After losing Dean Marlowe in free agency, the Buffalo Bills may have to draft a safety in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Marlowe was a dependable and intelligent player that always knew his assignments. Younger players like Siran Neal and Jaquan Johnson are possible replacement candidates. However, judging by their snap counts, it seems the Buffalo Bills coaching staff is more comfortable with Neal and Johnson on special teams exclusively.
I actually like Neal and Johnson a lot, but I’m not so confident that they can replace an injured Hyde or Poyer the way Marlowe did. Neal is the more explosive athlete of the two, but he seems to be less consistent with his responsibilities. On the other hand, Johnson understands how an offense is trying to attack but is more limited athletically to defend. As I said before, I really like both these players. Nevertheless, I’m still worried about their respective limitations and how much it could set the defense back if Hyde or Poyer were to go down.
The Buffalo Bills have a chance to draft a safety that can fill two niche needs on the roster. Firstly, a prospect that can replace Dean Marlowe as the third safety. Secondly, a versatile defensive piece that can wear multiple hats. After the way the defense struggled against tight ends last year, it’s obvious this is an area to improve in 2021. It’s possible to improve from a schematical standpoint. However, I would argue the Bills should improve schematically and draft a versatile third safety. Furthermore, the New England Patriots added Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry this offseason. It’s not a coincidence that the Patriots made signed these two tight ends. It was a calculated move to attack a divisional opponent’s existing weakness. This should really hammer down the point that the Buffalo Bills need to improve against tight ends in 2021.
Considering the way the NFL has changed and how offenses attack, safeties are expected to be very versatile. This 2021 draft class is full of versatile safeties, but each is unique in their own way. The Buffalo Bills will have to narrow down which type of safety they’re looking for, and when it’s most valuable to select a safety of that variety.
Trevon Moehrig is the betting favorite to be the first safety selected and there’s no guarantee that happens before the Buffalo Bills pick at 30th overall. If he’s available for the Bills in the first round, one could argue that selecting him would align with the best player available philosophy. However, positional priorities don’t just get thrown out the window.
Regardless of which safety the Buffalo Bills were to draft this year, barring injury, he will not get more snaps than Micah Hyde or Jordan Poyer. So it wouldn’t make sense to spend high draft capital on a player that doesn’t command a high snap share. There’s a specific role on this defense for a rookie safety to fill, but I’m not confident that role demands larger than a 20% snap share. It’s about finding the sweet spot where the draft capital spent on a prospect is proportional to the amount of playing time or contributions the Bills get from him. Therefore, I’ve narrowed it down to anywhere within the third and fifth rounds as my preferred sweet spot for the Buffalo Bills to draft a safety.
Yesterday on The Air Raid Hour, we broke down this year’s draft class of safeties round by round. I project at least ten safeties to be drafted within rounds three to five. My personal favorites include Divine Deablo, Jamien Sherwood, James Wiggins, Caden Sterns, Damar Hamlin, and JaCoby Stevens. Additionally, the Buffalo Bills have already been in contact with Deablo, Sherwood, Wiggins, and Stevens. If you didn’t catch us live yesterday, check out the replay of The Air Raid Hour embedded above. In the episode, you’ll get full commentary on the safeties we like, don’t like, and ones we think can fit the Bills. At the 1 hour and 12-minute mark, we embark on yet another mock draft, and you can see which safety we ended up drafting.