Often, a team's depth is measured by the quality of the bottom half of its draft class. If that's true, the Buffalo Bills had plenty of reason to feel good Saturday night about their mid- and late-round picks this year.
Seventh-round cornerback Ellis Lankster, fifth-round linebacker Nic Harris, and fourth-round tight end Shawn Nelson made their presence known in the 27-20 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Regardless of the fact that the bulk of their impressive work came late in the game, against second- and third-team players, they showed that they just might have what it takes to make the team and help this year as well as future seasons.
Lankster put on a show for the Kid's Night crowd, twice intercepting Bears backup quarterback Brett Basanez in a span of 64 seconds early in the fourth quarter. Both interceptions led to touchdowns.
"I was just reading it right and reading my man," Lankster said of his first interception. "He just threw the ball to my man and I just picked it off."
Starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who had another of the Bills' four interceptions in the game, has been impressed with Lankster's performance in practice as well as in preseason games.
"He has been making a lot of plays in camp and does a great job of getting his nose on the ball," McKelvin said.
Said Lankster, "I have just been working hard and praying and it's been coming to me. Overall, I'm just trying to make the team."
In the first quarter, Harris did a nice job of breaking up a pass that Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler threw for wide receiver Devin Hester in the back of the end zone. It forced the Bears to settle for a field goal.
"I'm just trying to hone in and zero in on the things that I'm deficient in, and make myself proficient," Harris said. "At the end of the day, I'm going to get better on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. When you think you've got it all, that's when you start to get worse. I'm just going to get better, and know that there's always some type of margin of error."
Harris also stopped a potential touchdown drive by sacking Chicago reserve quarterback Caleb Hanie on third down. That forced the Bears to settle for another field goal.
The Oklahoma product said he felt more comfortable in this game than he was in his debut in last week's Hall of Fame Game in Canton. As the preseason progresses, he expects to continue to work hard in practice to see more game action.
"Everything's starting to slow itself down," said Harris. "I'm just trying to get my feet wet a little more and trying to play a little more. I feel a lot more team camaraderie, and I think we're moving in a great direction."
In the fourth quarter, Nelson caught a fade pass near the sideline in the end zone from quarterback Gibran Hamdan for a touchdown.
"Shawn Nelson – that's a big man," said head coach Dick Jauron. "That's a tough defensive play to have to make – to cover that end zone with a six-foot, six-inch receiver."
Nelson said he feels that he has made some progress since the first preseason game, and noted some aspects to continue to work on at training camp.
"The number one thing I noticed is that I was more comfortable in this game than I was last game," said Nelson. "Last game, my first NFL game, I was nervous. I think I did alright, but I think I did even better this game. I just want to be comfortable, come out, and play hard."
The first-year players will certainly have more opportunities to prove what they can do with three preseason games to play. If things continue along this current track for Buffalo's late round picks they might do more than just occupy a place on the 53-man roster as rookies.