Bills’ Best Bets at CB in the 2019 NFL Draft

Photo of USC CB Iman Marshall from usctrojans.com.

The Bills’ Cornerback Situation:

Face it; at best, the Bills had only 1 cornerback left when they allowed Ronald Darby (PFF 63.1 Overall) his payday with the Eagles. When Vontae Davis (59.4 PFF Overall) unexpectedly retired at halftime of the Bills’ second game, they had Ryan Lewis (2017 UDFA, 82% of snaps vs the Vikings), Lafayette Pitts (44.5 PFF Overall)Phillip Gaines (60.5 PFF Overall), and two rookies, the promising Taron Johnson (RD4, 63.1 PFF Overall) and practice squadder Levi Wallace (UDFA) on the other side of Tre’Davious White (100% of snaps vs the Vikings, 66.0 PFF Overall).

The hole created by Vontae’s unexpected exit had Brandon Beane immediately scheduling tryouts with out-of-work CBs David Amerson (age 26, RD2), Tony Lippett (age 26, RD5), Demetri Goodson (age 29, RD6) and Herb Waters (age 25, UDFA). One of those stopgap options might provide a steadying influence in the cornerbacks room. However, as Ryan Talbot from NewYorkUpstate.com put it, “Cornerback may be the Bills’ biggest need following Week 2”. 

What Will The Bills Be Looking For?

If Tre White is the model of what Brandon Beane would look for in the draft, the Bills’ archetype corner is comfortable in zone and in press coverage, is smart enough to understand scheme, has prototypical size (Tre is 5-11, 192) and good feet, and comes from a major conference where he’s seen speed. Tre’s forty time was 4.52 and he played in the SEC. Marlon Humphrey also hailed from the SEC, whereas Jackson (PAC-12) and Conley (Big10) did not.

The prototype CB for the Bills would tackle well against the run. He doesn’t lack confidence, but is still focused on that “growth mindset“. He’d come to the Bills having started an adequate number of games over multiple years to refine his skills. For example, White had four years of work in the SEC at CB, whereas Lattimore and Marlon Humphrey had only two years of college experience. Jackson and Conley had three. White had more career passes defensed (34) at LSU than Conley (15) plus Humphrey (13). If you added career INTs plus PBU, White also had the highest sum. Tre White had 48 games over 4 years; Josh Allen 27 games over 3 years, Tremaine Edmunds 32 games over 3 years, Harrison Phillips 31 games over 4 years, Taron Johnson 38 games over 4 years. With one exception, I am listing only players with at least 24 games over 3 years of play, and they all have impeccable work ethic.

Who are the best fits at CB for the Bills in the 2019 NFL Draft?

(Disclaimer: Players are not listed in the order I think they will be drafted (check here for that), but rather the level of fit with the Bills’ archetypal cornerback) 

Iman Marshall, USC

Photo of CB Iman Marshall from usctrojans.com.

6-1, 205, 4.53, 37 games over 3 years
Watch      Stats      Read
136 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 3.68
If McBeane wants productivity from the corner opposite Tre White (and that’s where offensive coordinators will go), you won’t match the productivity of my next two players, Iman Marshall and Montre Hartage. I have a suspicion that Marshall was on the Bills’ radar last year, but Iman (pronounced “ee-MON”) chose to return to school. Marshall’s 37 games played, with consistency of production over his entire resume, may be just what The Beane Team wants as a bookend corner.
Fit For Bills: A+

Montre Hartage, Northwestern

Photo of Northwestern’s Montre Hartage from youtube.com.

6-2, 190, —
29 games over 3 years
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115 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 3.97
Hartage hails from the Big Ten, playing a rough schedule this year, but it will help us view the extremely productive Hartage, a senior, in an NFL context. I admire Hartage’s technique at the catch point. It helps that he’s 6’2″, but you can see his agility. His timing is split-second. Any earlier and he gets the DPI penalty. Besides his elite run coverage (109 solo tackles), Hartage is a ballhawk who isn’t afraid to dive for the interception.
Fit For Bills: A+

DeAndre Baker,  Georgia

Photo of Georgia’s DeAndre Baker from youtube.com.

5-11, 185, 4.49
24 games over 3 years
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66 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 2.75  (career tackles plus INT divided by games played)
My top senior leads the Bulldog defense by example (Read), and has the speed McBeane seems to be looking for in his 2018 draft picks. Baker is Tre White -sized, and he’s twitchy and fast; his change of direction is impressive. I also admire his boundary work; watch this. He led the team in passes broken up with nine last year. While he is only fourth on the squad in tackles (44), Baker is at his best when he’s playing in off-man or zone and is allowed to “lurk and pounce” when he sees opportunities to ballhawk. While freelancing can come back to bite you, it’s a style a creative defensive coordinator can leverage. Baker’s 2017 “Completion Rate Allowed” of just 30.5% is among the lowest in this draft class. 
Fit For Bills: A

Kris Boyd,  Texas

Photo of Texas CB Kris Boyd from athlonsports.com.

6-0, 195, 4.5
35 over 3
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118 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 3.37
One of the best seniors on my list, Baker’s 15 passes broken up in 2017 was tops in the Big 12, and he’s already among the leaders in the FBS this year. He looks so smooth in his coverage, but still exhibits quick reaction time and aggressiveness. Boyd was named to the 2nd Team All Big 12 (AP) last season after posting 54 tackles and two INT in addition to his pass breakups. He’s opportunistic without sacrificing the “Do Your Job” mentality. You listen to him talk about getting better each game, each practice, and you wonder if he’s already a Bill.
Fit For Bills: A

Derrick Baity, Kentucky

Photo of Kentucky’s Derrick Baity from ledger-enquirer.com.

6-3, 188, 4.52
34 games over over 3 years
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103 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 3.03
Baity has the height NFL teams now covet to cover taller WRs, but he needs an NFL training room and a team chef to gain the good kind of weight. His 49 tackles, nine PBUs, and two INT last year added to his top-echelon productivity. He’s aggressive without being a headhunter, and he shows he’s been well-coached in pass defense.  Baity’s had two head injuries, one last year and already this year, so medical checks and Baity’s consistency this season will prove his worth as a starting corner –and how early he’ll be taken in the NFL Draft.
Fit For Bills: A-

Jordan Wyatt, SMU

Photo of SMU’s Jordan Wyatt from 247sports.com.

6-2, 195, 4.59
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33 games over 3 years
120  tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 3.64
Wyatt is only the sixth player in FBS history to have returned both a fumble and interception for TD in the same game. He has productivity up the wazoo, and his team spirit checks Beane’s character box. Per Coach Creech, Wyatt is selfless in doing what is necessary for the team to win, and that’s a major fit for The Process. The always-opportunistic Wyatt becomes a playmaker when he makes an interception; he’s averaged an obscene 41.3 yards per INT in his career. Wyatt’s more likely a zone corner, as he lacks the pure speed of the other CBs on this list, but that may be fine with McDermott and Frazier. I think he’s a Day-2 option.
Fit For Bills: A-

Kiy Hester, Rutgers

Photo of Rutgers’ Kiy Hester from 247sports.com.

6-0, 203, 4.49
26 games over 3 years
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93 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 3.58
Hester was going to transfer to Rutgers; he’s a graduate who could have played immediately at Florida International, which is what we’d heard. Kiy elected to stay, and Rutgers couldn’t be happier. Hester’s a playmaker. He had game-changing interceptions against Nebraska, Maryland, and Michigan State that are worth watching. Hester has RD1 speed to be sure, and he’s solidly built, and Kiy’s 3.58 productivity will vault him up the list by April, though maybe not as far as Day 1. Because Rutgers plays Hester back quite deep, usually in a Cover-2, he wasn’t used much as a blitzer (1 sack career), but Kiy’s been awesome in coverage and run-stop duties.
Fit For Bills: B+

Julian Blackmon, Utah

Photo of Utah’s Julian Blackmon from 247sports.com.

6-1, 190, 4.48
18 games over 3 years
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48 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 2.67
Blackmon’s a junior, and while he is on the bottom of my list for games played with 18, he’s a notoriously hard worker, possessing that “driven-from-within” ethic. Blackman’s an athlete with ideal strength and toughness, which is most evident against the run. He has great size for the CB position. Blackmon was the Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP over West Virginia, intercepting two passes, so I’m less concerned about level of competition with Blackmon. He has a winning attitude, no matter what sport he’s playing (he was state champion in basketball as a point guard and dominated as a long jumper). He’ll need to clean up his press-man game.and snap into action quicker than this. I hope he stays in school another year.
Fit For Bills: B

Blace Brown, Troy

Photo of Troy’s Blace Brown from dothaneagle.com.

6-2, 186, 4.44
22 games over 3 years
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61 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 2.77
Blace Brown converted from WR, and his  size and length give him that receiver look.  Troy’s competition isn’t Top 25, but seeing their narrow loss to Nebraska, it’s not as big a gap as you’d imagine. Brown has made 11 INT over 22 games, and his tackling is excellent, providing McBeane with the run-pass balance he looks for. Brown comes up quick when necessary to make the tackle. He’s recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee incurred in the last game of 2017, and it has certainly affected his early play in 2018. Strong guy, in every sense of the word.  
Fit For Bills: B

Rashad Robinson, James Madison U

Photo of James Madison University’s Rashad Robinson from richmond.com.

5-11, 183, 4.5
38 games over 3 years
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58 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 2.92
Rashad Robinson had season-ending surgery for a turf toe (Read), but he’s played the top number of games on my list should he declare. Robinson was the Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Defensive Player of the Year following his FCS All-American season in 2017 of 51 tackles, 7 INT (third in nation) and nine pass breakups. He gets major character points on the McBeane-o-Meter, and is the team leader. I don’t expect that to change with his injury; he’ll be helping any way he can from the sidelines. In my opinion, he’d be the only FCS player worth a sniff, and only on Day 3. He wouldn’t be The Answer to the Bills’ CB problem out of the gate, but he’s a consideration for depth.
Fit For Bills: B


Why your pet cat isn’t on the Bills’ list:

Greedy Williams, LSU

Photo of LSU’s Greedy Williams from theadvocate.com.

6-2, 182, 4.4
Watch     Stats     Read
13 games over 1 year
36 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 2.77
Andraez is Greedy’s real first name, but Greedy sounds more apropos for a productive corner. Williams’ early RD1 projection is based on size, speed, and flashes of talent in an extremely-small window of production: 13 games as a redshirt freshman going into this season. Still, the youngster has fared well against the competition, many of them three years older than he. The talent is there. He finished fourth nationally with 6 interceptions, and PFF College rated him 26th nationally among all CBs with an 85.9 grade. That’s a great start, but won’t likely be enough of a resume for McBeane (unless he gets Greedy –sorry, I had to say it). Besides, I’ll be surprised if Williams declares this year as a sophomore, and it hasn’t been McBeane’s style to draft one-year (or even two-year) wonders.
Fit For Bills: Incomplete

Alijah Holder, Stanford

PALO ALTO, CA – SEPTEMBER 08: USC (29) Vavae Malepeai (RB) runs past Stanford (13) Alijah Holder during a college football game between the Stanford Cardinal and the USC Trojans on September 8, 2018, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

6-2, 174 4.56
25 games over 3 years
Watch     Stats     Read
67 tackles plus INTs in career
Productivity Per Game: 2.68
Holder tipped a pass for the game-winning play in overtime, giving Stanford the win at Oregon. Lightest of my top 20, a knee knocked him out of 2017. He’d be a press-man/Cover 3 CB almost exclusively. Holder has the length and athleticism, maybe not the speed. He’s most adept at off coverage which wouldn’t concern McBeane. He has foot quickness and quick-twitch to transition with WRs. Some see him as too tentative when it comes to tackling RBs. Holder may be drafted after the top-echelon CBs the Bills will certainly be looking at, and before the Bills take a second DB on Day Three.
Fit For Bills: B- 

Editor’s babble: This will be a handy list to watch during college football season because there’s little doubt the Bills will be making cornerback a priority position during the 2019 NFL Draft. Thanks, as always, to Dean Kindig for keeping us up to speed. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.