The dawn of a new age for the Buffalo Bills on defense seem likely this offseason. An Adam Schefter report live on-air with ESPN seems to indicate that the Bills are set to lose two massive pending free agents, as linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer are set to test the waters of the open market.
Here’s the Adam Schefter clip on the futures of #Bills free agents Jordan Poyer & Tremaine Edmunds—He does say “expected to lose” & specifies more toward Edmunds, but it was also a bit of a throwaway line at the end of a segment on Poyer not being franchise tagged: pic.twitter.com/oex67TMJRB— Nick (@Nick_Wojton) March 8, 2023
This rapid development could be a sign that the franchise is setting up to become a bit younger and cheaper on the defensive side of the football — a strategy that worked out very nicely for the Kansas City Chiefs who were most recently Super Bowl champions approximately a month ago. Poyer’s likely departure marks an end to one of the best safety tandems in the NFL over the past five years. His co-pilot, Micah Hyde, is still under contract with the team, of course. But, now, the Bills may be looking for a running mate for the two-time All-Pro.
Look no further for a potential replacement of Poyer than former Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson in the 2023 NFL Draft. Johnson is a potential early round selection at safety. To find out how he could fit in with Buffalo’s defense, we dove into the All-22 tape to find out all about Johnson as a prospect.
Antonio Johnson Scouting Report
Safety Antonio Johnson is a long, physical prospect who has made a living as one of the best safeties in the SEC over the past couple of seasons. Johnson was most recently an All-SEC first-team selection in 2022. Johnson provides everything a team could want in a modern era safety that lives close to the line of scrimmage and will continue that trend as he makes his way to the NFL.
Measurables: 6’2” 198 pounds
Combine testing: 4.52 40-yard dash, 31” vertical, 9’10” broad jump
- Has aligned from all over the field; one of the most versatile defenders in college football
- His ability to be a jumbo nickel defender is a strength
- Playing an overhang role was where he was at his best— allowing him to be an elite cover man in short and intermediate zones in addition to dropping into the hole
- Has legitimate ability to mirror and match receivers and tight ends in the short to intermediate areas
- Impact tackler; willing to run and chase as a lone wolf to make open-field plays
- Sees angles at a high level to attack the football; can pursue plenty of grass in a hurry and navigate through traffic in his way
- Quality ability to sprint to the edge and turn plays inside when he needs to hold edge responsibility
- Block deconstruction is very good for a safety
- Looks like an NFL safety on the hoof — size and length should present zero questions for teams
- Vertical Pedal and transition to run looks unnatural from slot alignments; pedal and break change of direction seems to lack explosion
- Asking him to turn and run with a slot on a vertical concept is going to lead to troubles and headaches for him
- Will mostly need to play the overhang in the NFL; some teams may turn their head for a player you’d prefer closer to the line of scrimmage rather than aligning deep
Why He Fits the Bills
Antonio Johnson is a chess piece. Micah Hyde is a player you want playing as the post safety in MOFC (middle of field closed) alignments. If Hyde is occupying that role, Johnson can be utilized as a big nickel or overhang option on the defense. The Bills used to roll safety Jordan Poyer down often when the defense wanted to go to 1-high. If head coach Sean McDermott does take the reins of play calling in 2023, his aggressive mindset could lead to some interest in Johnson occupying those short and intermediate areas to create explosive plays in the passing game. Johnson will have to prove that he can play on the top of the defense in MOFO (middle of field open) formations, but I believe he has the capability to do that when needed.
He didn’t test like an elite athlete at the Combine, but Johnson’s 4.52 40 time should be good enough for him to align in 2-high and not be a liability on the back end. Once viewed as a potential first-round pick, Johnson could be had in Round 2 or later with his draft stock slowing down a tick.