The Buffalo Bills have two of the NFL’s best safeties. While the top of the depth chart was outstanding heading into the 2022 NFL season, the reserves left plenty of questions. The players were young and untested, but it was unlikely that they’d need to be given the durability of the starting pair.
Of course, we know what happened. The Bills experienced myriad injuries in the secondary, and that depth at safety was put to the test. One player in particular stepped up, coming out of nowhere to earn more playing time. However, tragedy struck later in the year, leading that young player on a battle that no one could have anticipated.
In today's edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss No. 3 on the roster — a player who was No. 1 in the hearts and minds of football fans the world over in January.
Name: Damar Hamlin
Height/Weight: 6’, 200 pounds
Age: 25 (26 on 3/24/2024)
Experience/Draft: 3; selected by Buffalo in the sixth round (No. 212 overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft
Acquired: Sixth-round draft pick
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Hamlin enters the third year of his rookie contract, a four-year pact worth a total of $3,640,476. For the 2023 season, he carries a cap hit of $980,119 if he makes the roster. The Bills are on the hook for a dead-cap charge of $80,238 if he’s released or traded.
2022 Recap: Hamlin began the year as a relatively unknown (at least outside of Bills fans) backup safety. Given that the team’s starting duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer ranks among the league’s best, it makes sense that a reserve safety would be fairly unheralded. When Hyde was injured during Buffalo’s Week 2 win over the Tennessee Titans, it wasn’t even Hamlin who replaced him in the lineup. That honor went to Jaquan Johnson. However, Hamlin entered the starting lineup the following week against the Miami Dolphins, playing on every snap in place of Poyer, who was also injured. Hamlin made four tackles and had half a sack in his first career start.
Hamlin remained in the starting lineup through Buffalo’s meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals. We all know what happened in that game, as Hamlin collapsed after what appeared to be a routine tackle of Tee Higgins in that game. His heart had stopped thanks to commotio cordis, a rare but incredibly dangerous condition caused by sudden chest impact at a vulnerable time in the heart’s beating cycle. This caused Hamlin to enter cardiac arrest, and without the lightning-fast intervention of Buffalo’s athletic training staff, especially Assistant Trainer Denny Kellington, Hamlin likely would not have survived. Instead, his life was saved, and he recovered quickly enough to attend Buffalo’s final game, a 27-10 loss to the Bengals in the playoffs.
Hamlin’s charitable foundation, Chasing M’s, had been running a GoFundMe campaign for a toy drive in his hometown of Pittsburgh. To date, that GoFundMe has raised in excess of $9 million. Hamlin ended the year with 91 total tackles, six tackles for loss, two pass breakups, one forced fumble, and 1.5 sacks. He was, fittingly, No. 3 on the team in tackles.
Positional outlook: Hamlin joins fellow returners Hyde, Poyer, and Dean Marlowe, as well as newcomers Taylor Rapp and Zayne Anderson on the current roster. Jared Mayden ended the 2022 season on Buffalo’s practice squad, and he’s in camp, as well.
2023 Offseason: Hamlin has recovered to the point where he began participating in full practices this spring.
2023 Season outlook: I’m not going to lie, and forgive me for going a little off-script here: the thought of Hamlin playing in another game is absolutely terrifying to me. Whether I’m wearing my fan hat, my human hat, my coach hat, or my dad hat, I am going to be scared you-know-what-less when he steps on the field again. Watching the aftermath of Hamlin’s near-death experience was easily the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve seen in sports. Now, with all that said, if doctors have cleared him and Hamlin is able to put the fear behind him, he’s obviously able to come back and play, and he performed well enough in his first starting duty last year to justify his place on the roster for more than sentimental reasons.
That’s not to say it was always pretty — I’ve felt guilty about this since that fateful Monday evening, but I had included Hamlin in my “Five players to watch” entering that game due to what I had deemed his subpar play — but Hamlin was solid enough for a young player replacing one of the league’s best. If he merely sets foot on the field this season, he should automatically be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. If he can build on the successes he had last season, learn from his mistakes, and continue to improve, Hamlin can absolutely contribute to the team this year. And thankfully, he has the opportunity to continue to contribute to the team for a long time. For a few hours in January, that didn’t seem like it would be the case. Having Hamlin on the field is miraculous, and I for one am thankful that he’s a Bill.