Reading the Rooms (2022): Buffalo Bills DBs
The Buffalo Bills are loaded at just about every position on their roster. With that said, the team’s secondary might be its deepest position group of them all.
With Pro Bowlers and All-Pros throughout, the Bills have one of the toughest secondaries in all of football. Entering year six with head coach Sean McDermott at the helm, the Bills also have continuity with the group in ways that other squads simply cannot mimic.
So, as minicamp just wrapped up, let’s take a deeper dive into Buffalo’s defensive backfield.
Projected depth chart
|CB||Tre’Davious White||Kaiir Elam||Dane Jackson||Christian Benford|
|FS||Micah Hyde||Jaquan Johnson||—||—|
|SS||Jordan Poyer||Damar Hamlin||Josh Thomas||—|
|NCB||Taron Johnson||Siran Neal||Olaijah Griffin||—|
The Buffalo Bills secondary has a mix of players who can line up in different formations. While this group may not be the fastest in the league, they are able to use their skills best in zone coverage.
If Mina Kimes’ tweet from earlier this month doesn’t signify how strong this secondary is, I’m not sure what could help drill that point down.
It all starts though with the terrific trio of White, Hyde, and Poyer. The trio has combined for five First Team and Second Team All-Pro selections since first teaming up in 2017. You will be hard-pressed to find another unit with this many elite defensive backs. McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s penchant for creating game plan-specific coverages for each matchup is what allows them to stand out so well, particularly at safety.
Poyer’s 2021 season (93 tackles, five interceptions, three sacks, eight tackles for a loss, nine passes defended) was his best yet and it’ll be tough to replicate, as he gave up just one touchdown in 19 games (regular and postseason). The reigning First-Team All-Pro also allowed a completion rate of 55%, as well as a 42.2 passer rating. Poyer’s numbers have been staggering in Buffalo, as he’s posted five straight seasons with 90 or more tackles, at least two INTs, and at least one sack.
Hyde was not too far off in 2021 either, as he earned a Second Team All-Pro nod for his 74 tackles, 10 passes defended, five INTs, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble. His advanced numbers were pretty strong too: 72.8 passer rating allowed when targeted and five TDs allowed in 19 regular and postseason games.
White may not be the man-to-man player that Jalen Ramsey or Xavien Howard are, but his savviness, ball skills, and football smarts allow him to win even the toughest matchups. He may have only played in 11 games in 2021, but the LSU product’s season was one of the best he’s ever had coverage-wise. He posted a 51.6% completion rate allowed and a 59.9 passer rating, all while holding receivers out of the end zone all year.
After those top three, the Buffalo Bills have a mix of contributors in their lineup. Taron Johnson has grown into one of the top nickel corners in football. He is coming off a 2021 campaign where he had a 69.6 PFF grade (second highest of his career), tied a career-high with seven passes defended, had the lowest completion rate he’s ever allowed (55.1%) and the second best passer rating allowed when targeted in his four-year career (75.5).
Dane Jackson will be a name to watch as well after making eight starts following White’s ACL injury on Thanksgiving. He had some ups and downs down the stretch, particularly down the stretch, as he gave up a passer rating when targeted of 90 or above in four of the final five games, including three games of over a 100 passer rating.
But the name that Bills Mafia should assume will be relied on heavily is 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam. A physical DB who loves to play press-man coverage, the former Florida Gator could be asked to take on CB1 duties as White recovers from his ACL. According to PFF, Elam allowed the second-lowest passer rating when targeted amongst FBS players (55.6) while also allowing a 45.5% completion rate (fourth in the FBS) across his three seasons in Gainesville.
It has to be encouraging for Bills fans with what Coach Frazier shared on the rookie to end minicamp practices.
As for the rest of the group, there appears to be some depth that can contribute if need be in 2022. Christian Benford could provide a unique role coming from the FCS ranks. Although he was one of the top FCS corners while at Villanova, it’s been discussed whether or not he will be moved around, possibly back to safety. Benford was dominant as a Wildcat, giving up a mere 25.2 passer rating when targeted in 2021.
Siran Neal could be primed for a breakout after he showed much promise last season. Still one of the Buffalo Bills’ top special teamers, he made the most of his 153 defensive snaps — he posted a 56.2 passer rating allowed when targeted while only giving up three completions in coverage.
Jaquan Johnson has shown to be a valued reserve too, as he saw his most defensive snaps ever last season (98), while also continuing his prowess as one of the team’s top special teamers.
Damar Hamlin could also see an uptick in usage after logging 175 total snaps (defensive and special teams) as a rookie.
When will Tre White be healthy?
As we’ve discussed, it’ll be a tight deadline trying to get ready for the start of training camp for the veteran. But when will the former All-Pro the Bills brass knows and loves be the player we once remembered? Week 1? Week 4? ACLs can be tricky, so this is something to watch as camp rolls around.
Can Elam step in as CB1 early in the season?
It’s one thing to have a rookie to start their career alongside a three-time All-Pro CB1. But it’s another thing entirely when that rookie is asked to take on the top corner role for a Super Bowl-contending team. And his potential first matchups? Cooper Kupp (Week 1), Robert Woods (Week 2), Tyreek Hill and Jalen Waddle (Week 3), Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool (Week 5), and Patrick Mahomes’ new crew (Week 6).
Will Poyer play without a new deal?
This may be the biggest lingering question for the Buffalo Bills at this point. He, surprisingly, showed up and participated in minicamp, which is an important development to say the least. But the pressure must be on GM Brandon Beane now, especially with the type of bag Minkah Fitzpatrick got this week.
If Poyer decides to hold out, who will step up in his absence?
Neal and Johnson are presumed to be the top guys to fill in for him, if need be, with Hamlin set to take a bigger role as well. However, the three have combined to make two career starts across a combined eight NFL seasons of experience. Poyer’s contract situation will be something to watch as we go on throughout the summer.