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NFL draft preview: Time could be right for Bills to add a cornerback early

NFL draft preview: Time could be right for Bills to add a cornerback early

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10. Dallas (6-10) — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama, Jr. (copy)

Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020. 

This is the 10th in a series previewing each position in the April 29-May 1 NFL draft. Today's installment looks at cornerbacks.

The Buffalo Bills have not selected a cornerback in the first three rounds during Brandon Beane’s first three drafts as general manager.

Based on need and the likelihood of available talent, there is at least a decent chance that changes this year.

To this point in the offseason, Beane has not signed a veteran free agent to compete for the starting cornerback job opposite Tre’Davious White – as he’s done the past three years. Perhaps that move is still to come, but if not, there should be options available to Beane – either at No. 30 overall in the first round, or on the draft’s second day – that come in ready to compete for a big role right away.

“I think in that second-round range is a really good group of corners, some interesting guys,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said

Lance Zierlein, of, concurs.

“The value of the class will be found on Day 2, as there’s not a ton of top-tier options but a lot of promising film to develop,” Zierlein wrote in his rankings of each position group, with cornerbacks coming in fifth out of 11.

Six cornerbacks were taken in the first round last year – an indication of the importance of the position in the pass-happy NFL.

“For those teams looking for corners, they’re going to all go, so you’d better get on that ride early in the first or second round,” Jeremiah said.

The Bills might not want to wait to the weekend to address the position.

“Day 2 offers a much more exciting group of cornerbacks to choose from than last year's crop did, boasting length, speed and ball production,” reads the NFL Draft Bible analysis of the position. “The well could dry up somewhat beyond the fourth round, but this is a better overall class than 2020.”

Overall position ranking: 6 of 10.

Bills view: The team re-signed Levi Wallace and believes second-year veteran Dane Jackson can compete for the job. Wallace, though, has not been able to cement his status as a starter, and Jackson was a seventh-round pick a year ago with very little playing time. There is still a need beyond those two.

A few veteran cornerbacks remain on the market, most notably Richard Sherman, who may be waiting until after the draft to decide on where to sign. The Bills, though, are tight up against the NFL salary cap, so they might not be in the market for a veteran who would have a higher price tag than a rookie.

Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson responded well last season after being benched, turning in two of the team’s biggest plays of the season, including a 101-yard pick-six in the playoffs against Baltimore. Johnson, though, is heading into the final year of his contract, so it’s possible the team targets a nickel cornerback later in the draft.

Bills need ranking: 8 of 10.

The best: Four cornerbacks look to be first-round locks – Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II.

Farley had back surgery March 23, which kept him from working out at the Hokies’ pro day March 26, leading some to believe he could slide down the draft board just a bit. He’s got ideal size at 6 feet, 1 inch and 207 pounds.

Farley took part in medical re-checks for draft prospects last week in Indianapolis. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said he was told by a "bunch of team doctors and trainers" that Farley "did well with his physical regarding his back and is still expected to go in the first round," according to ESPN. 

Surtain is the son of former Dolphins Pro Bowler Patrick Surtain, who played the same position. The younger Surtain was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, leading the Crimson Tide with 12 passes defensed and one interception in 13 games.

Horn also has NFL bloodlines – his dad, Joe, was a quality receiver. Jaycee Horn started as a true freshman for South Carolina in 2018. He had six passes defensed and a pair of interceptions in the first seven games of the 2020 season before opting out of the rest of the year after South Carolina fired coach Will Muschamp.

Newsome had just 18 starts during his college career. He answered questions about his speed by running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at Northwestern’s pro day. He has 12 tackles and 10 pass breakups in six games this past season.

Names to know: Eric Stokes, Georgia; Aaron Robinson, Central Florida; Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State; Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse.

Stokes and Samuel could be in the discussion for the Bills at the bottom of the first round. It’s also possible, although probably not likely, that one or both of them could be available at No. 61 in the second round.

Sleeper: Avery Williams, Boise State. He’s small, at 5 feet, 8 inches, but he’s an absolute demon on special teams. Williams scored nine touchdowns on special teams in his four-year career – five punt returns, three kickoff returns and one fumble return. He also blocked five kicks and served as a gunner on coverage units.

Top 10

1. Patrick Surtain II*, Alabama – Height: 6-2. Weight: 208.

2. Jaycee Horn*, South Carolina – Height: 6-0, Weight: 205

3. Caleb Farley*, Virginia Tech – Height: 6-1, Weight: 207

4. Greg Newsome II*, Northwestern – Height: 6-0, Weight: 192

5. Eric Stokes*, Georgia – Height: 6-0, Weight: 194

6. Asante Samuel Jr.*, Florida State – Height: 5-10, Weight: 180

7. Kelvin Joseph*, Kentucky – Height: 5-11, Weight: 197

8. Ifeatu Melifonwu*, Syracuse – Height: 6-2, Weight: 204

9. Elijah Molden, Washington   Height: 5-9, Weight: 190

10. Tyson Campbell*, Georgia  Height: 6-1, Weight: 193


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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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