Bills Raise Eyebrows by Benching First-Round Pick for Key Game

Kaiir Elam

Getty Kaiir Elam warms up before a Buffalo Bills game.

The Buffalo Bills benched first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam for their critical matchup against the New England Patriots, a move that took many by surprise and came with apparently no warning that his spot could be at risk.

The Bills announced that the rookie cornerback would be inactive for Thursday night’s game, a move many insiders saw as curious given the team’s lack of depth in the secondary. The team is already without fellow rookie Christian Benford, a sixth-round pick who played his way into the starting lineup, and Tre’Davious White played only on a limited basis in last week’s win over the Detroit Lions.

Insider Explains Decision

Though Elam had been dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of a Week 10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and a Week 11 win over the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo News reporter Jay Skurski reported that Thursday’s inactive was not related to an injury.

“A league source tells me the decision to make Kaiir Elam inactive tonight is not related to either injury or illness,” Skurski tweeted. “In other words, he’s benched.”

Elam had struggled in coverage at times this season, with Pro Football Focus giving him a 58.3 overall rating that ranks him among the lowest of qualifying cornerbacks. According to PFF, Elam has allowed 25 receptions on 33 targets this season.

But Elam had also played well, including the win over the Lions in which he gave up no receptions in coverage.

There was no indication of whether Elam’s benching could extend beyond the New England game, or whether the Bills were opting to go for a more linebacker-heavy defensive formation about the rushing attack of the Patriots.

The Bills will also be without edge rusher Von Miller, who injured his knee in the win over the Lions and was placed on injured reserve hours before Thursday’s game against New England.


Bills Leaning on Veteran Cornerbacks

Elam’s absence will likely mean a bigger role for Tre’Davious White, who returned from an ACL tear to play his first game in a full year. White appeared only in two series in last week’s win over the Lions, but head coach Sean McDermott said he would be gradually moving into a more significant role.

“I think he got two series – about 15 to 20 plays, I don’t have a total count on what it ended up being,” McDermott said, via a report from “But that was in the range of what we thought. And now let’s build on it.”

White also has the support of teammates, including wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

“I told him that you the man–You’ve been the man, you’re gonna stay the man, stay confident and it’s your game,” Diggs said, via USA Today’s Bills Wire. “I told him it was a game you’ve been playing since you were a child. You know, treat it that way. Welcome back–The game missed you.”

The Bills could also give a larger role to veteran Xavier Rhodes, who was initially signed to the practice squad earlier this season but signed to the active roster when the Bills placed Benford on injured reserve.

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