ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: George Wilson #37 of the Buffalo Bills intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 34-31.(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Between a slew of new, young and talented cornerbacks and the impending free agent status of Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills strong safety George Wilson is something of a forgotten man in Buffalo's secondary. One of those young cornerbacks, however, paints a picture of Wilson, 31, being perhaps the most important member of the defensive backfield.
This was the response from second-year cornerback Aaron Williams when a reporter asked him how comfortable he was entering the new season:"I am feeling really comfortable. Second year back, getting acquainted with the playbook. Just having trust in the safeties, and George really helping me out and covering my back."
Williams wasn't done, either. Later on, when asked about the difference between a rushed 2011 off-season and this year's spring practice schedule, the Texas product brought Wilson up again: "As long as I am with George, he is one of the smartest guys I know that understands the game. He calls the plays out before they ever happen. As long as I am with him studying in the film room and the classroom, and with Jairus and the veterans, I should be fine."
The funny thing is, just prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, there was rampant and credible speculation that Wilson may be replaced, as a report surfaced in mid-April that the Bills were very high on Alabama safety Mark Barron. GM Buddy Nix eagerly talked Wilson up in the days prior to the first round, and any interest the Bills had in potentially sliding Wilson out of the lineup became moot when Barron was picked three spots ahead of the Bills' No. 10 overall pick.
Wilson doesn't need to be replaced. One of the Bills' most consistent and durable players, he's been a steady producer even though he's only just coming off of his first season as a full-time starter. Last year, he set a career high with 106 tackles and tied another with four interceptions, all despite the fact that he missed three games in the middle of the season with a neck injury.
In all, in five years as a Bills safety, Wilson has accumulated 306 tackles, 12 interceptions, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 3.5 sacks and two touchdowns in just 39 starts.
Re-watching games from the 2011 season, part of Williams' praise is evident (on the occasions when Wilson appears on the television screen pre-snap, anyway; thanks again, NFL, for agreeing to provide fans with all-22 video this year). The former undrafted free agent wide receiver is not the biggest, fastest or strongest defensive back you'll encounter by any stretch of the imagination, but he plays with energy, is often very fast to diagnose plays and make a play on the ball, and has turned in his fair share of game-changing plays over the years (including the interception pictured in this post from Week 3 last year).
If you're lucky enough to catch a game at a stadium, you're also likely to find Wilson frequently adjusting the positioning of his teammates, from linebackers to corners, as he reacts to what he sees from offensive personnel packages, formations and pre-snap motions. This is an area of the game that Byrd has admitted he's working on improving this summer, but it's where Wilson excels. Any defensive back in the league is susceptible to getting fooled once in a while, but it's a fairly rare occurrence with Wilson. He's far more likely to be ahead of the curve than behind it.
In the NFL, playing coverage is about much more than the individual parts - it's about the sum of the play call, the pass rush and the ability to recognize what's going on and react. Defense is so difficult to play in this league, and players like Wilson can be invaluable to a defense just by keeping his teammates a second ahead of the action mentally. Wrap that up in an athletic package capable of big performances, and Wilson is easily one of the most under-appreciated players on the team.