Buffalo Bills Number Two Cornerback

Buffalo Bills Number Two Cornerback

Last year, Tre’Davious White put together a first-team All-Pro season at cornerback for the Buffalo Bills. 599 snaps in coverage with no touchdowns allowed. Tied for the league lead in interceptions with six. White had a year that firmly established himself as a shutdown cornerback and the number one corner on the Bills. Going into 2020 that looks to continue. However, the number two cornerback position for the team has less certainty. In 2019, Levi Wallace and Kevin Johnson each saw rotation at the Buffalo Bills number two cornerback spot. Wallace returns in 2020 for his third year with the Bills while Johnson has left in free agency. Add in the signings of Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines and what you have is roughly a three-man fight for one starting spot. So how will it shake out and what can we expect to see? Let’s take a look.

The Battle for the Buffalo Bills Number Two Cornerback Spot

For all intents and purposes, the race for the number two cornerback spot on the Buffalo Bills looks to be between three men. Third-year corner and sort of incumbent Levi Wallace, veteran and former All-Pro Josh Norman, and veteran E.J. Gaines who started 11 games in 2017 for the Bills. There are question marks around all three men but each can stake a claim to the number two cornerback role.

Levi Wallace

Levi Wallace jumped on the scene in Buffalo as an undrafted rookie in 2018 and was rated Pro Football Focus’s third-best corner in the entire NFL in the last seven games of that season. In a down year for the Buffalo Bills, Wallace was a bright spot and someone fans were looking forward to seeing in 2019.

He’s credited as starting all 16 games for the Bills in 2019, but as mentioned earlier shared time with Kevin Johnson. His long frame combined with his ability to read and react make him a good fit in zone coverage. That works well in Buffalo as the Bills are primarily a 4-3 defense with zone coverage behind a four-man rush.

Wallace allowed 58 receptions (ninth in the league) on 89 targets (tied for ninth in the league) in 2019. For reference, 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore allowed 47 receptions (tied for 24th) on 96 targets (seventh). However, Wallace was on the field for 784 snaps while Gilmore was on the field for 952.

If the Buffalo Bills penciled in Wallace as the number two cornerback it wouldn’t be a bad choice. He’s shown promise and reliability. He needs to be more consistent in underneath coverage and with his tackling but the upside is there. His career is still in its infancy and he plays arguably the toughest position in today’s NFL and has held his own so far. As of this moment, he’s the one to bet on as the frontrunner in this race.

Josh Norman

Josh Norman is the biggest wild card in this battle. He was an All-Pro in 2015 when Bills head coach Sean McDermott was his defensive coordinator. His zone coverage strengths fit perfectly with the scheme the Buffalo Bills play on defense. Bills general manager Brandon Beane scooped up Norman as soon as he hit free agency this off-season. He and McDermott are very familiar with Norman as a player and as a person. On paper, it looks like an ideal match.

But since that 2015 season, Norman has been on the decline. And it’s been a heavy decline. Granted, the defense that he’s been playing in the last several years wasn’t a good scheme fit for him. But it’s hard to imagine Norman coming into Buffalo and rounding back into his former form. That being said, if he was going to succeed anywhere, it would be under McDermott.

The Bills secondary under McDermott has been a force. Third against the pass in 2019. First against the pass in 2018. And it features players that have play styles that fit the scheme. Player fit and development has been the calling card of Beane and McDermott. They haven’t gone for the splash signings. They’ve gone for value based on fit. It wouldn’t be unheard of for Norman to see a bit of a renaissance in Buffalo.

If anyone was going to outright beat Levi Wallace for the number two cornerback position on the Buffalo Bills, it would be Josh Norman. His fit and pedigree in the system are hard to deny. But until Norman shows it on the field, it’s hard to pencil him in. Expect for him to see rotation on the outside and at nickel corner with the potential for more if he can recapture his former self.

E.J Gaines

Like Josh Norman, E.J. Gaines is another wild card. Not because he’s fallen off in his performance. But because of his inability to stay on the field. In 2014, he missed one game with a concussion. Then in 2015, he missed the entire season with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. In 2016, he missed five games with a thigh injury and in 2017 he missed five games due to injuries to his shoulder, hamstring, and knee. His 2018 season saw him miss 10 games with concussions and he missed the entire 2019 season after suffering a core muscle injury in training camp.

It’s unfortunate but Gaines cannot be counted on to play a full regular season at this point. This is a shame because when he’s been on the field, he been productive. He’s a physical corner with good size and he functions well in the zone defense Buffalo employs. He’s reliable in his on-field ability but not in his availability.

Because of the injury concern, Gaines looks to function as a depth piece in the Buffalo secondary. If there weren’t injury questions he would throw a wrench into this whole discussion because he is productive when healthy. Nevertheless, having him gives the Bills flexibility with their cornerbacks and with the number two cornerback spot as well. And if he can maintain his health, he could see significant playing time.

Last Word on the Buffalo Bills Number Two Cornerback

The fight for the number two cornerback spot on the Buffalo Bills should be fun. All three players listed here have their pros and cons but are all capable of starting. The lack of a traditional off-season will certainly play a role in their performances but training camp and the preseason will be the ultimate determinant for who comes away as the starter. This battle is one to keep an eye on.

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