Ever since Sean McDermott has been head coach of the Buffalo Bills, the defense has been the primary focus. In his first year, the Bills traded back in the first round and selected Tre’Davious White. Aside from 2017, White’s rookie season, the Buffalo Bills have been a top-10 defense when it comes to pass defense.
Having one good Cornerback doesn’t push your defense into the top-10 for pass defense; it takes a lot of things going right in various segments of the team. For example, a Cornerback’s best friend can often be the Safety playing behind him. And the Buffalo Bills debatably have the best Safety tandem in the NFL with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. White, Hyde, and Poyer have been pillars for this McDermott defense in Buffalo.
However, since drafting White in 2017, the Buffalo Bills have been looking for a Cornerback to play opposite of him on the other boundary. First, it was E.J. Gaines, who played adequately during his one year in Buffalo. Then in 2018, it was Vontae Davis, for just one half of week one. In all seriousness, since Davis’ mid-game retirement, Levi Wallace was the next man up and found himself competing for and retaining the position of CB2.
As an undrafted free agent, many knew of Wallace because he played for Alabama in college. People, including myself, felt like he had a real shot to make the roster in 2018. Sure enough, he did, and look where we find ourselves in 2021. Wallace has yet to be dethroned from his spot at CB2. Yes, he has had some shaky games in which the veteran (Josh Norman or Phillip Gaines) platoons with him, but Wallace has yet to lose that starting spot.
2021 Buffalo Bills CB2
Coming into this offseason, upgrading at that CB2 position was high on the wish list for many, including myself. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in the draft or free agency. Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott clearly have a mutual understanding that this coaching staff knows how to develop cornerbacks, so it’s not worth giving up a king’s ransom to get one. Especially when the coaching staff can coach up a late-round pick or undrafted free agent into competency.
As of right now, the CB2 position seems to be up for grabs, but primarily between Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson. Jackson was a seventh-round draft pick in 2020 who didn’t play much in his rookie campaign. However, he capitalized on his small sample size. Personally, I would like to see the coaching staff give Jackson every opportunity possible to compete for CB2. Not because I think he’s better than Wallace, but more so because of the future of this team. Wallace is on a one-year deal, while Jackson is under team control for at least two more years.
I would like to squeeze out as much production as possible from Jackson while he’s on his reserve/future deal. Regardless, Wallace is a competent Cornerback that might be upgradable but certainly isn’t replacement level. I can’t wait to see how or if Wallace improves in 2021. Furthermore, if competing with Jackson will push Wallace to be the best version of himself.
2021 Buffalo Bills Cornerback Depth
The Nickel Corner position is an interesting one, especially with the way Taron Johnson played at the tail end of last season. Around a quarter into last year, a lot of people wanted Johnson to be benched. There was actually a point that Cam Lewis got an opportunity, but that chance was swiftly taken away from him due to injury. Johnson is entering the last year of his contract, so he has a lot to prove this season.
It’s fair to assume that Johnson is penciled in as the starting Nickel Corner. However, it’s tough to project what’s after him. Since McDermott and Beane have been steering the ship, the Buffalo Bills have rostered five or six cornerbacks. With White, Wallace, Jackson, and Johnson being virtual locks for the final roster, that leaves one or two spots left to fill for this position group.
As I mentioned before, the Bills still have Cam Lewis, but they also brought in three rookies to compete for those final spots. These rookies include UDFAs Olaijah Griffin and Nick McCloud as well as sixth-round pick Rachad Wildgoose. With one or two spots at cornerback, and four guys competing for the spot(s), it’s going to make for an entertaining pre-season.
2021 Buffalo Bills Safeties
As mentioned before, the Buffalo Bills have debatably the best safety duo in the league with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. However, after losing Dean Marlowe this offseason, my comfort level is wavering in regards to the depth at the position. With that being said, I think sixth-round pick Damar Hamlin is an upgrade from Marlowe. It will likely take some time for Hamlin to find his footing in this defense, but I really like his football intelligence. He has what it takes to be the third safety on the 2021 Buffalo Bills and perhaps even more in the future.
I like Hamlin so much I could see the Bills utilizing more defensive packages with Hyde, Poyer, and Hamlin on the field at the same time. Perhaps when the offenses decide to run with four receivers and no tight ends. Regardless, I think Hamlin’s versatile skill set will give him extra opportunities to contribute during his rookie season.
As much as I like Hamlin and his game, beyond him, the depth at the safety position is a bit concerning. The rest of the position group includes Siran Neal, Jaquan Johnson, 2021 UDFA Tariq Thompson, and 2020 UDFA Josh Thomas. In terms of special team contributions, I like all four of these guys. However, the Buffalo Bills will likely keep a maximum of five safeties in 2021. This means that between Neal, Johnson, Thompson, and Thomas, only a maximum of two will make the final roster.
Neal has had trouble getting consistent defensive snaps but seems to have found his best spot as the gunner on punt coverage. Similarly, Johnson has continuously gotten snubbed of defensive snaps. Due to injury, he has had opportunities to be the next man up at the safety position but simply doesn’t get the chance. Johnson also adds value on special teams, but not as a gunner. The competition for depth at the safety position will be another entertaining storyline during the pre-season. Unfortunately, all we can do for now is speculate while we wait for training camp to begin.
Air Raid Hour Recap
Yesterday’s episode of the Air Raid Hour was all about the secondary. So if you enjoyed reading this article, yesterday’s Air Raid Hour will be just as enjoyable. Judge and Tilt talked about their confidence level in the secondary as a whole. They broke down the #2 Cornerback job and the pre-season competition that awaits. Lastly, they shared their thoughts on the depth of the Buffalo Bills Safety position.
If you missed us live, the replay is linked and embedded above for your viewing convenience. At the tail end of every show, we do a question and answer segment with the live chat. If you want to join us live in the chat for future episodes of the Air Raid Hour, we broadcast every Monday and Thursday at 8 PM EST on the Buffalo Fanatics Youtube channel.
As always, go Bills!