CB or Not CB?

And if CB, which one?

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@SportsRoc2’s blog, @SportsRoc2’s brand. So I’ll go ahead and get the tpyo out of the way early.

Now, if I haven’t already lost all credibility, let’s look at some of the Bills’ baseline measurements for DBs. Have you ever drooled over a draft prospect thinking they would be a perfect fit, only to watch McBeane and Co. inexplicably skip right over your crush when their next pick came up? Maybe it was because that player didn’t fit what the Bills were looking for in terms of measurables, those NFL Draft numbers we all salivate over like the 40 Yard Dash.

Measurables are nowhere close to the full picture when it comes to evaluating a prospect, but there are simply certain physical realities to playing a game versus other large and fast humans that can’t be ignored, and that’s where baseline measurements come into play. Years ago, Bill Parcells did a draft special with ESPN, and he went over some of the physical measurements of the average player in the league by position. Parcells went over how different measurements mean different things to different positions, but the point was that these measurements do in fact play a part in how NFL teams are valuing and assessing draft-eligible players.

So, CB2. It’s pretty easily the biggest hole remaining on the 2022 Bills, especially considering Tre White might not be fully recovered from his ACL tear before the start of the season. Beane has typically tried to stabilize the roster with low- to mid-tier free agent signings prior to the draft, but, as of this writing (4/12), that alarm at CB is still blaring. How will Beane silence that alarm? Is he just going to hit snooze again and again with Day 3 guy after Day 3 guy?

Or will he?

Could he?

No, I’m sure he won’t.

But maybe.

Just maybe, Beane will go full Groundhog Day and smash that alarm with a Day 2 or – dare we dream? – even a Day 1 CB.

Who could it be? Honestly, up until about 2 weeks ago, your guess was as good as mine. But it’s not anymore, because I learned stuff. Stuff that I will now simply give to you. Did I become a cornerback film guru in two weeks? Of course not. There is a tremendous amount of football knowledge and experience that goes into film-based evaluations and none of us are going to get that overnight, but we can examine the measurables of the cornerbacks the Bills have rostered during the McBeane Era.

The chart below is the average combine-style measurements for each rostered DB during the McBeane Era (2017-2021). Most of this data comes from Relative Athletic Scores, operated by Kent Lee Platte at (@Mathbomb on Twitter), some comes from Mockdraftable, and the rest comes from searching various pro day results. The bottom line is these are the measurements from the players the Bills have put on the roster, and that should give us some indication of the players Beane would look to acquire.

The blue line is the average of all 5 years of the McBeane Era. The red line is the range, meaning, of all the measurables available throughout that time, these are the extreme ends in either direction. The Bills have never rostered a CB who ran the 40 faster than 4.37, and they haven’t rostered one who took longer than 4.71. For now, don’t worry about the gray and yellow lines. We’ll get to those.

We could start examining the top available CBs in this year’s draft against the range. Let’s see what that looks like.

According to Dane Brugler of The Athletic, these are the top 10 CBs available in the 2022 NFL Draft:

  1. AHMAD GARDNER Cincinnati
  2. TRENT MCDUFFIE Washington
  4. ANDREW BOOTH JR. Clemson
  5. KAIIR ELAM Florida
  6. KYLER GORDON Washington
  8. CAM TAYLOR-BRITT Nebraska
  9. MARCUS JONES Houston

Here’s how they compare to the Bills’ range:

For starters, there are some missing chunks. Gardner, Booth, and Jones do not have nearly complete testing results for a variety reasons (injury or agent advice). That’s unavoidable. With that caveat in place, how do the measurables we have from the draft class compare to the Bills’ range?

  • Green highlights indicate a result that falls within the Bills’ range
  • Yellow highlights indicate a result worse than the Bills’ range.
  • Fuschia highlights indicate a result better than the Bills’ range.

The numbers in the yellow and fuschia highlights might be lower or higher than the range based on the metric. A “lower” 40 time is better, but a “lower” bench press count is worse. This allows for visual consistency in the chart.

At first glance, most everybody falls within range for every measurement. That’s not really handy for focusing our draft research or getting to sound super smart on draft night. What went wrong? Range. Range takes in those far extremes. See that 28.75 at the low end of the Arm Length range? That’s 2017 Bills’ luminary Leonard Johnson. He’s the one extending the range that low. Nobody else is under Jaquan Johnson’s 29.625. The 9.61 in RAS and 25 bench reps are both Vontae Davis of all people. So range is a party where any Drew Grier can just walk right in, and we want to be more discerning than that.

Where do we find a bouncer to keep Drew out? Welcome to the nerd portion of the blog, and say hello to standard deviation, the nerdiest possible bouncer. Imagine Drew getting tossed by a dude with suspenders and a pocket protector (No, really. Stop for a minute and smile at the sweet, sweet bliss of that picture). Remember those yellow and gray lines? Standard deviation will let us look at what the Bills do generally or most often.

Looking at one standard deviation away from the average we start to get a more refined picture of how this group of prospects compares. One standard deviation from the mean in either direction encompasses about 68% of rostered players. This graph from Research Gate depicts how this works.

So the chart above is the narrowest of the comparisons we’re looking at now. You’ve probably heard about McDuffie and McCreary’s arm length since they are under 30 inches. Their arm length does not fit into this narrow definition of what the Bills might be looking for. What happens if we look at two standard deviations, or around 95% of the players rostered at DB since 2017?

This chart compares the top 10 CB draft prospects to roughly 95% of rostered Bills’ DBs since 2017. McCreary’s arm length falls lower than this part of the curve. The Bills might still very well draft McCreary. Then why even bother with all of this if the Bills ignore their own parameters? If the Bills draft Roger McCreary, it tells us they like the other parts of his evaluation so much that they are willing to set aside their statistical norms, and that would be an intriguing piece of information.

Most importantly, the numbers in the orange columns will let you compare other DB prospects you’re considering or evaluating. It won’t tell you who the Bills will or will not draft because of the multifaceted aspects of prospect evaluation, but we now have a better idea of what measureables Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott believe can typically operate within their system.

In the time remaining before the draft, I’m planning on posting the range and standard deviations for the other position groups the Bills seem likely to draft: IOL, IDL, and WR. You’ll be able to find them on Twitter by following @LowBuffa, or searching #BillsMeasureables.


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