Back in my day, when we discussed what kind of defense the Buffalo Bills would run in a given year, there were two options: Would it be a 3-4 or a 4-3? During the team’s glory years, that three-lineman, four-linebacker setup was the norm, and even as the Bills struggled to keep hope alive throughout the ‘90s, they continued to run that 3-4 look. At the turn of the century, though, the team shifted to a 4-3, ditching that extra inside linebacker for a beefy defensive tackle instead.
Now, while Buffalo’s base defense may be a 4-3 in theory, it’s really a nickel defense in practice. Buffalo has played with at least five defensive backs on the vast majority of their snaps over the last five years (it should come as little surprise that 2016 was the last year the team featured fewer defensive back snaps given Rex Ryan’s inability to adjust to anything during his tenure). Now, the nickel corner isn’t a reserve. Instead, he’s an integral part of the team’s primary defense.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile the man who has held down the slot corner gig since his arrival as a rookie in 2018.
Name: Taron Johnson
Height/Weight: 5’11” 192 lbs
Age: 26 (27 on 7/27/2023)
Experience/Draft: 5; selected in the fourth round (No. 121 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft by Buffalo
College: Weber State
Acquired: Fourth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Johnson is in the first year of a three-year, $24 million extension he signed with the club last year. For the 2022 season, Johnson carries a $4.5 million cap hit. If he’s released or traded, Buffalo would be on the hook for a dead-cap charge of $8.79 million.
2021 Recap: Johnson was dynamite in his fourth year, having arguably the best season of his career to date. While he intercepted just one pass and accounted for seven pass breakups, he allowed the lowest rate of completion (55.1%) in his career, and he also notched a career-high three sacks. He was fourth on the team in total tackles with 76. He added four tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and one forced fumble to the aforementioned stats. He missed one game due to injury, Buffalo’s Week 4 blowout of the Houston Texans. He sat due to a groin injury.
Positional outlook: Johnson is the team’s top slot corner, and he is a starter in this defense along with Tre’Davious White (when he’s healthy) and either Kaiir Elam or Dane Jackson. Cam Lewis and Siran Neal are Johnson’s main competition in the slot. Christian Benford, Ja’Marcus Ingram, Jordan Miller, Nick McCloud, Olaijah Griffin, and Tim Harris are the other corners in camp.
2022 Offseason: Johnson is healthy and participating in training camp. He completed the offseason program, as well.
2022 Season outlook: Barring injury, Taron Johnson is the surest bet on Buffalo’s roster to start at corner aside from Tre’Davious White. Just because he’s the slot corner doesn’t mean he’s a reserve, as his 26 starts over the last two seasons would suggest. Johnson is a good man-to-man player who also fits in beautifully in the Bills’ zone concepts. While he might not be a big player, he hits big, and he offers strong support in the run game, as well. Buffalo was known for finding small-school gems back in the days of Bill Polian and John Butler, so it’s nice to see a player from a non-Power Five school like Weber State make it to the NFL and have a great deal of success in Buffalo. Johnson is one of the more valuable pieces of Buffalo’s defense.