When Bills GM Brandon Beane saw two of the first four picks in the draft were cornerbacks, he thought the Bills might be looking at another position by the time they were on the clock at 25. Fortunately for Buffalo, only one more cornerback came off the board when Kansas City moved up from pick 29 to pick 21 in a trade with New England to take Washington CB Trent McDuffie. Buffalo made a move of their own shortly thereafter to land Florida CB Kaiir Elam as they traded up from pick 25 to 23 in a deal with Baltimore.
"We had had good grade on Kaiir, and we were down to one player in the first round on our board, and so at that point, it just made sense," said Beane of the move up the board. "We're not sure what those teams ahead of us would have taken, but there was a lot of trade action going on too. It just felt like it was within striking distance."
Buffalo's trade was the sixth of what would be nine total trades in round one. To move up just two spots, Buffalo only had to part with their fourth-round pick at 130 overall and landed a player they not only coveted but was at a need position.
"Obviously, I've been hearing it loud and clear that we don't have a corner from every single one of you," Beane joked. "Neighbors, kids, everyone, so we'll all sleep good tonight that we got a corner."
The positional need was readily apparent to most. After losing starter Levi Wallace in free agency and Tre'Davious White working his way back from an ACL injury suffered on Thanksgiving, Buffalo had to fortify the position.
Elam was a cornerback prospect who had been on Buffalo's radar for some time. Blessed with elite measurables in terms of height, weight and speed, Elam also demonstrated press man cover skills out on the boundary. Buffalo made him one of their 60 interviews at the NFL combine and hosted him as one of their 30 pre-draft visits at One Bills Drive.
"We really felt like he's going to be a great fit in our defense," said Beane of Elam. "He's got some versatility in the sense that he can play off, he can play press, he gives us a little size, a little length. He's got speed if we're in press-man, anything like that. So, I think it'll give (defensive coordinator) Leslie (Frazier) more options with what he can do with him."
Elam became the first cornerback taken in the first round by the Bills since they made Tre'Davious White the 27th pick in the draft in 2017. The Florida product actually met White on his pre-draft visit to One Bills Drive.
"He just told me how much he watched my game and how he liked the way I played," said Elam. "I just tried to pick his brain and tried to learn as much as I could from him in the short amount of time we had. I'm super happy I got to meet him because he seemed like a super laid-back guy, super knowledgeable and a guy who I feel like I could just go and try to learn from."
Elam played a lot of press-man coverage at Florida, so there might be a bit of a learning curve for him with some of Buffalo's zone concepts in terms of where his leverage is and how to play off his teammates in the secondary. He'll also have to prove he deserves time on the field.
"Kaiir will have to come in and earn it," said Beane. "We still expect Tre' to be ready to roll here, hopefully at the beginning of the season. We'll see. Dane (Jackson) hasn't missed a challenge yet, so drafting Kaiir doesn't mean he's going to be a starter for the Buffalo Bills. But it adds another guy, adds some size and length outside as I said earlier, and he'll have to come in here as a rookie. We're not the team that just throws rookies out there. I'm a big Dane Jackson fan and I don't see him just relenting his chance to start just because we drafted someone in the first round."
Elam has a father (Abram Elam) who played eight seasons in the NFL as a safety and an uncle (Matt Elam), who was also a first-round pick in 2013 (Baltimore) and played for four years in the NFL. Buffalo's newest cornerback has already learned valuable lessons about what it takes to be a successful pro going forward.
"It's a blessing that they're in my life because I get to learn from the mistakes they made and the things they didn't know when they were my age," Elam said. "It's allowed me to mature a lot faster than a lot of people my age. I'm just so grateful for them to be in my life because they're guys who tell me not what I want to hear, but what I need to hear. They critique me. So, my dad, Abram Elam, and my uncle, Matt Elam, they are very essential in my life."
Evidence of their influence came in Elam's request of the Bills to put their defensive playbook on the plane that is going to fly him back to Buffalo on Friday.
"Even though he's young, he knows a little bit about the pro game, what to expect and it's obviously going to be a transition no matter what from college to pro," said Beane. "But he seems like a very serious-minded young man. Personality-wise, he reminded me a little bit of Tre, just his approach to the game."
Scroll to see photos from inside the Buffalo Bills Draft Room during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
What sold the Bills was something he did at the close of his pre-draft visit to Orchard Park. Beane and head coach Sean McDermott were having lunch with Elam and thought they'd give him the opportunity ask anything he might have had on his mind.
"We were drilling you with all these questions, do you have any questions for us? About the Bills, the NFL, anything like that?' And he said, 'What does Tre White do? What has he done to be so good? What do you guys see?' And then he asked, 'What do you see in my game that you like, and what do you think I need to get better at?'" recalled Beane. "Just some really good questions. It shows he's a guy that's serious and focused and driven to be really good at his craft. That's what I took from it."
Elam, who said he was super ecstatic to be drafted by Buffalo, is already committed to being a contributor knowing Buffalo's aspirations as a team in 2022.
"I'm coming in to compete," he said. "I don't think anything's going to be given to me. But the ability to play and learn from Tre' White and the other guys in the secondary is something I look forward to. Pick their brains and try to learn as much as I can but also on the field, I want to compete right away for everything. I just want to prove that I can have an immediate impact right away and strive to win the Super Bowl. I'm going to strive to win the Super Bowl."
Buffalo has just seven picks remaining after parting with their fourth-round pick at 130 overall. They still have their second and third-round selections on day two at 57 and 89 overall.
"I'm excited about what's going to be on the board (Friday) night," said Beane. "I think they'll be some good opportunities for us."
Scroll through to view photos of CB Kaiir Elam, Buffalo's pick in the first round, 23rd overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.