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Six Reasons to Believe Bills' Kaiir Elam Will Deliver as a Rookie

The gifted cornerback brings a total package and will be fast-tracked this summer toward a starting spot.
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No Tre'Davious White means a heck of a lot more of Kaiir Elam for the Buffalo Bills this summer.

Actually, Elam likely will be fast-tracked for a starting spot in training camp regardless of how long fellow cornerback White remains out while recovering from December ACL surgery.

General manager Brandon Beane moved up two spots in the first round of the NFL Draft this year to take Elam for many reasons, including the fact that Elam brings more size, length and speed and maybe even a better skillset to the position than White did as a first-round pick in 2017. White went on to win a starting spot right away and was a fixture in Buffalo's secondary along with safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde — until being felled by his first major injury on Thanksgiving.

That's because he brought a package from the start that was as close to complete as a rookie can deliver in the NFL.

Five years later, Elam appears to be doing the same thing.

Here's why it's more than reasonable for the Bills to believe they have another Tre'Davious White, who's already made two Pro Bowls and has been an AP first-team All Pro, at the very least.


If anything, Elam has an overabundance. A proven cover corner, especially in press, as well as a tackler, he accumulated five interceptions, 20 passes defended and 53 tackles in 30 games over three seasons before leaving a year early for the Draft.

His ability to fit in zone schemes also will help him with the Bills, who dial up Cover 2 or Cover 3 schemes most of the time.


Elam made the SEC first-year academic honor roll for the 2019-20 school year. He is widely considered to have an excellent football IQ as well.

According to Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network, Elam has outstanding instincts:

"Being purely reactive is a good way to be a step behind at cornerback," Cummings wrote in his scouting report. "On the contrary, Elam is proactive, confident in what he sees, and has very good pre-snap and post-snap instincts. He reads quarterbacks’ eyes well, and he’s exceptional at anticipating routes and breaking early.

"From there, Elam has terrific closing burst at the catch point. His precise sense of timing allows him to impact the ball when and where he needs to. He has the length to disrupt, as is evidenced by his ball production in 2020."


Elam has been blessed with genes from an accomplished athletic family.

His father, Abram, had a seven-year NFL career. His uncle, Matt Elam, was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. Both were defensive backs as well.

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Even before arriving in Buffalo for the first time as a member of the Bills a day after being drafted, Elam requested the team send him the playbook so he could study it on the plane trip.

Everything he's done since underscores his insatiable appetite for a total understanding of the system and desire to make it better.

"You can already tell he listens," Hyde said. "He pays attention. You can tell as I’m saying stuff, he's taking mental notes. That’s how Tre’Davious was when he first got here. He was battling on the football field, which is what Kaiir is doing, but also just learning from his mistakes and learning from the older guys."

Size and speed

Elam stands just under 6-2, with 31-inch arms. He was clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

Because of all of the above,'s Chad Reuter has predicted Elam will end the season on the league's all-rookie team.

"Quarterbacks will test Elam as a rookie, especially when Pro Bowl CB Tre'Davious White — who is recovering from an ACL tear — is back to full health," Reuter wrote. "He's more than up for the challenge, though, with a physical style and great confidence in his abilities against all comers. If teams fall behind against the Bills' potent offense, Elam will join White in shutting down desperation pass plays."

Coaching and culture

Pro Football Focus has ranked the Bills' secondary sixth in the league (though second in the AFC East, behind the No. 5 Miami Dolphins). This, despite White's injury, which could make him unavailable for a portion of the season and the loss of fellow starting corner Levi Wallace to free agency.

Obviously their safety duo of Poyer and Hyde have the most to do with this ranking, but Elam's presence is a part of it too.

The experience in that backfield will make it just about impossible for Elam to fail and almost guarantee he will maximize his potential as quickly as possible.

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Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to