This post is part of a series entitled State of the Bills Roster, in which we're breaking down and evaluating the Buffalo Bills on a position-by-position basis. If you're confused about the number and letter classification appearing after each player's name, read this post. You can check out all previous installments of this series here.
In 2008, the Bills got exactly zero interceptions out of a group of safeties that remains largely intact today. A year later, thanks mostly to the presence of Pro Bowl rookie Jairus Byrd, Buffalo's safeties picked off 17 passes, with nine of them coming from Byrd.
We openly wondered last May which of the two seasons was an aberration - 2008, with zero picks, or 2009, with 17. Less than a year later, we've got a definitive answer: Buffalo's safeties intercepted just four passes in 2010, while the team only raked in 11 as a whole.
A breakdown of Buffalo's group of safeties - almost all of whom are coming off a down year - lies after the jump.
Right now, the Bills have six safeties in their organization.
Donte Whitner (2-B). Statistically, Whitner had the best year of his career this past season. He finished the year with 140 tackles (a career high), a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and seven passes defended (also a career high). However, his behavior since the season ended has been highly erratic - he was not present for locker cleanout day, having removed all personal items and even his name plate from his locker well before his teammates, and has even challenged members of the local media to boxing matches, of all things - possibly fueled by the fact that he's frustrated over contract negotiations with the team. To say that his act has worn thin with some Bills fans has worn thin would be an understatement. Particularly after he tweeted this. And this. And then this.
Jairus Byrd (2-C). "Sophomore slump" doesn't really cover it. Byrd didn't record his first (and only) interception of the season until a meaningless season finale, which he then returned for the Bills' final touchdown of the season. Teams avoided him early in the season, but as he was struggling, opponents finally were able to take advantage of Byrd's limitations (chiefly size) during the mid portions of the season. He's got a lot of growing to do as a player, but there is still upside here.
George Wilson (3-E). His biggest impact continues to be as a special teams player, where he is arguably the team's best coverage player, and is also a captain. He looks best at safety when he's the chief reserve, because if he's asked to play either position long-term, teams will expose his lack of range. Insofar as role players go, Wilson is about as good as it gets.
Bryan Scott (3-E). Scott once again saw action as a sub-package defender, where he was asked to cover the short areas in lieu of some of the Bills' overwhelmed linebackers. The results were once again average - and on a bad football team, average can be a beautiful thing.
Jon Corto (4-F). Solely a special teams presence, and his 2010 season will be best remembered for several untimely penalties that brought back some big plays - a C.J. Spiller punt return score most prominent among them.
Brett Johnson (4-F). Super-athletic undrafted rookie free agent that was with the Bills in the spring, released, spent most of the season in Philly, and then ended the year on Buffalo's practice squad.
Contract situations to monitor: Whitner is a free agent, and is reportedly seeking an absurd $7 million per season. If he gets an offer in that ballpark from another team, the Bills will be looking for a new strong safety. Wilson is also set to become a free agent, while Scott is entering the final year of a two-year deal he signed last March. (He'll make $1.5 million in 2011.)
Outlook: At some point, this group will need to be re-tooled - and that point in time will come quickly if Whitner leaves via free agency. On the whole, this group lacks toughness against the run, and lacks top-notch athleticism as well. Whitner is unique in the group simply because he's athletic enough to provide a defense some versatility; the rest are basically one-trick ponies. You can get by with this group, but it is not a dynamic group of talent, and the jury is definitely out on their collective playmaking ability.
Possible Acquisition: If the Bills find themselves in position to add a big, rangy defender for the better of this group, I can't see them not pulling the trigger.