Levi Wallace is accustomed to being doubted, snubbed, and disrespected. It’s the story of his career. From not being offered a single college scholarship, his ascent to starting NFL corner seems nothing short of impossible.
In my opinion, this offseason has seen too much chatter among Bills Mafia about the supposed “question mark” at CB2. Despite the signing of an aged Josh Norman, there should be no doubt Wallace will be filling the starting role and play well in an already elite secondary. Here are six reasons why:
1. Recent experience in McDermott and Frazier’s system
Unlike the other candidates looking to earn the starting corner job, Wallace has spent the last two seasons playing and learning the Buffalo Bills defense. He knows the system and at times has performed at a very high level in it. Wallace excels at zone coverage under McDermott, which is what he’s most oftentimes asked to do.
Although Josh Norman has spent time with McDermott in Carolina, that was way back in 2014. There will be a bit of a learning curve as he adjusts to a new playbook. As for the other cornerbacks, Dane Jackson is a rookie, and Cam Lewis spent all of 2019 on the practice squad.
2. The coaching staff and organization absolutely love him (he oozes process)
It takes a lot of trust to give an undrafted rookie a shot at starting an NFL game, let alone the entire second half of the 2018 season. That speaks to the faith this organization has in Levi Wallace. But don’t take it just from me, hear it from Brandon Beane himself:
What are @BuffaloBills GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott most proud of? Find out 👇 on the latest @MoveTheSticks podcast with DJ & @BuckyBrooks.— NFL Podcasts (@NFL_Podcasts) August 5, 2020
FULL PODCAST: https://t.co/IhlNcxYH2j pic.twitter.com/3hJRXGH8Kb
It’s true, Wallace was never given anything. He had to grind day in and day out his whole life. Do you think Beane and McDermott won’t do everything in their power to keep him around that locker room for as long as they can? His story alone is worth a roster spot. It’s about the leadership he brings to the table and the example he sets. He’s a rare individual, and McBeane certainly recognizes that.
3. Work Ethic
Here’s where I’ll get to X’s and O’s, because let’s face it, Wallace at times struggled in 2019. Specifically, he struggled in press man-to-man coverage. Think back to Cleveland when he allowed the game-winning touchdown or against Miami when Devante Parker exploded against him for a big stat line.
Why am I not concerned? He GRINDED this offseason to fix that. Wallace announced that he gained 10 pounds of muscle this offseason to work on his play strength. I shit you not. TEN freaking pounds. All that work earned him the Bills “Most Improved Lifter” team award.
#Bills CB Levi Wallace said he’s been competing since Pop Warner.— Ryan Talbot (@RyanTalbotBills) August 11, 2020
“If you’re not competing to be the best, why are you even out there?”
That extra strength is going to help him immensely in press man-to-man coverage fighting against receivers at the top of their routes. Arguably more importantly, Wallace continues to show persistence to work his tail off. He still holds upside to take his game to the next level.
4. Chip on his shoulder after ugly injury exit last season
The Bills relied on Kevin Johnson to fill the absence of Levi Wallace in the Wildcard round against Houston last season. Unfortunately for Wallace, he suffered an unlucky ankle injury in a meaningless week 17 contest versus the Jets. Wallace was held out of playoff football as a precaution.
For someone who played in all 16 regular-season games, that must’ve eaten him alive this offseason. I imagine Wallace will play with something to prove when he returns to action.
5. Career trajectory
No one’s had a faster climb up the football ranks than Wallace. He received zero offers from schools to play college football. He went to Alabama and played intramural football for a semester when he realized he wanted to try walking-on for Nick Saban. As a freshman, Wallace says he was a skeleton at 6’0″ tall and a mere 150 pounds. He impressed the coaches enough he was offered a scholarship by junior year. Wallace became a starter senior year and won a national championship.
Despite going undrafted in 2018, Wallace somehow scraped his way onto the Bills practice squad. Then halfway through the season, he got called up to the 53-man roster. Wallace hasn’t looked back since. Two years later, he’s started each of the last 23 regular-season games for the Bills.
Hollywood couldn’t write a script like that because it’d be too unbelievable. All indications point to Wallace being capable of the impossible. Who’s to say he’s finished reaching his potential? Why should his ascendance stop now? His trajectory for greatness does not have to level off just yet.
6. Youngest and cheapest option going forward
Thinking down the road, unless Dane Jackson emerges as a threat, the Bills should consider locking up a young, solid corner like Wallace to a modest contract. Wallace is on a 1 year, 750K contract right now and enters the 2021 offseason as a restricted free agent. My prediction is Buffalo finds a way to keep him around longer than you might expect.
Maxwell Underhill is a contributor for Buffalo Fanatics, blog writer for the in-season “Outrageous Predictions” column, and co-host of “Bills Overdue” on the Buffalo Fanatics Podcasting Network