by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

Without question one of the strongest areas of the Buffalo Bills defense in 2017 was their defensive backfield. What makes that a remarkable feat is every starter last year was not with the team the previous season.

The 2017 starting defensive backfield was Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde at the safeties and E. J. Gaines and Tre’Davious White at the corners. That group accounted for 305 total tackles and 15 interceptions last year. The defensive backfield as a whole had 16 interceptions which meant the Bills defensive backfield was among the best in all the NFL at getting interceptions.

Three Starters Return in 2018

In 2018, three of the four starters return. The only loss was E.J. Gaines who went to the Cleveland Browns as an unrestricted free agent. Replacing Gaines will be 10 year vet Vontae Davis, who was a former first round pick of the Miami Dolphins but spent most of his career with the Indianapolis Colts. Davis only participated in five games last year because of a leg injury but in the previous five seasons with the Colts he had 13 interceptions. At 5’11, 205 pounds.  Davis has excellent corner size and he has a consistent overall game being able to play man, zone and support the run. As good as Gaines was a year ago, Davis is an upgrade at the position.

Safety Dance

The two safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, don’t have great size but both are very instinctive, can play the run as well as cover and have outstanding ball skills. They are ideal players to play at the backend in Sean McDermott’s scheme. The main backup at safety in 2018 will be free agent addition Rafael Bush, who was with New Orleans last year. Bush has starting experience during his career and is also a valuable special teams performer.

The other backup will be newcomer Kelcie McCray, who was with Seattle last year. Kelcie has more size than the other Bills safeties at 6’2, 202 pounds and is a very physical performer. What he lacks is the ball skills of the others, as he does not have any interceptions for his career.

Tre Day

The corner opposite Vontae Davis will be second year man Tre’Davious White, who had an outstanding rookie season with 53 total tackles and four interceptions. White and New Orleans Saint Marshon Lattimore were easily the two best rookie corners in the NFL last year. White did not play like a rookie, but rather a multi-year vet. He has outstanding instincts and should compete for Pro Bowl honors very early in his career.

Third Corner

Who plays as the third corner will be figured out in training camp later this month. In free agency the Bills signed Phillip Gaines, who was a valuable backup and part time starter for Kansas City the last four years.

The interesting guy to watch in training camp is rookie fourth round draft pick Taron Johnson from Weber State. Johnson has ideal slot corner traits and showed in college he can play man or zone. His ball skills are excellent and he is a consistent tackler. The other rookie who could earn playing time with a strong camp is fifth round pick Siran Neal from Jacksonville State. Neal has experience at both corner and safety and could play either. With his size and physical play, the Bills could also try Neal as a nickel linebacker where his cover skills would really help the defense.

Overall, the defensive secondary for the Buffalo Bills is one of the stronger if not the strongest position groups on the team. While there is a lot of experience with the group they are relatively young guys, which means this group could play together for quite some time.

Greg has also broken down other Bills positions, including linebackers & defensive line.

 

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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