Buffalo Bulletin: The Christian Benford Conundrum
For the Buffalo Bills, 2022 was filled with a myriad of problems. Kaiir Elam wasn’t the day one starter we’d hoped for; rookie sixth-round pick Christian Benford had outplayed him to open the season. Depth concerns splattered the roster, and we struggled to field an elite secondary for a majority of the season. From needing to play guys straight off the practice squad by Week 3 to trading for Dean Marlowe mid-season out of desperation, it was a problem with no clear answer.
By January, things had changed significantly, with the return of Tre’Davious White and the development of Kaiir Elam bringing balance to our needs at cornerback. Our season ended against the Cincinnati Bengals due to a wealth of issues, and we entered the offseason deeply unsure about our safety room. In his end-of-season press conference, Sean McDermott raised a possible solution. Move Christian Benford to safety.
An Offseason Of Adjustments
It’s been four months since that press conference, and the landscape of our secondary has once again shifted drastically. Fortunately for Buffalo, the shift was a positive one. We entered the 2023 offseason comfortable with our cornerback room, and retained Dane Jackson for depth and security.
In the safety room, we expected to lose Jordan Poyer and the status of Damar Hamlin was a mystery. We expected to start this year with a recently-injured Micah Hyde and someone new next to him. Somehow, the market rejected Jordan Poyer, and the All-Pro returned to us on what is essentially on one-year deal. Damar Hamlin was cleared to return and has chosen to carry on with his career. We snagged one of the best free agent safeties on the market, Taylor Rapp of the L.A. Rams, and even retained Dean Marlowe.
At defensive back, this roster is deep.
The Christian Benford Conundrum
The Buffalo Bills went from having a dramatic and desperate need at safety to being more comfortable than we’ve been in a long time. We also have our two starters and depth at outside cornerback. That leaves us with Christian Benford, the question unanswered. What does all of this mean for the former sixth-round pick?
For starters, we’ll state the obvious. He’s likely not converting to safety. Not this season, anyway. Benford gave the Bills a lot of good snaps at cornerback (363 of them) and it doesn’t make sense to move him to a new position, considering the wealth of talent they already have in a bloated safety room. Cornerback is a premium position, however. The Bills getting a startable corner who can play zone or man coverage on a sixth-round rookie contract is phenomenal value. Why change him when there’s no longer a need for what they considered changing him to?
Christian Benford: Depth Cornerback
Despite his effective play in 2022, we still won’t see Christian Benford on the field much this season. Ideally, his services won’t be needed with the resurgence of Tre’Davious White and the newfound trust in Kaiir Elam. The NFL is rarely a place of ideal scenarios though, and being able to keep him rostered is a huge boon both for this season and the forseeable future. As far as depth goes, it rarely gets better.
So far, it seems the Buffalo Bills agree. Per Matt Parrino, Benford has started OTAs by taking all his snaps at cornerback, with no apparent move to safety in the works. It’s too early to say it won’t happen, but we do know that as of this moment, there’s no reason for it. This organization doesn’t take players out of what they’re good at. They kept Taron Johnson in the slot when all our outside corners go hurt, and they’ll keep Benford at corner now.
He may need to expand upon his special teams role in order to get some play time, and to ensure his value to the team moving forward, but there’s no reason to imagine that Benford is anywhere but the Buffalo Bills corner room when September 11th rolls around.
Like this piece? Check out the previous Buffalo Bulletin on the AFC Arms Race, and how the Bills offense fits in.
The Buffalo Bulletin on Buffalo Fanatics is a weekly editorial by Iestyn Harris. Check back regularly for hot topics, riveting discussion, and, occasionally, some actual insight.
Original Featured Images: Craig Melvin; Composite by Iestyn Harris