One of the more intriguing defensive battles to watch for as training camp gets underway for the Buffalo Bills is that of the second cornerback position opposite Tre’Davious White. This was evident when a familiar voice suggested a comparison between the top three contestants via Twitter.
It’s rare to see a battle between three viable players for one position, and even rarer that there’s a good deal of confidence no matter who wins the battle. E.J. Gaines and Levi Wallace have both manned a corner within the Bills’ defensive scheme coached by Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier—and both played well. Kevin Johnson is a remarkably high upside reclamation player who will look to work his way out of the shadow of constant injuries. To see who the current favorite is (in my eyes) let’s turn to the All-22...sort of.
As it turns out, we already have my coaches’ film impressions of all three players based on their most recent season of performance. Here are the links to each of those in case you’d like a refresher on what I put out there.
Take your time with those and come back for a brief recap and best guess on who will win the starting job.
The second-year man would no doubt love to build on his successful rookie campaign. Of the three corners vying for the spot, Wallace showed the most fluidity in his hips in 2018. Translating into a better ability to change direction and shadow receivers, Wallace seemed best able to stick to his man. If that weren’t enough good news, Wallace acclimated to the defense well and could even be seen helping set up his teammates pre-snap.
Wallace also showed his lack of experience at times. Trickery by the offense was more often able to confuse Wallace than the other two players. An aggressive nature exacerbated the problem at times.
Kevin Johnson arguably has the best physical tools for the job. Strong and fast, Johnson can disrupt routes before they begin when he’s allowed to press the receiver. Johnson is also fast to react to developing plays and has good range in part thanks to his solid closing speed.
While it might be the result of existing in a state of near-perpetual injury. Johnson’s the least consistent player of the three. Capable of the best highlight reel, he’s also more prone to a bad snap. Tackling was sometimes a concern as well, which again may be part of playing constantly hurt (Johnson has only played in 35 regular-season games out of a possible 64).
Gaines is the most cerebral player of the group, anticipating plays well enough to make up for a little less athleticism than the other two. Gaines also was an outstanding fit for McDermott and Frazier’s zone defense, implementing the playbook masterfully in 2017.
Gaines has his own injury history to beat, appearing in 43 out of a possible 64 regular-season games. Route runners able to turn quickly can give Gaines a run for his money.
So, who will it be?
All three players can be expected to fit into the defense at a high level. The team and fans should be thrilled that the worst-case scenario for such a vital position will still be a pretty darn good scenario. All that said, there can only be one “favorite.”
Each of the players going for the second corner position have a nice list of positives tempered with a list of negatives. While E.J. Gaines and Kevin Johnson could have a healthy season, the number of injuries to both players already is alarming. For Levi Wallace, the main hit is his lack of experience. Of the three, Levi Wallace is the only one whose primary negative is a near lock to improve. And that’s why Wallace is my favorite to play opposite Tre’Davious White as the CB2 this year.