On Friday we gave you the three unheralded playmakers of the OTA practices at One Bills Drive over the past three weeks. Now we give you the best of the best in the non-pads football environment of organized team activities.
As we’ve stated before it’s very difficult for any lineman to get on this list from either side of the ball as they’re not able to play the type of football that gets them noticed. With that in mind here are the top performers from the OTA practices who were most consistent from start to finish.
Ron Brooks – With starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin held out of the team portions of practice for the majority of the practices, Brooks has been the starting right corner. The third-year corner, whose career thus far has been compromised by injury, performed very well in the OTA setting. He frequently got his hands in the passing lanes to force incompletions and logged an interception. One of his pass breakups also led to another INT by one of his teammates.
Corey Graham – The veteran corner has been lining up opposite Brooks with the incumbent starters at corner limited and has blended in quickly. Going against Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams on most days, the Buffalo native hasn’t backed down. He had three interceptions through the course of the OTAs including one he returned for a touchdown. His diagnosis of run-pass is as quick as anyone on the field and speaks to his innate feel for the game. His play in the slot has proven he’ll give defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz options.
Chris Hogan – Fortunate to make the 53-man roster last season, Hogan hasn’t rested on that accomplishment. The slot receiver took advantage of Robert Woods limitations coming off ankle surgery in the spring and caught everything thrown his way. Hogan was one of the few receivers in the OTAs without a single drop and he was targeted frequently. He’s improved as a route runner and his on field speed is better as he has seemingly mastered the offense. His only challenge will be getting off press coverage in camp when the pads go on.
Jerry Hughes – With most of Buffalo’s starting defensive linemen in and out of town during the voluntary sessions Jerry Hughes has lined up on the starting defensive line with a host of second unit players. At no point in OTAs did it reduce the pass rusher’s effectiveness. Hughes was not only consistent with his quarterback harassment; there were some practices where he flat out dominated. In one session he posted three sacks in five plays, and that was without even having Mario Williams lined up on the opposite side. Hughes looks very motivated to build off of his 10-sack season last year.
Nickell Robey – He made a good first impression last year as an undrafted rookie and wound up as the team’s nickel corner. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is equally impressed this time around. Robey just has a knack of foiling pass plays inside and though he doesn’t always come up with the interception, very few completions are made against him. The competition between him and Graham for the nickel corner role will be fierce in camp.
Brandon Spikes – The veteran middle linebacker is mainly known as being a thumper in the run game, but without pads onlookers were able to see the student of the game that Spikes really is. Graham might be the only player on defense who can sniff out plays as quick as Spikes, who was not fooled on a single play during OTAs. His knack for quickly flowing to the ball put him in position to make the kind of plays one might not expect to see from the big, bruising linebacker. Batted passes and interceptions were where he showed up in the spring practices. That combined with hard hitting ability when the pads go on should make Spikes a much more complete linebacker than some might think.
C.J. Spiller – Seeing Spiller fully healthy would’ve been enough for most, but just to see the dynamic weapon that he is coming out of the backfield and in space is still fun to watch even now in his fifth NFL season. Bobbing and weaving through would-be tacklers and back to cutting on a dime, the offensive coaches seem eager to expand the ways in which he’ll be used on the field this fall. To this point Spiller has proven more than capable in any and all situations.
Sammy Watkins – He’s yet to really go against Gilmore or McKelvin in practice, and that might explain why making plays has come so easy to Buffalo’s top draft choice. His eight-catch practice in his first day back from the NFL Rookie Premiere, that cost him two days of work, spoke for itself. EJ Manuel is already naturally finding him on pass plays and his acceleration after the catch is rare, very rare.