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91 players in 91 days: Cornerback Taron Johnson

The young corner is still trying to shed that “injury-prone” label from his rookie season

NFL: Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills boast one of the NFL’s best secondaries. It’s a young, disciplined group that executes its assignments to perfection and seems to work perfectly in sync to the point that I’m referring to the group as an “it” rather than “they” as I would with a group of individuals.

This mentality, fostered by head coach Sean McDermott and furthered by assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, has served the Bills well over the last three seasons. Each piece of Buffalo’s defense has a specific assignment to execute, and each player knows exactly what his role is within the scheme.

In today’s edition of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile one of those players with a specific role. He’s been excellent in that role over the last two years, but with one caveat—when he’s been healthy.

Name: Taron Johnson
Number: 24
Position: CB
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 192 lbs.
Age: 23 (24 on 7/27/2020)
Experience/Draft: 2; selected in the fourth round (No. 121 overall) by Buffalo in the 2018 NFL Draft
College: Weber State
Acquired: Fourth-round draft choice

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Johnson enters year three of his rookie contract—a four-year deal worth a total of $3,106,068, of which $646,068 is guaranteed. For the 2020 season, Johnson carries a salary-cap charge of $911,517. If Buffalo were to release him, they would be on the hook for a dead-cap charge of $323,034.

2019 Recap: Johnson began the year as he began his rookie season, as Buffalo’s top nickel corner. He also continued a trend from his rookie year in the team’s first contest, as he left Buffalo’s season-opening 17-16 victory over the New York Jets with a hamstring injury. That injury sidelined Johnson for four games. Johnson was able to play in 12 games, 13 counting the Bills’ 22-19 overtime loss to the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. He left two other games with minor injuries: the aforementioned playoff game and Buffalo’s playoff-clinching 17-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. For the year, Johnson played 494 defensive snaps, or right around 48% of the team’s total. He had 50 tackles, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, one sack, and two tackles for a loss. According to Pro Football Reference, he missed the second-highest number of tackles on the team (13), and blitzed more from the secondary than any player other than Jordan Poyer.

Positional outlook: Johnson is one of three players on Buffalo’s roster, with Siran Neal and Cam Lewis being the others, whose primary role on the defense is to play slot corner. Neal is also a safety, and veteran E.J. Gaines is a boundary corner-slash-slot corner. 2020 seventh-round choice Dane Jackson may also compete in the slot, as his physical nature lends itself to playing in that part of the field. Buffalo’s other corners are Josh Norman, Levi Wallace, Tre’Davious White, and Ike Brown.

2020 Offseason: No news to report.

2020 Season outlook: Johnson has been a very good player when healthy, but the problem so far has been his ability to stay healthy. The team knows it has a good one here, but if they can’t rely on Johnson to suit up week in and week out, it’s hard to say that his spot in the lineup is a guarantee. I’d be stunned if Buffalo were to let him go, as they have used him extensively over the last two years and he’s been a solid contributor in his role. However, Johnson has a long way to go in terms of proving that he can be a long-term option in the secondary for the Bills. Overcoming his battle with the injury bug would be a good start.