BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
With prolific passing offenses more prevalent than ever in today’s NFL, securing quality secondary personnel is vital to being able to match up with modern aerial attacks. The Buffalo Bills made multiple additions to their secondary this offseason including Corey Graham, an eight-year NFL veteran who signed a four year, $16 million contract as a free agent.
Graham is tasked with challenging Nickell Robey for the team’s nickel cornerback role, while he can also provide depth on the outside and has the versatility to contribute as a safety.
A standout for the New Hampshire Wildcats, Graham compiled 302 tackles, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 31 pass breakups and 12 interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, across 42 starts in college. Also a superb return man, Graham averaged 10.7 yards per punt return at UNH to go along with a 27.5 yard average and three touchdowns on kickoff returns.
Graham went on to be selected by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round, pick No. 168 overall, of the 2007 NFL Draft.
In five seasons with the Bears, Graham was primarily a reserve corner and buried on the depth chart, so he had to make his mark as a special teams standout. He made the most of his time spent playing on kick and punt coverage units and was selected to the NFC’s Pro Bowl team in 2011.
After signing with the Baltimore Ravens in March 2012, Graham was able to contribute far more on defense. In two seasons with the Ravens, Graham appeared in all 32 games while starting 13 of those. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Graham logged 1,625 defensive snaps across two seasons.
A Buffalo native, Graham is now part of his hometown team after coming off his most productive season in the NFL, in which he racked up 74 tackles, 12 pass breakups, four interceptions and recorded his first NFL sack.
Graham is fluid in change-of-direction and mirrors well by staying within the frame of his opponents on short routes. He is athletic enough to turn and run while staying stride for stride with speed receivers on deep routes. Overall, he has good physical ability and coverage instincts. His reactionary skills when defending quick throws are very good, which makes him a solid option in the slot.
When in press coverage, Graham is able to get a solid jam at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing of routes. He utilizes his hands well and remains balanced as he changes directions.
As a blitzer, Graham can be very effective with his timing and ability to shoot through windows and close distances at a quick rate. He takes intelligent routes to the quarterback and creatively utilizes his athletic ability to get past blockers in space.
Graham is physical and aggressive in run support. He displays no fear when coming up to make tackles. When playing the boundary as a run defender, Graham can dispose of blockers to shed and make plays on ballcarriers in space.
Graham’s biggest deficiency is his susceptibility to double moves. He has a tendency to break hard on initial cuts with no regard for an additional move from the receiver. This can lead to easy separation. Graham’s ability to anticipate routes is lacking.
His recovery speed is very good but he does not consistently maintain his technique and footwork through the entirety of a play. He tends to get too high in his backpedal which limits his ability to squat and break on passes.
How Corey Graham Fits the Bills Defense
Graham offers an incredible amount of versatility and he can fill multiple roles for the team. When facing bigger slot receivers, the Bills will likely defer to Graham as the primary slot corner over 5’8″ second-year player Nickell Robey. Additionally, Graham provides quality depth on the outside, which the Bills learned the value of this past season when starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin both missed time with injuries.
Graham can help the Bills as a deep zone defender at safety and as a player who can aggressively contribute in run support from multiple positions. He is also a proven, high-level special teams contributor.
For an average annual salary of $4 million, Graham can contribute in a variety of ways and is a bargain for what he brings to the table.