The Buffalo Bills boast two of the league’s best safeties. The starting duo has been together for the duration of head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier’s time together in Orchard Park. However, all good things must end eventually, and the time may be coming where the Bills break up the band at safety.
That means some younger players have a chance to prove that they can step into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Nearly all of the young players on Buffalo’s roster who play safety have been with the club for a bit, so they know the defense. Now, it’s a matter of showing that they can step in and perform.
In today’s installment of our “90 players in 90 days” series, we profile a young player whose contract is up at the end of the season.
Name: Jaquan Johnson
Height/Weight: 5’10” 191 lbs
Age: 26 (27 on 11/13/2022)
Experience/Draft: 4; selected in the sixth round (No. 181 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft
College: Miami (FL)
Acquired: Sixth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Johnson enters the final year of his rookie contract, a four-year pact worth a total of $2,704,340. For the 2022 season, Johnson carries a cap hit of $1,011,085 and a dead-cap number of $46,085 should he not make the team.
2021 Recap: Johnson played in all 17 games for Buffalo, and he even started one for the first time in his career. He continued to be used in a limited capacity on defense, as he played just 98 snaps (9%). That was a career high, however. He was one of Buffalo’s primary special teams contributors, appearing on 62% of the team’s snaps in that phase of the game. He totaled 14 tackles, one pass breakup, and his first career interception, which he returned for 25 yards. That pick came off of Davis Mills in his lone start, a 40-0 drubbing of the Houston Texans in Week 4. Eight of Johnson’s tackles came on special teams, which was good for a tie for 69th in the league last year.
Positional outlook: Johnson is one of five traditional safeties on the roster, all of whom were with the team last year. The others are starters Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, and reserves Josh Thomas and Damar Hamlin. The Bills are playing some corners at safety, too, including Nick McCloud and Christian Benford. Siran Neal has also played safety.
2022 Offseason: Johnson is healthy and participating in OTAs.
2022 Season outlook: Given his usage on special teams and his success in limited snaps on defense, I assume that Johnson will reprise his role as the primary reserve safety on the roster this year. That’s not a guarantee, as the team has an abundance of talent all around the roster that makes versatility a priority. However, I think that the Bills would be more likely to release someone like Hamlin than they would Johnson if they wanted to go with just three safeties—given that they’ve used those two in that order in the past. The only thing working against Johnson in that regard is length remaining on his contract, as Hamlin is in year three of four of his rookie deal while Johnson’s expires at the end of the season. Nevertheless, I see Johnson making the roster and remaining in his reserve role, perhaps earning a one-year extension to showcase himself for a bigger role in 2023.