The Buffalo Bills have found their lock-down No. 1 cornerback in Tre’Davious White, so for the sake of this article examining the options Buffalo currently has on its roster to start at cornerback spot in 2019, White will be excluded from the conversation.
In examining who could potentially start at the No. 2 cornerback position, the Bills have four players signed for next year: Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson, Ryan Lewis, and Denzel Rice. All but Rice started at least one game in 2018 opposite White, with mixed results.
The brightest of the bunch are Johnson—a fourth-round draft choice out of Weber State who claimed Buffalo’s starting role at slot corner from the get-go and proved himself to be a tremendous draft-day value pick in Leslie Frazier’s 4-3 defense—and Wallace, who went from undrafted free agent to a top-five cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
Johnson sustained a shoulder injury in Week 1, but remained in the lineup until undergoing shoulder surgery prior to the team’s Week 14 loss to the New York Jets. Appearing in 11 games (two starts), Johnson made 42 tackles, had one interception, defended three passes, and added one forced fumble with one sack. Johnson was in the top five of PFF’s rookie cornerback rankings until Week 17, and finished with a grade of 69.6, good for 45th among all cornerbacks. Johnson excelled in pass coverage and made improvements in the run game as well and showed a penchant for both making a big hit and guarding slot receivers, running backs, and tight ends. He should see plenty of reps but his skill set projects best at slot cornerback.
Wallace, too, outperformed expectations, especially considering he went undrafted and didn’t even initially earn a scholarship to the University of Alabama—but impressed head coach Nick Saban enough to not only earn a scholarship but start for the national championship Crimson Tide team in 2017. Called up from Buffalo’s practice squad prior to the Week 10 win over the Jets, Wallace started the team’s final seven games, finishing with 37 tackles, three passes defended, and one quarterback hit. Earning a grade of 83.5 from PFF, best among all rookie cornerbacks and fourth overall among cornerbacks, Wallace was outstanding in pass coverage, and definitely proved himself to be a more than capable member of the secondary.
Lewis, formerly of the New England Patriots, showed glimpses of his potential, starting three games before giving way to Wallace. In seven games, Lewis had 15 tackles, forced two fumbles, and broke up three passes. Lewis should provide valuable depth, something teams are constantly seeking in this pass-happy era of the NFL.
Rice, who joined Buffalo’s practice squad after an eight-game stint with the Cleveland Browns (where he had an interception to go with a pass breakup), only appeared on special teams for the Bills, finishing with two tackles.