Should he stay or should he go? –
CB Leonard Johnson
To continue our series, today we’ll look at veteran slot cornerback Leonard Johnson. The 6th year pro made his Bills debut in 2017, coming alongside head coach Sean McDermott from the Panthers. He won the slot CB job during the preseason and never looked back, playing 64.2% of the team’s defensive snaps. With free agency on the horizon, should the Bills keep Johnson? Should them let him go?
Johnson is a solid vereran option to have on the roster. I’m sure he was an important piece in the installation of the new defensive schemes by coach McDermott and on the successful communication among a completely new defensive backfield. On the year, Leonard allowed 64 catches on 90 targets for 638 yards, with 4 passes defended, one sack and one QB hurry. Johnson was important helping to slow down opposing running games out of nickel packages, with 47 tackles and 18 run stops credited to his name, per Pro Football Focus.
Playing coverage wasn’t the strength of Johnson’s game (65.2 PFF pass coverage grade), and that’s never a good thing for a CB. One must take into account the amount of zone defense and coverage combinations the Bills played between Johnson and LB Preston Brown. Opposing offenses often lined up their top wide receivers inside, trying to exploit a mismatch against Johnson there, and in some cases the Bills’ coaching staff needed to adjust, sending rookie rising star Tre’Davious White to follow them all over the field. But even when in those situations, Johnson was able to minimize the losses and hold his own more often than not. QBs completed 71.1% of the passes throwing his way, with a 98.3 passer rating. Those are not impressive numbers, but he allowed only 2 TDs on the year.
Leonard Johnson is a solid veteran slot CB who lacks great coverage and playmaking skills, but knows the system very well and is a great asset helping to stop the run game. He’s an underrated tackler in the open field, and at this point, with so many other needs to fill, I think it would be smart for the Bills to bring their slot CB back.
Johnson’s not likely to receive a lot of big offers in the open market and it’s tough to envision a better situation for him than in Buffalo, where the nickel CB job is his to lose and he already has the confidence of the coaching staff. With the success of the secondary in 2017, I think it’s better to guarantee they’re back together and then try to upgrade from there than to try a whole new composition from the outset.