A clear point of emphasis for the Buffalo Bills since head coach Sean McDermott took over has been the defensive secondary. Buffalo completely overhauled that unit almost immediately, allowing former starter Stephon Gilmore to leave via free agency before trading starter Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Via the draft, the Bills have been able to find some outstanding corners during the McDermott/Brandon Beane era. Those corners all have different pedigrees—early-round picks, undrafted free agents, mid-round picks, big schools, little schools—but they all share one thing in common: a natural affinity for the zone-heavy concepts McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier employ.
In our latest installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we look at one of Buffalo’s recent draft choices in the secondary, a player who quickly established himself as one of the better players at his position in the NFL.
Name: Taron Johnson
Height/Weight: 5’11” 192 lbs.
Age: 22 (23 on 7/27/19)
Experience/Draft: 1; drafted in the fourth round (121 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Bills
College: Weber State
Acquired: Fourth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Johnson enters the second year of his rookie contract, a four-year pact that totals $3,106,068. In the 2019 season, Johnson carries a cap hit of $731,517. The contract guarantees him $646,068.
2018 Recap: Johnson immediately won the job as Buffalo’s top slot corner, and he played well right from the jump. He injured his shoulder while making a tackle in the first week, but he showed incredible toughness by trying to gut out the remainder of the season. He ended the year on injured reserve after undergoing shoulder surgery for that Week 1 injury. Overall, Johnson finished his rookie season having played in 11 games, making two starts. He combined for 42 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble, and three pass breakups.
Positional outlook: Buffalo added plenty of depth at the corner position this offseason, but most of that depth was meant to solidify the outside corner spot across from Tre’Davious White. Levi Wallace, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama, held down that spot last season, and he performed quite well. Free agents Kevin Johnson and E.J. Gaines (the starter opposite White in Buffalo for the 2017 season) add depth to what was a strong but thin unit last season. Holdovers Lafayette Pitts, Ryan Lewis, and Denzel Rice join undrafted rookie free agent Cam Lewis as the remaining corners on the roster.
2019 Offseason: Johnson has been rehabbing his shoulder and should be ready to go, saying that he won’t change his style of play this year even after suffering some injuries as a rookie.
2019 Season outlook: Even with the additional depth at corner, Johnson proved himself to be a valuable piece to the Bills’ defensive puzzle last season. Still, he will have to work in order to maintain his spot in the lineup, as White has the ability to shift inside if the team thinks that its three best corners don’t include the second-year man out of Weber State. While I don’t think that’s likely, it’s possible. What’s more likely and also possible is that Johnson continues to develop and thrive within the Bills’ top-notch passing defense next season.