Day three draft picks are often seen as players that can make their best early contributions on special teams, especially linebackers and cornerbacks. In the fourth round Buffalo grabbed two players with extensive special teams experience that should make an instant impact to Bruce DeHaven's cover and return teams. Add in fifth-round linebacker Tank Carder and a kickoff specialist in seventh-round pick John Potter, and the offensive and defensive units aren't the only units that added solid depth.
Buffalo's special teams units aren't necessarily in need of a major boost in talent. They did have the number one kick coverage unit in the league, ranked fourth in punt return average and 11th overall in the widely recognized special teams rankings compiled by Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin.
But fourth-round picks Nigel Bradham and Ron Brooks could challenge to be major players on special teams sooner rather than later. Both were ace special teamers all four years of their college careers, something that's rather uncommon for players at major programs.
"It's especially rare to have a guy drafted that played a lot of special teams late in their college careers," said Bills special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven. "Most of the guys that get drafted played a lot of special teams as freshmen or sophomores, but didn't play much their last couple of years. So the fact that they have played on those units recently is a plus."
For Bradham and Brooks playing on special teams was every bit as important as starting on defense.
"I feel special teams are just as important as defense," said Bradham. "It has the ability to change the game, so every time I go out there I feel like it is a great opportunity. I just play with a lot of passion because I have so much love for the game. I just want to be able to make a play to change the game."
"I pretty much played on every special teams except field goal team," said Brooks. "I played in all positions. My ability to play gunner, play jammer, play punt return, kick return… wherever they need me I've had experience playing it all. So it shouldn't be a hard transition for me to learn and get up to speed up there."
Bradham and Brooks, who are both known as big hitters also have top end speed for their size, which helps explain their effectiveness on teams. Bradham ran a 4.64 40-time at the Combine. Brooks a 4.37.
"Speed kills," said DeHaven. "That's the one thing that's hard to coach. All things being equal the faster guy is going to win most of the time. The thing you like about speed is it puts a lot of pressure on the other team to do everything right. If you've got fast cover guys it changes the depth of your drops on kickoff return. It changes where you have to be in position on punt return in order to make your blocks."
Fifth-round pick Tank Carder (4.69) isn't far off from his fellow linebacker Bradham on the stopwatch, but plays faster than he times. It's something DeHaven values having had players like Carder before.
"When Mark Pike was here, he ran a five flat 40-time and he was usually the first guy down the field," said DeHaven of the long time special teams stalwart for Buffalo in the 1990's. "He outran the 4.6 and 4.7 guys down the field because he was running downfield with the intent to make a play. Other guys were running down the field under control looking around to see where the blocks were coming from."
DeHaven liked the job turned in by some of his rookies last year as he mentioned Kelvin Sheppard, Da'Norris Searcy, Chris White and Aaron Williams specifically. But he doesn't mind adding more talent to the mix.
"The thing that has me most excited is we've got more competition at some of those positions," he said. "We had some guys already here that played pretty well. I don't think anybody is just going to walk in here and make the team."
But with the very real possibility of Kelvin Sheppard landing the starting middle linebacker role this fall and Aaron Williams likely to push for a starting role as a cornerback, an influx of experienced special teamers from college will ensure DeHaven's unit is every bit as talented as it has been.
"These guys have really been good special teams players, Bradham and Brooks," said Bills GM Buddy Nix. "Those guys are impact players on special teams."