Written by E.J. Daniels
Taron Johnson had a rocky start to the season to say the least. Posting a 40 PFF coverage grade in the first nine games of the season. Since week ten, his play took a dramatic turn where he finished as the Bills highest graded coverage player according to PFF.
Taking a look back, in that stretch he posted the highest graded game of his career. Posting a 91.8 defensive grade with a 91.4 coverage grade both career highs. Capping off the career day with a pick six of Ben Roethlisberger and a 26-15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A month later, in the AFC divisional playoff game he grabbed another pick six which may have been the play of the Bills season. As the entire defense paved the path for Johnson to yet again reach the endzone. As he posted his second highest coverage grade of the season (81.0) and help secure a 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
These two key plays are the most prevalent in the Billsmafia’s collective minds and therefore leads us to believe that Taron Johnson had a great year. Please! Do not be a prisoner of recency bias! While these TWO plays were monumental Taron Johnson spent the better part of 2020 getting torched by opposing offenses. Finishing the season with a 58.4 coverage grade overall and a 61.5 grade for his overall defense. He finished ten games with a coverage grade of 58 or less and finished the season with a passer rating when targeted of 95.0.
The most alarming aspect of these findings is that as Johnson has received more coverage snaps his coverage and overall defensive grade has dropped since his rookie year. While Taron Johnson lays it all on the line on every play; he has not taken the step in coverage you would like to see from a third year player and as a result the Bills should look to upgrade the slot cornerback position.
With the Bills deploying the most nickel defense at the highest percentage in the NFL (89%) last season, a concerted emphasis on the slot cornerback position would help the Bills stay ahead of a trend that has been sweeping the NFL. With the rise of three wide receiver sets as base personnel and with teams creating ways for star wide receivers and tightends to get favorable mismatches. Upgrading the slot cornerback position would help the Bills compete with teams like the Chiefs and Bucs who love to line up players like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin frequently in the slot to avoid them seeing team’s best coverage players every play.
As we look at both the Chiefs and Bucs as examples, both teams invested in the slot cornerback position in recent drafts. Tampa bay drafted CB Sean Murphy Bunting in the second round in 2019 who played 550 snaps in the slot and finished as Tampa Bay’s best coverage player (71.9 coverage grade during playoffs) during their super bowl run. In addition, the Chiefs drafted CB L’Jarius Snead in the fourth round in 2020 who ended the season with a 71.2 coverage grade while playing slot cornerback, outside cornerback, and box safety for the super bowl runner ups
Taron Johnson finished the season on a high note and played his best football down the stretch. With more opportunities Johnson has struggled. If the Bills want to reach their goal of a super bowl, upgrading this undervalued position will be a step in the right direction.