Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore Primed For Breakout Year in Rex Ryan’s Defense

The Buffalo Bills selected cornerback Stephon Gilmore with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Playing a position that’s noticed more for their failures than their quiet successes, Gilmore has been somewhat of a polarizing figure among Bills fans. While many analysts, coaches and players view Gilmore as one of the premier young, up-and-coming cornerbacks in the National Football League, there’s a segment of fans that label him “overrated” as they seem to remember only the untimely receptions, touchdowns allowed and penalties he committed.

Well, in 2014, Gilmore played 873 defensive snaps. In those 873 snaps, he allowed 43 receptions (yes, good corners get beat. For example, Joe Haden allowed 60 balls to be caught on him in 2014.) Additionally, Gilmore surrendered five touchdowns and was penalized nine times. So, out of those 873 defensive snaps that Gilmore played in 2014, just 6.7% of them had a negative outcome.

Let’s move on to the 2015 season and beyond, as this will be an extremely important year for Gilmore, who’s looking to establish himself as one of the league’s top pass-defenders in hopes of cashing in on a lucrative contract extension. Gilmore is set to earn $3.844 million for the 2015 season, but the Bills picked up his fifth-year option that will pay him $11 million in 2016.

With the hiring of Rex Ryan, an aggressive, innovative defensive mastermind that made a name for himself by employing a hybrid scheme that features exotic blitzes, formations and disguised coverages designed to create chaos for opposing offenses.

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Ryan’s defense with the New York Jets from 2009 to 2011 was a well-oiled machine due to the presence of Darrelle Revis, a dominant corner that was single-handedly capable of taking away the best receiving option on opposing teams, as well as locking down an entire side of the field.  After Revis departed, Ryan wasn’t able to be as creative on defense, as Dee Milliner, Kyle Wilson and Saalim Hakim weren’t exactly “shut-down corners.”

With the Bills, Ryan now has that big, physical and intelligent player at corner in Stephon Gilmore, who possesses great length (31 14” arms) that allow him to get inside the pads of opposing receivers off the snap and be physical with them through their release. In 2015, Gilmore will be asked to take on that Revis role- being responsible for playing man coverage with the opponent’s top receiving option with little to no help over the top by a safety. After observing Gilmore’s play over the past three years, he appears ready to embrace that role in 2015.

At 6’1” 195 pounds, Stephon Gilmore has good size for the cornerback position. His 31 ¼” arms allow him to jam opposing wide receivers and be physical. Has a long, well-built frame and is incredibly athletic.

Gilmore’s 4.40 second 40-yard dash, 6.61 second three-cone drill, and 3.94 20-yard shuttle at the combine would have ranked 4th, 3rd, and 2nd, respectively, compared to the 59 defensive backs at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.

While Gilmore is a physical, tenacious and aggressive cornerback, it seems that his overall athletic ability has gone vastly underrated. He has loose hips and great lateral quickness, two traits that are imperative to a cornerback’s success. His ability to seamlessly flip his hips, turn and run with his man allow him to trail, mirror, and essentially lock down nearly any wideout he faces.

In the following rep, Gilmore is in man coverage with Emmanuel Sanders, one of the faster receivers in the league. Gilmore is able to re-direct him off his release and stay stride-for-stride with him, all while maintaining outside leverage-leaving Sanders’ workspace in the small area between the numbers and the sideline.

In addition to his coverage ability, Stephon Gilmore is also a great tackler. He consistently shows proper technique and always wraps up ball-carriers, rather than going for the highlight hit. According to ProFootballFocus (Subscription Required, Gilmore’s missed just 14 tackles throughout his first three seasons. Gilmore is a valuable asset against the run as well, using his hands effectively to get off blocks, while showing great closing speed.

A perfect example of Gilmore’s athletic ability and tackling ability is shown here against the Jets. Playing man coverage against Eric Decker on a crossing route, he trails him across the field and despite allowing the reception, he brings him down immediately, preventing any chance at yards after the catch.

Gilmore’s impact on defense doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, as shown in the following rep against All-World wide receiver Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. Johnson runs a flag route from the slot, but Gilmore sticks to Megatron like glue and the play results in a sack

In Rex Ryan’s defense he’ll be asked to play a lot of press-man coverage, where his length, physicality at the line of scrimmage and transition ability should allow him to thrive and showcase his impressive skillset. A former top-10 draft pick, expectations are high for Gilmore in his fourth year after his inconsistent play has been given the benefit of the doubt due to multiple injuries and scheme changes.

The team picked up his fifth-year option for the 2016 season, but if he wants to secure a lucrative long-term deal, he’ll need to put it all together in 2015 and prove that he’s worthy of being discussed with the upper echelon cornerbacks in the National Football League. The Bills have arguably the best front four in the league, which should allow Gilmore to capitalize on opposing quarterbacks’ forced throws, while locking down No. 1 wideouts on a week-to-week basis.