At the onset of the 2020 season, the Buffalo Bills had a familiar look to their depth chart at cornerback. They had a legitimate star at the top, followed by an older veteran looking to reclaim lost glory—that player would battle with their former undrafted free agent for a starting role—and then they finished it off with their slot corners, special teamers, and developmental projects.
This year, that depth chart looks fairly similar except for the aging veteran. The Bills have embraced a youth movement in the defensive secondary, choosing to allow their younger players to battle for snaps heading into the 2021 season.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile one of the two players fighting for the right to start across from Buffalo’s All-Pro top corner.
Name: Dane Jackson
Height/Weight: 5’11” 180 lbs
Age: 24 (25 on 11/29/2021)
Experience/Draft: 2; selected by Buffalo in the seventh round (No. 239 overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft
Acquired: Seventh-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Jackson signed a reserve/futures contract with Buffalo this offseason, so he’s in the first year of a two-year deal worth a total of $1.71 million. For the 2021 season, Jackson carries a cap hit of $815,000 with no dead-cap charge if he’s released.
2020 Recap: The Bills drafted Jackson in the seventh round last season, but he did not make the team out of training camp. After clearing waivers, he signed with Buffalo’s practice squad. He remained on the practice squad for the entire season, though he was elevated numerous times to the active roster. Jackson was first elevated in Buffalo’s Week 5 game against the Tennessee Titans, but he did not play. He was again elevated to the active roster for the Week 7 showdown with the New York Jets, and thanks to injuries to Josh Norman and Levi Wallace, Jackson started the game and played every snap. He made his presence known right away, as he finished with three tackles, two pass breakups, and a momentum-shifting interception just before halftime that helped the Bills claw out an 18-10 victory. Jackson played in four more regular-season games, seeing plenty of work against the Arizona Cardinals (he made eight tackles in that contest) and the Miami Dolphins in Week 17. Jackson was a healthy scratch in the Divisional Round and the AFC Championship Game even though he was elevated from the practice squad both times. Although he only appeared in five regular-season games, playing on just 193 total defensive snaps, he finished tied with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer for fourth on the team with five pass breakups, trailing only Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, and Taron Johnson. Jackson finished with 15 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one forced fumble, one interception, and those five pass breakups.
Positional outlook: Jackson is the main competition for Levi Wallace across from Tre’Davious White. The Bills have two undrafted free agents in Olaijah Griffin and Nick McCloud who will also work outside, with Siran Neal, Taron Johnson, Cam Lewis, and Rachad Wildgoose working primarily in the slot.
2021 Offseason: Jackson is healthy and has attended all OTAs. He reported to training camp on time.
2021 Season outlook: We’ve talked about this on site for the better part of the last six months and referred to a “competition” between Wallace and Jackson. To me, that implies that one guy becomes “the man” while the other becomes “the backup.” I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen here, as Wallace is a solid zone defender who lacks the foot speed and anticipation to play man-to-man against most NFL wideouts. Jackson is a more well-rounded player who might be a step down from Wallace in zone, but he’s a huge step up in man looks. Regardless of who the nominal starter is, both Wallace and Jackson are going to see snaps this season. While the Bills’ staff has been supportive publicly of both players, and Wallace has fended off numerous challenges over the years, Jackson brings a tenacity that even an improved Wallace doesn’t quite have. This will be a fun group to watch, and there’s a part of me that hopes Jackson ends up seeing at least a 50-50 split in the snap share. Jackson will have his first three career preseason games to prove that he deserves the playing time.