Five rookies from the Buffalo Bills’ 2012 draft class have played meaningful minutes this season.
“I think very positive as a whole,” coach Chan Gailey said this week, evaluating their performance as a group. “I think that you always hit either a lull or a wall at some point with each guy that’s a rookie. Very seldom does a guy go the whole 16 weeks and not have a lull or hit a wall to a certain extent and not grow for two or three weeks, then he might start back and keep going. I think we’ve had guys that have been productive and they’ve played some good minutes and I think they’ll help us get better as time goes on.”
With one game remaining in their rookie seasons, here’s an update on the Bills’ draft class.
• CB Stephon Gilmore (first round, 10th overall): Has started from the first day of minicamp and is unquestionably the team’s No. 1 cornerback. In 15 games, all starts, Gilmore has made 59 tackles (sixth on the team), defended 16 passes (tied for ninth in the NFL), made one interception and forced three fumbles (tied for 21st in the league).
“He’s doing a good job. He’s become a better player, to me, each week. He’s becoming more knowledgeable, understanding the game and what he needs to get done,” Gailey said of Gilmore last month, at the same time confirming the rookie would be matched up with the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver.
Gilmore hasn’t been responsible for a touchdown against him since Week Five in San Francisco, according to the website profootballfocus.com, which charts every play of every NFL game. One area he does need to improve, though, is penalties. He’s been flagged 12 times for 132 yards.
• LT Cordy Glenn (second round, 41st overall): Has made 12 starts at the toughest position on the offensive line, missing three games with a high ankle sprain. Glenn returned from that injury after the team’s bye week, and while Gailey said the injury is no longer a factor, the rookie’s performance has dipped since a tremendous start to his professional career.
“He didn’t play well [in Week 15 against Seattle], played a little better [in Week 16 against Miami] and I think that he kind of - I don’t want to say hit the wall - but he was pressing a lot [against Seattle],” Gailey said. “This past week he found a better handle on things and I think now he’ll be able to take another step and keep going forward. Because he’d been making giant strides throughout the season, really.”
Like Gilmore, Glenn has also struggled with penalties. He’s been flagged 10 times for 65 yards.
Glenn, though, looks to be a fixture on the offensive line for many years to come.
• WR T.J. Graham, (third round, 69th overall): Graham’s selection has been under the microscope from the moment the Bills traded up in the draft to select him. The fact he was a surprising inactive in the season opener against the New York Jets – a decision Gailey explained by saying he had not sufficiently learned the offense – only intensified things.
A season-ending injury to David Nelson in that first game forced Graham into the lineup. He has 30 receptions for 317 yards and one touchdown.
Graham was supposed to provide a deep threat, but has only two such receptions this season, a 51-yarder against Jacksonville in Week 13 and a 41-yarder Sunday against Miami. Of course, part of the failure to connect on those big plays falls on the inaccuracy of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing deep.
The Bills have struggled all season to utilize Graham’s 4.29 speed in the 40-yard dash, with most of his receptions coming at the line of scrimmage. He had his worst game of the season in Week 15 against Seattle, with four drops.
• LB Nigel Bradham (fourth round, 105th overall): Took over as the starter at strong-side linebacker in the base 4-3 defense in Week Six at Arizona. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Bradham’s got a good combination of size and strength. He’s failed to register any big plays, though, and has been credited with 46 tackles on the season. While he’s a starter, Bradham comes off the field when the Bills go to their nickel package. As such, since Week Six, he’s played just 281 of 668 defensive snaps, or 42 percent.
• CB Ron Brooks (fourth round, 124th overall): Was the first Bills player to be placed on injured reserve with the “designated to return” label after breaking his foot near the end of the preseason. Brooks was forced to sit out the team’s first seven games, making his professional debut in Week Nine against Houston on special teams. He saw his first meaningful defensive snaps in Week 12 against Indianapolis and has gone on to start two games.
With second-year man Aaron Williams failing to lock down the No. 2 cornerback job, Brooks will go into next season with a big opportunity to compete for a starting job.
• OT Zebrie Sanders (fifth round, 144th overall): Was placed on injured reserve at the end of the preseason and underwent hip surgery. He’ll compete for a reserve job on the offensive line next season.
• LB Tank Carder (fifth round, 147th overall): Cut at the end of the preseason, Carder landed with the Cleveland Browns. He’s played in 14 games for the Browns, almost exclusively on special teams (he’s got just six defensive tackles this season). Carder’s most newsworthy “contribution” this season was a profane Twitter rant in which he used anti-gay language, and was later forced to apologize by the organization.
• G Mark Asper (sixth round, 178th overall): Cut at the end of the preseason, Asper was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings. He spent 16 weeks on Minnesota’s active roster, but did not play in a game. He was claimed off waivers Monday by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
• K John Potter (seventh round, 251st overall): Potter made the team out of training camp as a kickoff specialist, but was cut in Week 10 after he failed to produce the desired number of touchbacks. He’s out of the league.