Was any Buffalo Bills position deeper than safety over the past decade? The team had several quality starters and multiple Pro Bowl players. Even the backups and short-term starters, players like Da’Norris Searcy and Baccari Rambo, turned in quality performances on the regular.
It was hard to narrow down the list of candidates for this group. Read through each profile, and then you know the drill.
Even without his outstanding rookie year, when he made the 2009 Pro Bowl, ballhawking Byrd is still one of the most productive defenders of the past decade. By 2010, he was one of the leaders in the secondary. Over the next four seasons, he recorded an impressive highlight reel: 13 interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 11 forced fumbles, 22 passes defended, and 13 tackles for a loss. In 2012, as his rookie contract was coming to a close, Byrd was selected to the Pro Bowl. That year he had 76 tackles (five for a loss), five interceptions, and four forced fumbles.
Byrd suffered from plantar fasciitis ahead of the 2013 season, and was also displeased the the Bills used the franchise tag instead of signing him to a long-term contract. Despite missing five games with injury, he still notched four interceptions and was selected to a second consecutive Pro Bowl.
After the Bills opted to let Byrd test the market, he signed a six-year, $54 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. He would play three seasons there, plus one more with the Carolina Panthers, before his career came to an end.
Overall stats: 55 games started, 311 combined tackles, 13 TFLs, 11 forced fumbles, 22 passes defended, 13 interceptions.
The other member of a starting tandem with Byrd (at least, once Donte Whitner got out of the way), Wilson was a fine playmaker in his own right. An undrafted receiver out of Arkansas, Wilson joined the Bills in 2005 and converted to safety for better career odds. It paid off with a nine-year NFL career, including the 2010 to 2012 seasons in Buffalo. As the full-time starter in 2011 and 2012, Wilson had back-to-back 100-tackle seasons, and he also had a nose for the football.
In 2013, Wilson signed with the Tennessee Titans (The Bills were looking at a platoon of Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy across from Byrd). He played two more seasons before retiring.
Overall stats: 31 games started, 245 combined tackles, two TFLs, three forced fumbles, 15 passes defended, six interceptions.
Williams wasn’t always a safety. Originally drafted as a cornerback out of Texas, his tendency to get burned deep was a huge problem in his early career. The Bills converted Williams to safety in 2013, and he immediately took a turn for the better. Williams was rangy enough to play from the deep middle, and played as a quality starter during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Three games into 2015, Williams suffered a terrifying neck injury while tackling Julian Edelman, leaving him motionless on the field. He returned the next season, but a vicious blindside block by Jarvis Landry aggravated the neck injury, ending his 2016 after seven games.
Williams attempted to make another comeback in 2017, but suffered a concussion in training camp, and didn’t make the team out of medical caution. His career ended with a whimper, but two seasons of quality safety play earned him a nod here.
Overall stats: 52 games started, 257 combined tackles, five TFLs, three forced fumbles, 36 passes defended, seven interceptions.
Another cornerback-to-safety convert, Graham signed a three-year free-agent deal with the Bills ahead of the 2014 season. The 29-year-old safety started nine games that year, playing both cornerback and safety as needed. With the Bills sensing his deep speed on a decline, they converted him to a full-time safety, which was something more of a dime linebacker role, in Rex Ryan’s first year. He would set a career high with 127 combined tackles that year.
Graham played out his Bills contract, at which point a new coaching staff took over and went in another direction at safety. He would play two more seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring after the 2018 season.
Overall stats: 41 games started, 298 combined tackles, six TFLs, 29 passes defended, five interceptions.
Hyde was one of the most important players signed by the Bills in head coach Sean McDermott’s first season, secured with a five-year, $30 million contract. Though he’d played more of a nickel cornerback role with the Green Bay Packers, the Bills asked him to be a pure safety in McDermott’s system.
Hyde immediately blossomed in that role, helping lead the Bills to their first playoff berth of the century. With 82 tackles and five interceptions, he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2017. The next two seasons didn’t notch quite as many highlight plays, but Hyde has nonetheless been one of the best players on one of the league’s best defenses ever since he joined.
Overall stats: 47 games started, 212 combined tackles, four TFLs, two forced fumbles, 20 passes defended, eight interceptions.
While Hyde was the big name in free agency, Poyer was the sleeper. A former seventh-round pick who’d mostly played cornerback, coming off a season where he lacerated his kidney, had a more modest four-year, $13 million deal. The Bills set him up as their starting safety, and he took to it like a duck to water.
Though he still hasn’t earned a Pro Bowl nomination, Poyer has been just as effective as Hyde in each of his three seasons as the team’s other starting safety. He’s equally effective as a playmaker in coverage or in the box cutting down runners or scrambling quarterbacks.
After the 2019 season, the Bills signed Poyer to an extension that could keep him under contract through 2022.
Overall stats: 47 games started, 302 combined tackles, 17 TFLs, four forced fumbles, five sacks, 22 passes defended, 11 interceptions.
That was quite the list! Think hard, then place your vote for the best safety of the past decade. You’ll be able to add one or two more later in the process, so don’t worry if your top choice didn’t make it!
Buffalo Bills 2010s All-Decade team: Safety 1
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