Since the early 2000s, the Buffalo Bills have seemingly been a revolving door for cornerbacks.
Pro-Bowlers like Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements have used their time in Orchard Park to propel their careers forward with other teams while the Bills have continuously brought in players to plug in as replacements.
Some, like Terrence McGee, have worked out, while others like Ashton Youboty and Reggie Corner (remember them?) showed signs of promise before ultimately fading out.
Whether it be through free agency or the draft, Buffalo, like the rest of the league, is always on the lookout for reinforcements at the cornerback position.
The 2016 offseason has been no different as the team decided to part ways with former draft picks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, who both wound up latching on with former Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Philadelphia.
Despite looming contract negotiations, Buffalo is set at the top of their cornerback depth chart with veteran Stephon Gilmore and second-year player Ronald Darby.
But, with the backend of their roster in flux at the position, the Bills yet again brought in a slew of players to try and replace McKelvin and Brooks, who had spent their entire NFL careers in Orchard Park prior to parting ways with the organization earlier in the offseason.
However, one player who’s been overlooked thus far has been fellow free agent signee Javier Arenas, who inked a reserve/future deal with the team in February.
Buffalo’s cornerback depth chart is certainly crowded heading into training camp, but Arenas’ versatility may just be his ticket onto the 53-man roster.
With plenty of experience on both defense and kickoff/punt returns, the 28-year-old cornerback will be somebody to watch closely this summer.
Keeping that in mind, Part Three of Building the Herd’s ‘Under the Radar’ series takes a look at what the former Alabama standout could potentially bring to Buffalo’s roster this season, both as a returner and a cornerback.
A native of Tampa, Florida, Javier Arenas has been a bit of journeyman thus far in his career.
Entering his seventh season, Arenas has spent time with the Chiefs, Cardinals, Falcons, Jets and now the Bills since being drafted by Kansas City in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 50th overall pick.
Arenas spent three seasons with the Chiefs before spending one season each with the Cardinals and Falcons in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
The former second-round pick spent time in New York last offseason, but the Jets waived Arenas at the end of August and he wound up spending the entire 2015 season as a free agent.
However, despite bouncing around, Arenas has had production during his time in the NFL, and he had even greater success during his time in Tuscaloosa.
The 5-foot-9, 197-pound defensive back was a star in his four seasons at the University of Alabama as evidenced by his school records for punt return yards in a game (153 yds vs. Tulane, 2008), single-season punt return yards (650 yds, 2008), career punt return average (14.1 yds), single-season kickoff returns (27 returns, 2007), career kickoff returns (90), single-season kickoff return yards (657 yds, 2007) and career kickoff return yards (2,166).
Arenas is also tied for the SEC record for career punt returns (125), but holds the SEC records for career punt return yards (1,752) and touchdowns (seven).
Following his stellar collegiate career, the Robinson High School product totaled 136 tackles (115 solo, 21 assists), 22 pass breakups, four sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 57 games for the Chiefs.
He started 12 of those games, nine of which came in 2012 where he played both nickel and on the boundary, totaling 60 tackles (53 solo, seven assists), eight pass breakups and two forced fumbles. It was his final season in Kansas City.
On special teams, Arenas tallied 105 punt returns for 1,035 yards (9.8 avg) and 50 kickoff returns for 1,048 yards (20.9 avg) in his first three seasons.
In his other two seasons of NFL action with Arizona and Atlanta, Arenas’ playing time diminished as he was passed by on punt returns for Patrick Peterson with the Cardinals and then played in just six games while with the Falcons.
He finished with 22 tackles (21 solo, one assist), one sack and one pass breakup in those two seasons, while also tallying 493 yards on 23 kickoff returns (21.4 avg) for Arizona in 2013.
Although his career hasn’t gone probably quite like he had hoped, Arenas appears ready to make the most of his opportunity in Buffalo, particularly on punt returns, considering Rex Ryan has already stated that making an impact on returns will be the defensive back’s main avenue onto the roster.
“I experienced a lot through the beginning part of my career,” Arenas said in an interview on the John Murphy Show earlier this offseason. “But, at the same time, I learned from it. (I’ve) traveled and been with a couple of teams. Of course Kansas City, (then) I was traded to Arizona, and I played a year in Atlanta as well.”
“So I guess, the beginning of my career, you could say it was a great learning experience.”
Despite only timing in the 4.5 – 4.6 range in the 40-yard dash coming out of college, Arenas feels as if he’s made for the punt-return position.
He may not be blazing fast, but he’s shifty and decisive in his cuts.
It’s been more than two years since Arenas has had the responsibility of returning punts, but it’s something that is far from foreign to him.
“I’m a guy that knows what to do with the ball in my hands … When you talk about the punt-return position — you’ve got to be quick. Of course, you’ve got to be fast. Speed is one thing, but as a punt returner I like to think quickness first,” Arenas said in his interview with Murphy.
“You’ve got to maneuver through the small spaces on punt returns because you don’t have that much space. The speed kicks in when it’s time to separate from guys when you break loose.”
“I’m pretty confident that I can get away from guys as well.”
Buffalo struggled to find a fit on returns last season, shuffling through Percy Harvin (briefly), Tyler Thigpen, Boom Herron, Denarius Moore and Leodis McKelvin before settling on Walt Powell for the final two games of the season.
Powell and Herron are the only two out of those six who remain on the roster, but other options for the kickoff/punt return jobs this season include Greg Salas, Marquise Goodwin, Kolby Listenbee and even Mike Gillislee, who’s also seen time on returns this offseason.
If Arenas hopes to once again crack a 53-man NFL roster, then there’s no doubt he’ll need to do it by excelling on special teams.
However, if he somehow also finds a way to perform well on defense through training camp and the preseason, then his versatility as a returner and a defensive back/nickel corner could make a player like Sterling Moore or Corey White expendable should they underperform.
Regardless, Javier Arenas should be a player that is on the radar of Bills’ fans when training camp practices begin July 30.
With more NFL experience than either Salas, Goodwin, Gillislee or Listenbee, he should have a bit of a leg up in the punt return/kickoff return competition, at least at the beginning of camp.
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