When the Buffalo Bills traded up to select cornerback Kaiir Elam with their first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, it seemed they had found their new replacement for Pro Bowler Tre’Davious White, whose return date remains unknown after he underwent surgery for an ACL tear last season.
However, when the Bills announced their starting lineup for their primetime season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, it was cornerback Christian Benford, the team’s sixth-round pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, who got the start. Buffalo kept Benford in that role against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, where he continued to be a key contributor on what’s arguably the best defense in the NFL.
Unfortunately, cornerback veteran Dane Jackson took a horrific hit to the head just one minute before halftime on Monday Night Football, and the Bills looked to Elam to step up and play. The 6-foot-2 rookie made the most of his opportunity, making several run stops and a significant pass breakup.
While Jackson has thankfully avoided any major injury, Bills head coach Sean McDermott announced that the veteran was officially ruled out for the team’s first divisional matchup against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, which has opened the door for Elam to get his first career start.
Elam spoke to reporters on Friday, September 23 about what it’s been like starting out his career on the bench and he processed the demotion.
“I’m super hard on myself and I know what I can do,” Elam said. “I just really had to look in the mirror, and self-reflect and see what I could do better at. It really just comes down to me being a guy who’s super duper consistent every single rep. I look at it more as motivation than anything.
“I couldn’t be more appreciative of the moment because I think it added another chip to my shoulder. I’ve always been a hard worker but I really took time to self-reflect.”
The Florida alum said he’s spent time thinking about how “I can be a more complete corner at this level. I come from the SEC and it was a majority of in your face, pressing, and playing a lot of man… so, it’s really just being comfortable in zone, trusting my feet and playing with proper technique.”
Elam Discussed What Practice was Like With So Many Veterans Out Injured
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said before the season that he felt comfortable having rookie starters on the field because the veterans could help pick up the slack, in particular, All-Pro safety duo Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.
In addition to Jackson, however, Hyde (neck injury), was ruled out for Week 3, while Poyer remains questionable. The team will also be without defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips.
When Elam was asked if it was difficult practicing this week with so many guys out, “Honestly, I’m just focusing on what I need to take care of,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s kinda different when you don’t see your guys out there but I’m just looking forward to winning this game and executing. Just have those guys in my thoughts and prayers and go out there and help this team win for them.”
There’s No Animosity Between Elam and Benford
Fighting for the same job over the past few months might’ve derailed the possibility of a friendship between Elam and Benford, but the two rookies instead become close friends. “Him being there along my side is something I appreciate and I really don’t take for granted and I thank him for it,” Elam said of Benford, per Rochester First. After practices, “We might go to the indoor or we might watch film together. If he got a question he can ask me.”
“We all know it’s one goal and one common theme and it’s to win every game and to improve,” Elam added.
Benford feels the same way. “We not haters or anything. That’s kind of weird. I know you’re competing but at the end of the day we’re humans. At the end of day, if he gets it, I get it, it’s no bad blood we’re still going to eat together. We’re still going to make sure the main thing is the main thing and the goal is a Super Bowl.”