Continuing in our off-season reporting is positional reporting at Banged Up Bills.. Today’s post addresses the cornerback position which was a bright spot this season after being outright dreadful in 2016. The cornerback position dealt with a variety of injuries that at times cost the Bills crucial games that thankfully did not cause the Bills to miss the playoffs. However, Brandon Beane realized that even though this unit was superb, there is still room for improvement going into the 2018 season.
First up is CB E.J. Gaines. The 4th year veteran came to Buffalo in a trade that included WR Sammy Watkins that worked out favorably for the Bills. Stat wise, Gaines was able to haul in one interception, 3 forced fumbles and 59 total tackles with 48 solo and 11 assisted. There was a gigantic difference between when Gaines was on the field and when he wasn’t. In games that Gaines participated in, they were 8-3, in games he missed they were 1-4 which indicated how valuable he was. However, Gaines suffered several injuries which cost him playing time during several key points during the season. He suffered a shoulder injury in the win over Atlanta that forced him to miss the Cincinnati game which was a loss. Immediately after this injury, Gaines suffered a groin injury that did not appear to be serious, but possibly led into a hamstring injury that cost him 3 games in which the Bills went 1-2. Gaines returned to health, playing in 5 straight games before injuring his knee during the first Miami game which cost him a game against New England. Prior to this season, Gaines had been fairly durable, only suffering a Lisfranc injury which cost him the 2015 season. His injuries likely stemmed from his hard-hitting reckless play. After this injury filled season, the Bills elected not to re-sign Gaines, letting him walk in free agency and taking a rather questionable one year, $4 million with the Cleveland Browns. For a player that was due a potentially big contract with limited availability, the Bills were smart to move on from Gaines despite his stellar play.
Next up is CB Leonard Johnson. The 6th year back saw time in 15 games and starting 7. Johnson managed to stay relatively healthy this season, only missing one game due to a knee injury in the loss in the first New England game. Otherwise, he suffered a quadriceps injury in the season opener and a minor hamstring injury in the loss to Cincinnati in which he did not miss any time. Johnson had been pretty healthy up to this season, only suffering a torn Achilles during his time in Carolina but was able to recover to previous form. Stat wise, he accumulated one forced fumble with one fumble recovery to go along with 51 tackles, 40 solo and 11 assisted. As with Gaines, the Bills elected not to re-sign Johnson as his veteran status most likely became cost prohibitive.
CB Shareece Wright continues the Bills exodus of cornerbacks from the 2017 season. The 7th year back saw playing time in 12 games, starting 5 with stats of one interception, one forced fumble with 2 fumble recoveries to go along with 42 tackles, 35 solo and 7 assisted. Wright suffered a minor back injury in the win over Atlanta but suffered a concussion during the second New England loss which costed him the season finale win over Miami and the playoffs. As he is no longer on this roster for what I assume are similar reasons as Johnson, I do not see him coming back unless there are several injuries which would require him to be re-signed as a depth player.
One of the true bright spots on this 2017 Buffalo Bills roster was CB Tre’Davious White. The rookie from LSU quickly became a fan favorite and helped re-establish the secondary with incredible plays that appeared to allow people to forget he was only a rookie. Numbers wise, he had 4 interceptions, one forced fumble with 2 fumble recoveries with one returned for a TD and 69 total tackles, 53 solo with 16 assists. White stayed injury free all season with the exception of a concussion from Rob Gronkowski. If you recall, Gronk gave White the People’s Elbow after a clearly dead play on the sidelines. White thankfully did not miss time, but repeated hits to the head can have a detrimental effect on a players health later in his career. As White begins his second season, look for him to hopefully stay healthy and continue to produce at a high level to establish himself as one of the best in the league at his position.
Finally, CB Lafayette Pitts rounds out players that suited up at the CB position for the Bills this season. The 2nd year pro joined Buffalo in late October after spending time with Jacksonville earlier in the season. During his time in Buffalo, Pitts only recorded one tackle and one assist on defense with most of his playing time coming on special teams. Despite the lack of stats, the Bills re-signed Pitts to a one year contract in hopes that he adds to the depth going forward.
The Bills position at cornerback appears to be solidified with CB Tre’Davious White manning one side and CB Vontae Davis manning the other. There are questions regarding Davis going into the 2018 season after he missed most of 2017 with a sports hernia that eventually required surgery. As indicated in the previous article, most players sustaining his type of injury are able to return to playing in the NFL without complications. These two players are formidable in their own right and together should really improve the quality of play at the position. Davis is an upgrade from Gaines at the position, but time will tell if the production matches.
Rounding out the rest of the cornerbacks on the roster include CB Levi Wallace, CB Phillip Gaines, CB Taron Johnson, CB Ryan Carter, and CB Breon Borders. Wallace and Carter come to the Bills via UDFA’s, Borders comes back for the 2018 season after spending the end of 2017 on the practice squad. Phillip Gaines came via free agency from the Kansas City Chiefs, and finally, CB Taron Johnson was drafted in the 4th round with the 121st pick. None of these players are guaranteed to make the roster but I expect to see Gaines and Johnson stick with the team as depth in the event a starter is unavailable. Considering the talent at the position, I could see the Bills stocking up on the position, leading one of the remaining names to sneak on to the 53 man roster with an impressive training camp.
That wraps up the cornerback review for the 2017 Buffalo Bills. Our series is nearly done, with positional reviews of safety and special teams rounding out the remaining articles. As this 6 week period between OTA’s and training camp occurs, look for remaining positional review articles along with spotlights on common injuries in the NFL. The goal at Banged Up Bills is to educate my fellow fans. I enjoy any and all feedback via Facebook at Banged Up Bills and on Twitter @BangedUpBills. As always, thank you for your time and GO BILLS!!