My "2021 State of the Bills" series continues with a look at the safeties as the team heads into the offseason:
• Micah Hyde
• Jordan Poyer
• Jaquan Johnson
• Josh Thomas
•Pending Free Agents:
• Dean Marlowe
State of the position:
This may actually be the easiest position to write about considering it’s been so consistent, as far as personnel, over the last few seasons, and looks to remain that way heading into 2021.
It’s pretty incredible to think how much Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde have played since arriving in 2017 together as free agents, as opposed to anyone else at all. In fact, here are each of their snap counts, beginning with the 2017 season:
- Hyde: 96%, 87%, 94%, 82%
- Poyer: - 94%, 99%, 94%, 89%
In 2018, Rafael Bush was the big nickel and did play 45% of defensive snaps, but he was generally on the field with both Poyer and Hyde, not taking a spot from one of them. This year, Dean Marlowe did fill in as a backup for both on several occasions, logging 22% of snaps. Otherwise, it’s pretty much been strictly Poyer and Hyde for four straight years.
Individually, maybe neither Poyer or Hyde are one of the top-four or five safeties in the NFL, although Poyer. arguably, played like one last year. However, it’s undeniable that these two form one of the top tandems in the league. They play off each other so well, help the defense disguise coverages, and both can play in the box or centerfield, and in zone or man-to-man defense.
They’re both exceptional athletes and incredibly versatile.
Poyer had the best season of his career and, I felt, was a legitimate Pro Bowl snub. He finished second on the Buffalo Bills with 118 total tackles, behind only middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. That total also ranked him 16th overall in the entire NFL. He also added two sacks, four tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries, two interceptions, five pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.
Poyer also played a key role on special teams, which says a lot about him for a player of his status. He was on the field for 37% of special teams plays this season, and collected six tackles there.
The 29-year-old signed a contract extension last offseason, keeping him in Buffalo for, at least, the next two seasons. He was also voted a team captain in 2019.
There’s simply not much more you can ask of him.
Although Hyde only had one interception in each of the past two seasons, he’s been extremely consistent throughout his entire career, and still playing really good football. He’s also able to return punts when called upon in a pinch.
Hyde has rarely missed any games throughout his eight-year NFL career, missing only two of them over his four-year Bills career and only one while with the Green Bay Packers. That's suiting up for 125 of a possible 128 regular season games.
That’s reliability, availability, and consistency!
Hyde is going into the final year of the five-year deal he signed prior to 2017 and has been a bargain for the team over the life of that contract. He just turned 30-years-old and is scheduled to count $6.7 million against the salary cap next year.
It will be interesting to see if he and the team try to work out an extension like they did for Poyer, or let him play out his final year.
Behind Poyer and Hyde is Marlowe, who backs up both of them and is also one of the team’s core special teams players.
Marlowe had the best season of his six-year career in 2020, starting four games, collecting 22 total tackles, two tackles for loss, and a pair of interceptions, both coming in the Week 17 finale against the Miami Dolphins. He also had a huge fumble recovery in the Bills’ Week 8 win over the New England Patriots, when he fell on a Cam Newton fumble near the end of the game to seal it. That play was emblematic of Marlowe and his hustle and instincts. He was in the right spot at the right time at that moment, but usually is.
The 28-year-old is reliable, and knows the Bills' defensive system extremely well. In fact, Marlowe is the longest-tenured player on the entire roster, when it comes to playing under Sean McDermott. He was with the Bills head coach in Carolina in 2015 and 2016, then came to the Bills the same year McDermott did in 2017, playing on both the active roster and practice squad over that time.
Marlowe is going to be an unrestricted free agent in March. It’s hard to see him finding a really large role somewhere else, and his best fit should be staying in Buffalo, if that doesn’t happen.
Jaquan Johnson has become one of the team’s top special teams players since they drafted him prior to 2019, on the field for close to 56% of special teams snaps. He also showed off his IQ and arm when he saw the opportunity for, and called a fake punt against the Patriots in Week 16, completing a 13-yard pass to Siran Neal.
There’s no reason to expect him not to play the exact same role next year.
Josh Thomas spent the season on the teams practice squad. He was elevated for two regular season games, seeing limited special teams action in both. He signed a reserve/future contract at the end of the season, and will come to camp next year fighting for a roster spot.
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