Welcome back, as we continue the 2022 Players in Review series, where Kevin Siracuse and I review the seasons of different Buffalo Bills players. Did they meet expectations? What went well, and what went wrong? What can be expected of them moving forward? In this edition, we discuss the rookie season of the Buffalo Bills’ 2022 first-round pick: Cornerback Kaiir Elam.
His rookie season had its ups and downs. Elam wasn’t the immediate hit he was expected to be when training camp started, and Christian Benford put the pressure on him. By September, he was splitting snaps with his fellow draftee, playing third fiddle in the outside corner room. As the season went on there were some great moments, but his first healthy scratch was a tough lesson. Still, he finished on a high note. Let’s start there.
The Bright Side
Kaiir Elam was the best player the Buffalo Bills had during the playoffs this season. We know that the team is constructed for postseason greatness; the Von Miller signing is indicative of that. Still, Elam’s early struggles had a lot of people doubting his ability to convert to the pros. If his late-season run is any indicator, Elam will do just fine.
Over his final three regular season performances, he was consistent with his coverage, and rarely targeted. One of those targets was a pass breakup against Tyreek Hill on December 17th, in a close-fought game. The Bills would go on to win by three in the snow, and Elam gave us a lot of good reps against the Bears and Patriots, leading to two much more comfortable victories.
Then came the postseason.
In the ugly Wild Card win over the Miami Dolphins, Kaiir Elam had a crucial interception which put the Bills in position to take a lead they wouldn’t lose, as well as making the game-ending pass breakup. It was the cap on what had been a stellar final few games. The game highlighted something we’d been hoping to see more of from Elam. Improved coverage technique, and discipline in the Bills’ zone scheme.
Rough Edges And A Cold Bench
Now, he may have ended the year on a high note, but we can’t gloss over his struggles. They were plentiful, and meaningful. Elam was outplayed all offseason by two players who were expected to be dwarfed by his talent. He performed well for most of the first half of the season, but made errors that other players didn’t and couldn’t secure a starting job. Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier use a rotation on the defensive line but never before at cornerback, yet Elam only saw the field roughly half the time.
When he was out there, he was good enough but inconsistent. As his weaknesses were taken advantage of, he was labeled a healthy scratch just after the midseason mark. Over a five-game stretch, Elam was inactive three times, played one game with one single special teams snap and no time on defense, and a final game with 21 defensive snaps and no registered stats. It seemed as though he was a complete failure. He managed to turn things around, and finished the year strong, but it’s worrying.
Kaiir Elam: 2022 In Review
So, on the whole, how did Kaiir Elam fare in 2022?
He’d been projected to be handsy as a pro, having primarily played a handsy press man coverage in college, but Elam only saw three penalties all season as a rookie. His game translated relatively well to the NFL. At our most critical moment, he was the most effective cornerback on the roster.
The stretch of the season where he was unable to get onto the field seems worrying, and we expected better out of our first-round pick, but Elam’s benching seems like more of a scheme issue than a skill one. Elam has had to find his niche in a new style of defense and, after his enforced break, he fit in nicely. Trends tend to continue, and Elam was trending towards being a capable starter in this defense across from Tre’Davious White.
All in all, Kaiir Elam didn’t make the immediate impact we all hoped for. Perhaps the success of Tre White in 2017 spoiled us, but cornerback prospects typically experience growing pains when going pro. Elam took his lumps, got some experience under his belt, and worked on his flaws. His athleticism and speed was exactly as advertised. With another offseason before he starts again, we should be ready to see some growth.
Kaiir Elam’s Final 2022 Grade: B
Check out the rest of the 2022 Players In Review series below:
Featured Image: AP Photo/Matt Durisko