Bills Coach Explains Surprise Benching of First-Round Pick

Kaiir Elam

Getty Kaiir Elam looks on before a Buffalo Bills game.

The Buffalo Bills dropped a surprise shortly before Thursday night’s win over the New England Patriots, announcing that rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam would be a healthy scratch for the critical AFC East showdown.

There had been no prior indication that the first-round draft pick could be benched, and he had been off the injury report after missing two previous games with an ankle injury. The Bills were also lacking depth in the secondary after fellow rookie Christian Benford, which made the move to keep Elam inactive even more of a mystery.

After the game, Bills head coach Sean McDermott explained why he decided to sit the rookie down for the key divisional matchup.


McDermott Went With Veteran Against Patriots

Speaking to reporters after the 24-10 victory over New England, McDermott explained that the team decided to go with veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes instead of the rookie Elam. The Bills had signed former All-Pro Rhodes to the practice squad in September and signed him to the active roster when Benford was placed on the injured reserve on November 26.

McDermott said on Friday that the team wanted to have Rhodes play alongside Tre’Davious White against the Patriots.

“Just taking a look at what we have with X [Xavier Rhodes],” McDermott said, via Heather Prusak of News 4 Buffalo. “Tre’s ramped up there, his rep count and we’ll watch the tape and see. The competition is good, it’s healthy for all of us.”

Rhodes ended up playing 87% of the team’s defensive snaps in the win, as the Bills bottled up Mac Jones and the Patriots’ offense. The Bills held New England to 242 total yards, also winning the time of possession battle 38:08 to 21:52.


White Back in the Mix

After playing just two series in Buffalo’s 28-25 win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, White had a bigger workload against the Patriots. He was on the field for 61% of the defensive snaps, including the bulk of the second half as the Bills maintained a two-score lead and kept the Patriots offense in check.

As Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News noted, White’s workload doubled from the previous week’s game. White was also welcomed back by teammates, who said his presence was a big boost to the defense.

“I think all of us get a smile on our face when we see ’27’ playing out there. Just his play-making ability speaks for himself,” said linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, via the Buffalo News. “Obviously, we know what he can do and just seeing him out there puts a smile on my face knowing how much he has been through. I have been seeing it day in and day out and all the hard work he has been putting in.”

Edmunds added that White is still working hard to get back to 100% after suffering a season-ending ACL tear in last year’s Thanksgiving game.

“He comes every day with the mindset of getting better,” Edmunds said. “Whether that is training room or working on his technique, he is doing everything he can to get better and get on that field and I see that each and every day, so I take my hat off to him and it speaks (about his) character and the character he has as a person. He was like that since I met him and this is just a little bump in the road for him, but he is coming back stronger than ever.”

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