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90 players in 90 days: Safety Jaquan Johnson

The core special teamer is in line to be the top backup on defense this year

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For the last three seasons, the Buffalo Bills have employed Dean Marlowe as their top backup behind their standout safety duo. However, this offseason was finally the one where Marlowe moved on, as he signed with the Detroit Lions in pursuit of greater opportunity. That leaves a hole to be filled in the depth chart.

For the Bills and head coach Sean McDermott, developing defensive backs has been a point of strength since 2017. The team has made the most of some undervalued players like Marlowe while also finding some star-caliber players.

In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile one of the unheralded young players on the team—a third-year man looking at an increased role this season.

Name: Jaquan Johnson

Number: 46

Position: S

Height/Weight: 5’10” 191 lbs

Age: 25 (26 on 11/13/2021)

Experience/Draft: 3; selected by Buffalo in the sixth round (No. 181 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft

College: Miami

Acquired: Sixth-round draft choice

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Johnson enters the third year of his four-year rookie contract, a pact worth a total of $2,704,340 overall. For the 2021 season, Johnson carries a salary cap hit of $896,085, and the Bills would owe a dead-cap charge of $92,170 if he were released.

2020 Recap: Johnson entered the season as the fourth safety on the roster, but it was his special teams ability that made him valuable. He made just four tackles in that phase of the game, but he appeared on 56 percent of the team’s snaps in the third phase. His 249 total special teams snaps trailed only Tyler Matakevich, Siran Neal, and Darryl Johnson, respectively. Jaquan Johnson also completed a 13-yard pass on a fake punt against the New England Patriots in Buffalo’s demon-exorcising 38-9 route of their arch nemesis on Monday Night Football.

Positional outlook: Johnson has zero chance of unseating incumbent starters Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde if both players are healthy, so he’ll instead battle Damar Hamlin, Tariq Thompson, and Josh Thomas for snaps as a backup.

2021 Offseason: Johnson is healthy and he participated in OTAs.

2021 Season outlook: Barring injury or something crazy, Johnson is in line to be the Dean Marlowe of the 2021 team, slotting in as a little-used third safety while contributing on special teams. This does represent an increased role, however, as Johnson was an even less-often-used fourth safety who contributed on special teams over the last two seasons. Given the ability level of Hyde and Poyer, I hope that’s as great a role as he’s allowed to have this season. Johnson is a solid special teamer and a good candidate to back up the aforementioned starting duo.