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Buffalo Bills starting safeties Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde are superb

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The depth pieces, however, could certainly be upgraded

The Buffalo Bills overhauled their entire starting secondary to begin the 2017 NFL season, replacing every player who started a game for them in 2016. At safety, the duo of Corey Graham and Aaron Williams was a short-lived pairing, as Williams suffered a career-ending neck injury in Week 7. Corey White, James Ihedigbo, Robert Blanton, and Duke Williams filled in for Williams, but it was clear that the position needed to be upgraded.

The Bills went ahead and signed three new safeties, including starters Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. They changed head coaches, as well as defensive schemes, and the safety play improved dramatically. Hyde made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career, and Poyer probably should have made his first, as well.

In our latest look at the state of the Buffalo Bills roster, we profile the safety position, one which includes excellent top-end players, but limited depth overall.

Jordan Poyer

Contract status for 2018: signed; $3.375 million cap hit ($1.5 million cap savings if cut post-6/1)
Age: 26 (27 on 4/25/18)
Playing time: 1038 snaps (93.68% of defensive snaps), 79 ST snaps (18.08%)
Key statistics: 95 combined tackles, 2 sacks, 5 interceptions, 13 passes defended, 1 fumble recovered, 1 TD

What a great year for the former Cleveland Browns starter. Poyer came to Buffalo after suffering a lacerated kidney in 2016, which ended his season after only six games. As a member of the Bills in 2017, Poyer set career highs in literally every meaningful defensive category. He is the perfect safety for Sean McDermott’s defense. He possesses the speed to close on passes from “center field,” the toughness to make tackles in the box, and the cover skills to match up against all types of receivers in man-to-man looks from the slot. His versatility and overall ability immediately led to the Bills’ secondary improving tremendously last season.

Micah Hyde

Contract status for 2018: signed; $6.8 million cap hit ($5.2 million cap savings if cut post-6/1)
Age: 27 (28 on 12/31/18)
Playing time: 1065 snaps (96.12% of defensive snaps), 82 ST snaps (18.76%)
Key statistics: 82 combined tackles, 5 interceptions, 13 passes defended

The bigger-ticket addition of the Bills’ new safeties, Hyde came to Buffalo after four seasons with the Green Bay Packers. After playing a Swiss-Army knife role with the Packers, rotating between both safety spots and the nickel corner position, he settled in as Buffalo’s starting strong safety. Similarly to Poyer, Hyde possesses incredible athleticism and solid cover skills that allow the coaching staff to use him in a variety of ways. Hyde set career highs in interceptions, tackles, and passes defended on the way to making his first Pro Bowl.

Dean Marlowe

Contract status for 2018: signed; $555,000 cap hit (no guaranteed money on reserve/future contract)
Age: 25 (26 on 7/25/18)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A

Marlowe played his college football at James Madison University, and he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Panthers in 2015. Of course, Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott were both with Carolina at the time, so they are familiar with the 6’2”, 205-pound Queens, New York native. In 48 games at James Madison, he recorded 326 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 30 passes defended.

L.J. McCray

Contract status for 2018: signed; $630,000 cap hit (no guaranteed money on reserve/future contract)
Age: 26 (27 on 6/18/18)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A

McCray is another Carolina connection, having spent the 2017 offseason and training camp with the Panthers. Perhaps Beane’s familiarity with McCray led to his signing with the Bills in a reserve/future capacity. The Catawba College product has 14 NFL tackles to his name, all with the San Francisco 49ers between 2014 and 2015.

Colt Anderson

Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
Age: 32 (33 on 10/25/18)
Playing time: 65 ST snaps (14.87%)
Key statistics: N/A

The special teams contributor has been unable to maximize his most important ability—availability—as a member of the Bills. He has played in just seven games with the team over the last two seasons, and he has not recorded a tackle. He has played 82 special teams snaps for the Bills, and did not appear on a defensive play until the Wild Card game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when he was forced to take 11 snaps after injuries to Poyer and Hyde. Re-signing him should not be a priority for 2018.

Shamarko Thomas

Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
Age: 26 (27 on 2/23/18)
Playing time: 6 snaps (.54% of defensive snaps), 177 ST snaps (40.5%)
Key statistics: N/A

Thomas was a constant on the special teams unit, but he did not offer much in the way of defensive value. While Poyer and Hyde remained healthy throughout the regular season, they each left the playoff game against Jacksonville with injuries, leaving Thomas to fill in at a critical moment. His youth and his special teams ability makes retaining him a greater possibility than Anderson.

Offseason Outlook

Buffalo is set up pretty well at safety. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are a fantastic one-two punch. However, it’s often the teams that have the greatest depth, not the teams that necessarily have the best top-end of the roster, who are the most successful. That is where the Bills could stand to upgrade here. With only two unknowns behind the starters, adding another player via the draft is a good idea. Expending a high pick on that depth piece is probably unnecessary.

Re-signing a player like Thomas is also a possibility, as he offers the special teams versatility that McDermott covets. With Beane’s stated commitment to a younger roster, Anderson probably will not be retained. Adding another talented athlete to the position late in the draft or via an undrafted free agent signing could be beneficial at least to assist with practice reps through training camp. Adding a suitable injury stand-in for the top dogs at the position would strengthen one of Buffalo’s greatest strengths.