Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott runs a style of defense we call the Buffalo Nickel. They use a ton of nickel packages, but one subpackage known as the Big Nickel uses a large safety or a small linebacker to play pass coverage, typically on tight ends and running backs, while also providing run support better than your typical slot cornerback.
Championed by Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic, the Buffalo media was very high on a pair of safeties landing in Buffalo because of the ability to play this position. Even with Pro Bowl-caliber play from Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, the Bills may have been in the market for a Big Nickel safety in Kyle Dugger or Jeremy Chinn.
Despite not landing a safety in the draft, McDermott isn’t ruling out adding another player in the mix.
“Well, we’re never content, and that’s not really a word that fits my vocabulary or our vocabulary,” said McDermott when asked if there was room for improvement. “[General manager] Brandon [Beane], I think mentioned to you guys a few days ago, he left a couple of spots open on the roster for moves like that if certain players become available that we feel like can help us. And this will be an offseason where I think you’re going to see some more veteran players added, because of the lack of time, to certain rosters around the league.”
The Bills have two developing veterans on their roster at the position already. McDermott mentioned them but didn’t seem overly enthused.
“Yeah, so the big nickel piece remains to be seen,” said McDermott. “Dean Marlowe did some of it for us last season. Siran Neal is a candidate for it as well. That’s another piece we’re missing some of those reps or we will be missing some of those reps potentially coming up in the coming weeks.”
Marlowe, who turns 28 this July, played in nine games in 2019, totaling 11 tackles and a pass defended. Neal, a fifth-round pick in 2018, played in 15 games, forcing a fumble in addition to racking up 36 tackles. Neal was frequently pressed into service in place of the oft-injured Taron Johnson, as well, playing out of position in the slot against quick-twitch receivers.
They put more on his plate in 2019, and while he wasn’t great, he responded with a step forward. The best-case scenario for the Bills now following the draft is that Neal can take another step in 2020 as he turns 26 right before the season.
There is another option in the fold, too. Buffalo added UDFA safety Garrett Taylor from Penn State. Taylor was considered fringe draftable, mainly based on his lack of athleticism. However, his tackling ability and willingness to mix it up give him a strong chance of making the roster on special teams if he can also show some ability at Big Nickel. He’ll need to beat out Marlowe or Neal to make the roster, and that would seem like a stretch in this weird offseason, but Taylor is also known for his smarts.
Even with the three on the roster, we shouldn’t rule out another addition based on McDermott’s comments.