013, Gilmore’s season was put on hold when he suffered a significant wrist injury in the third game of the preseason. After missing Buffalo’s first five regular season games, Gilmore debuted versus the Bengals with a large hand cast in tow. He eventually finished his second year with 35 tackles, two INTs and 10 passes defended.
Fast forward to 2014, where Gilmore has played in two of three games after missing the opener in Chicago due to a groin injury. In his two games, he has had a quiet stat line with eight tackles and zero passes defensed.
Now after a rough performance for the Bills pass defense versus San Diego, many have decided it is time to officially label Gilmore as a bust.
In my opinion, that is ludicrous.
There is a lot being made over nothing right now, and I can support that statement 20 different ways, but I’ll keep it simple.
Which corner does the opposing team typically target the most? You already know the answer, they attack the weakest link. If Gilmore was considered a weak member of the secondary, why is he being targeted half as many times as the other Bills corners while still shadowing the opponent’s No. 1 wide out?
The Bills lost this past Sunday, so the negativity is through the roof across the board. Where does the criticism usually go in these cases? Simple, it goes to the coach, the quarterback or any other high-profile player on the roster.
While Gilmore is not a vastly well-known name in the league, he is a recent top-10 pick. Therefore, the expectations are very high amongst fans (as they should be). What most people fail to forget, however, is being a top-10 pick does not mean you have to be a future Hall-of-Famer to be successful. It’s plenty fine to just be a good, reliable player. That is exactly what Gilmore is.
This past Sunday, San Diego’s top wide out Keenan Allen made just two catches for 17 yards. The more significant pass plays in the game went to Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal, who were covered primarily in man-to-man situations by Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey, respectively. I know, I know, Gilmore missed a few tackles, and he didn’t force his way around a pick block during Royal’s first touchdown. I wasn’t happy about that either, but how many No. 1 corners in the league thrive week in and week out as tacklers? If holding the opposing No. 1 to two catches and missing a few tackles is a bad game for a corner, sign me up any day. Talk to the fans in Cleveland right now. Their top corner, Joe Haden, played a role in allowing Baltimore’s Steve Smith to rack up 101 yards receiving on five receptions – including a 32-yarder which set up the game-winning field goal. I bet you Cleveland would have killed for a “bad game” from Haden that was more like Gilmore’s against San Diego. That is not a knock on Haden, he is a premier player at his position, but tough days do happen once in a while when you are left out on an island against dynamic NFL receivers.
I’ll go back two weeks ago to the Miami game, where the Gilmore criticism was laughable. Mike Wallace, Gilmore’s primary responsibility, hauled in five receptions for 52 yards. That’s right – five receptions out of 49 pass attempts from Ryan Tannehill. The naysayers point to the touchdown Gilmore allowed to Wallace in the third quarter. Do me a favor and watch the replay of that pass and catch. Then, try to tell me with a straight face that there was another corner on the planet that could have defended that play.
I know he doesn’t make the interceptions and “wow” plays like an in-his-prime Darrelle Revis, but Gilmore continues to do his job well against the opposition’s No. 1 receiver. Remember, much like it is for offensive linemen, a quiet day is often a great day for a corner. The less you hear about players at that type of position, the better.
Gilmore also put it on the line last year, playing his first few weeks one-handed, and the final few still dealing with a wrist issue.
Imagine what would happen if the Bills released Gilmore or placed him on the trading block. There would be 31 NFL teams lining up for a shot at landing him.
At this point, everyone just needs to relax. Like I said before, the Bills lost, so out comes the panic and negativity. I completely understand that there are some positional concerns on this roster, but mark my words, No. 1 corner is not one of them.