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State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster: Cornerbacks

It’s one of the league’s best and a cast of solid, if sometimes inconsistent, other players

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

For the better part of the last two seasons, the Buffalo Bills have boasted one of the league’s best defensive units. Much of that is due to the play of the team’s secondary, especially its cornerbacks. Led by a budding superstar, the team is full of players who fit perfectly in head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s scheme.

Does that mean that the team shouldn’t look to add players in the secondary? Far from it, actually. The old adage goes that you can never have enough corners, and the Bills were fortunate to remain healthy enough where they only carried four on the active roster for the entire season.

In our latest look at the state of the Bills’ roster, we profile the cornerbacks—a group that could stand an upgrade, even if it’s already fantastic.

Tre’Davious White

Contract status for 2020: Signed; fourth year of rookie contract ($3,210,808 cap hit; $1,924,748 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 25 (26 on 1/16/2021)
Playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 951 defensive snaps (91.8%), 77 ST snaps (18.6%)
Key statistics: 58 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 17 pass breakups, 6 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles

White became the first Buffalo corner since Robert James in 1974 to earn First-Team All-Pro status, taking a quantum leap forward in his already stellar development. White did it all as Buffalo’s top coverage man—he shadowed star receivers, he played zone, he blitzed, and he wreaked havoc on opposing defenses. According to Pro Football Reference, quarterbacks only completed 45-of-90 passes for 626 yards while White was in coverage this season. That means that White only allowed three completions per game during the regular season, and he also went the entire season without allowing a touchdown in coverage. He is so good that Buffalo’s other corners, who are also talented, often look downright miserable in comparison to him. White is an absolute superstar, whose personality, talent, and work ethic bring an elite feel to the Bills’ defense. The team is certain to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, meaning he’ll be in Buffalo through the 2021 season, but a lucrative contract extension is sure to follow soon thereafter.

Levi Wallace

Contract status for 2020: Exclusive-Rights Free Agent; can be signed at minimum salary for his service time, which is two years
Age: 24 (25 on 6/12/2020)
Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 784 defensive snaps (75.7%), 29 ST snaps (7%)
Key statistics: 76 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups, 2 interceptions

Buffalo’s second corner stands as one of general manager Brandon Beane’s best finds, as Wallace signed with the Bills as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 NFL Draft. This year, Wallace notched his first two career interceptions, and at times he looked like one of the better CB2s in the league. However, Wallace has struggled with consistency, and he’s especially struggled against more physical receivers. At 6’ tall and right around 180 lbs, he isn’t a big corner by any stretch, and Wallace has been prone to giving up yardage and completions at inopportune times. Wallace allowed 65.7% of the passes thrown his way to be completed (69-of-105) for 682 yards and three touchdowns this year. He was also fourth on the team in tackles, which is never a great sign for a corner. Wallace is a great value player, but his spot as the starting corner across from White is anything but guaranteed.

Taron Johnson

Contract status for 2020: Signed; third year of rookie contract ($821,517 cap hit; $323,034 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 7/27/2020)
Playing time: 12 games (7 starts), 494 defensive snaps (47.7%), 67 ST snaps (16.2%)
Key statistics: 50 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 sack, 5 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble

After a promising rookie season that saw him only allow 6.2 yards per completion, Johnson took a step back in 2019. Buffalo’s preferred slot corner allowed 11.2 yards per completion this year to go with a 67.3% completion rate while he was in coverage. For much of the year, it seemed that Siran Neal, a converted safety, actually outplayed Johnson in the slot. The numbers support that thought, as Neal only allowed 5.2 yards per completion, albeit on 30 fewer attempts his way. This is another spot that Buffalo has covered, but they could also look to add competition in the form of a draft choice.

Kevin Johnson

Contract status for 2020: Unsigned; unrestricted free agent
Age: 27 (28 on 8/5/2020)
Playing time: 16 games (1 start), 336 defensive snaps (32.4%), 232 ST snaps (56%)
Key statistics: 32 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 sack, 5 pass breakups

The oft-injured veteran made it through an entire 16-game schedule for the first time since his rookie season, and he was definitely Buffalo’s second-best corner in terms of coverage. He allowed a 59.1% completion rate on 44 targets, and he also did not allow a touchdown in coverage this season. Johnson was also one of the Bills’ core special-teams players, appearing on the fifth-highest number of snaps in that phase of the game. The team may look to move on to another veteran corner like they did with E.J. Gaines after the 2017 season, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to see if Johnson enjoyed his time in Orchard Park enough to extend it at a reasonable rate. He clearly fits the defense, and if he’s healthy like he was this year, he is still a fantastic player.

Cam Lewis

Contract status for 2020: Signed to reserve/future deal on 1/7/2020
Age: 22 (23 on 4/13/2020)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A

The diminutive slot corner played during the first two games of the preseason for the Bills. He made four tackles in the first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, but he suffered a head injury during the following week’s match-up with the Carolina Panthers. He was taken off the field on a stretcher. He was waived on August 31 as part of Buffalo’s final cuts, but he signed to the practice squad the following day. That’s where he spent the duration of the 2019 season.

Positional Outlook

Buffalo has some options here, but it would be foolish to go into the year assuming that the top-three of White, Wallace, and T. Johnson is absolutely set in stone. The Bills could stand to upgrade two out of those three spots, and whether they choose to do so merely by re-signing a talented veteran in Kevin Johnson, investing a draft choice in a corner, or signing additional players in free agency, it’s definitely worth doing. For much of this season, a good bet was that the WR2 for a team playing Buffalo would have a good game thanks to teams staying away from Tre’Davious White and attacking Levi Wallace. Not everyone can be as good as Tre’ has been, but an upgrade across from him would make an already outstanding defense that much better.