Prior to the start of the 2019 NFL Free Agency period, the Buffalo Bills quietly signed cornerback Kevin Johnson. Selected with the No. 16 overall pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, Johnson was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of Wake Forest but injuries have prevented the 26-year old from making a real impact thus far in his young career. Now healthy and with a fresh start, Johnson is already making a strong impression on Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott just a few short weeks into the team’s OTAs.
“What I love about Kevin is that he’s gotten his hands on some footballs and taken the ball away a few times (in OTAs practice). His mindset has been impressive with his toughness and focus,” coach McDermott told members of the media prior to Tuesday’s practice.
Buffalo’s defensive backs coach John Butler held the same role with the Houston Texans where he coached Kevin Johnson during the first three years of his career, so the Bills know what the 6-foot, 185-pound cornerback can bring to the table.
“Coach J.B. I had in Houston for three years and he’s a very good coach that I know,” said Johnson upon signing with the team in March. “With him being here that’s a good thing for me because I know he’s a great DB coach. Leslie Frazier is a great defensive coordinator. Coach McDermott is a great coach as well, so for me to be able to come into that situation with three great coaches in place, it was a great thing for me.”
As a rookie in 2015, Johnson played in all 16 games, making 10 starts and recorded 52 tackles, three tackles for loss, breaking up nine passes and intercepting one. But injuries struck and he made just eight starts over the last three years. To date, Johnson has 122 tackles, five tackles for loss, 14 pass breakups and one interception.
In 2017, Johnson made four starts (Weeks 1,2,12 and 13). According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted 50 times, surrendering 39 receptions for 448 yards and five touchdowns. Per Sports Info Solutions, while in man coverage, Johnson was targeted 25 times and he gave up 17 catches for 218 yards and three scores.
1st play of the game— Cover 1 (@Cover1) March 7, 2019
Lots of shifting & motion all to ID the coverage. I like the quick feet by Johnson, just make the tackle. He closes quickly!
Next play he isn't in, but the third play he is back in... pic.twitter.com/9m8fzxhzvz
Buffalo also brought back veteran cornerback E.J. Gaines, who had a quality 2017 season with the Bills before signing with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent. But with Gaines sidelined with an injury throughout OTA’s, Johnson has been making the most of his opportunity with the first-team defense where he is rotating with Levi Wallace opposite Tre’Davious White.
McDermott discussed his knowledge of Kevin Johnson prior to him joining the Bills, and what he’s seen so far from the fifth-year defensive back.
“He was at Wake (Forest) down the road from when we were with the (Carolina) Panthers, so we knew of Kevin,” McDermott said. “We held him in high regard coming out and to me, it was no surprise, him getting drafted where he did, in terms of the round and the spoT. He’s had a tough career with injuries. What I’ve seen to this point is a young man that’s extremely focused, works extremely hard, is smart, plays the game we want it to be played. And like I mentioned earlier, he’s got his hands on some footballs this Spring to this point, which is important to us. Taking the ball away and playing good defense. I mean, we’ll see more when the pads come on. It’s still early, but to this point, I’ve loved his mindset.”
Doesn't count in the stat box, but Johnson (right) gets downhill, forces the cutback by sacrificing his body to create chaos at the feet of the RB. pic.twitter.com/GnJ6QzV060— Cover 1 (@Cover1) March 7, 2019
Levi Wallace, an undrafted free agent last season, exceeded all expectations as a rookie and shined when he was forced into the lineup. However, the additions of Gaines and Johnson indicate that Buffalo isn’t fully sold on the Alabama product just yet. It’s still extremely early, but the opportunity to seize a starting job is there for Kevin Johnson to take hold of an run with into the Summer with training camp approaching quickly.