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Buffalo Bills training camp battles: Slot cornerback

Taron Johnson was twice a hero of the 2020 Buffalo Bills’ season, but before that he was replaced by a former undrafted free agent in the lineup. Today we are looking at slot cornerback—a starting spot on the team’s defense.

Taron Johnson vs Cam Lewis vs Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (vs Siran Neal)

In Week 6, the Bills inserted Lewis into the first-team lineup to replace Johnson, who was being beaten over and over again. Lewis provided an alternative with potential upside, but was only able to play ten snaps before injuring his wrist. Johnson was exposed again in the AFC Championship Game against the same Kansas City Chiefs offense from Week 6 and slot cornerback became a sneaky need for the team.

There are several long-term implications to this mostly three-way battle. Johnson, a former fourth rounder, is entering the final year of his rookie deal and probably hasn’t played well enough to earn a long-term deal with the team. Lewis and Neal are in the final year of their deals, too. This offseason, the Bills added another player to the competition in sixth-round pick Rachad Wildgoose.

Lots of reporters think Lewis had a good spring, but his physical limitations (he’s only 5’9”) can’t be ignored and I haven’t seen a single beat writer’s roster projection with Lewis making the cut. A similar physical limitation argument can be said for Neal, who used to play safety and doesn’t have the quickness to hang with traditional slot receivers. He doesn’t really register in this debate because his spot on the roster comes down to special teams value.

So the biggest question would seem to be can Wildgoose unseat Johnson as a rookie? I think that is unlikely to happen in training camp. In Week 5, the Bills play those same Chiefs. In Week 7, they have a bye before a stretch against the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and New York Jets. That seems more likely for a Wildgoose/Lewis takeover than Week 1.