2017 Buffalo Bills All-22 in Review: Safeties

(WKBW) - For the Buffalo Bills and all but two franchises in the NFL, the reality of the offseason has set in. Preparations by teams of how to attack the offseason, their own free agents, and late April’s draft are starting to take hold.

So as the next deadlines start to creep up, WKBW.com is taking a hard look at the roster and evaluating what happened in 2017, what could be on the horizon in 2018, and a recommendation for what to do moving forward. The grades you’ll see attached to the players are the result of film study of each and every week throughout the 2017 season for the Buffalo Bills.

For the third installment, we take a look at a position that became an outright strength for the Bills in 2017 — safety:

2017 In Review
*In order of 2017 Grade

Jordan Poyer
2017 Season GPA: 3.11 (Snap Count: 1,098)
2018 Contract Status: $3.375 million cap hit, signed through 2020
Age: 26 (DOB: 4/25/1991)

- Given the salary that they signed him to, Jordan Poyer was an absolute steal in free agency based on the level that he played all year long, and how he was on the field for 94-percent of the team’s defensive snaps this year. His positioning after scouting opposing quarterbacks helped put him in position to make plays all season long — a truly impressive season that resulted in five interceptions. He has taken to Sean McDermott’s scheme incredibly well, and is just another shining example of a once afterthought safety that McDermott saw something in — only to become one of the best players on the team in the defensive scheme. The Bills, barring injury, have the safety position locked up for the foreseeable future and at a tremendously good value. Poyer doesn’t have a cap hit of over $3.575 million through the three remaining years of his contract, which looks like a major free agent heist at this point.

Micah Hyde
2017 Season GPA: 3.09 (Snap Count: 1,101)
2018 Contract Status: $6.8 million cap hit, signed through 2021
Age: 27 (12/31/1990)

- Just as important as Poyer, Micah Hyde helped turn the safety position from a weakness into the biggest positional strength in the 2017 season — and helped serve as the glue that held the Bills defense together. Just like Poyer, Hyde added five key interception and it shouldn’t shock you that the Bills were 3-1 in games that Hyde picked off a pass. He was a sound tackler all season long, and was really just a consistent and reliable force that the Bills could depend on. He signed the richest contract of the Bills free agent acquisitions, but he proved completely worth it in Sean McDermott’s scheme, and is signed through the age of 30.

Shamarko Thomas
2017 Season GPA: 2.88 (Snap Count: 17)
2018 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Age: 26 (2/23/1991)

- As you can tell by the snap counts, the safety position wasn’t in any peril during the season because of how available both Poyer and Hyde were. The role of Shamarko Thomas was mostly on special teams, as he garnered one of the highest special teams snap count percentages on the team in games he played. Of the 358 snaps available, he was in on 198 of them (55.31-percent). The Bills tried everything they could to find core special teams players, and along with a handful of others, Thomas was among them. At this point in his career, it’s looking like he should be a special teams only player — which is fine for the Bills and what they have already on the roster.

Colt Anderson
2017 Season GPA: 2.67 (Snap Count: 11)
2018 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Age: 32 (10/25/1985) 

- For the second straight year, injuries plagued Colt Anderson from making the impact the team wanted on special teams and as the team’s third safety. In the games he was actually available, Anderson held a special teams snap percentage of 51.61-percent. He even saw some time on the field in the Bills’ playoff game against Jacksonville — as most will remember him for his dropped interception that could have put them in Jaguars territory late in the game. On that same play, Anderson was injured again, and that was the last that we saw of him. Sitting as a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent at the age of 32, this could be the last we’ve seen of Anderson’s tenure with the Bills.

Those that did not have a snap in 2017 but are signed for 2018: Kelcie McCray, L.J. McCray, Dean Marlowe

Players that took snaps but were released before the end of the season: Trae Elston

Recommendations for 2018

1) Sign a veteran for depth that doesn’t qualify as a CFA
- For those that don’t know, a ‘CFA’ is short for ‘Compensatory Free Agent.’ That qualifies as a player that’s original contract had run out with it’s last club, and goes to unrestricted free agency naturally. A player also avoids CFA status if either the contract they sign near or just above minimum level, or if the contract is signed after a certain day after the draft. With both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer signed for the next three seasons at least, the Bills need depth, but it wouldn’t make much sense for them to sign a player that would cancel out one of their likely only three shots (Jordan Matthews, E.J. Gaines, Preston Brown) at getting compensatory picks in 2019. They do, however, need a dependable third safety because they were playing with fire this season — and were fortunate that they didn’t lose either Poyer or Hyde for an extended amount of time. The ideal scenario would be to find a safety that was released from his contract, and sign him to a mid-level contract so that way it would not have any sort of impact on the compensatory formula. They do need depth here, though.

2) Re-sign Shamarko Thomas
- With Colt Anderson about to turn 33 years old in October, it makes more sense to re-sign the soon-to-be 27-year old Shamarko Thomas as their lead special teams safety for 2018. You could bring him back on a pretty small contract and there is a base of knowledge that they can depend on him on special teams. Even by re-signing him to a low one-year contract, that wouldn’t necessarily mean he’s a lock for the roster. He would just give them an option that would be easily replaceable by someone that outplays him in camp or the preseason.

3) Add a pair of safeties as priority UDFAs
- The Bills already have an intriguing safety in Dean Marlowe, who is a ripped up 6-foot-2, 205-pound player with length that Brandon Beane originally helped bring to Carolina in 2015, but they could certainly stand to add a couple of more options to choose from next summer. It could be a safety in the fifth round, but given all of the holes throughout the roster, it might make more sense to prioritize the position on the undrafted free agent market. If they indeed sign a veteran to be the third safety on defense, they’ll be looking for one of Marlowe, Shamarko Thomas, the priority free agent(s), or even Kelcie or L.J. McCray to help round out the roster at safety. 

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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