1 - Two Bills among NFL’s Top 25 rookies
Though their 6-10 record left something to be desired, Buffalo’s 2018 season can be viewed as a success through the lens seeing the emergence of its foundational players.
Both quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds were solid in their debut seasons, both living up to the expectations that come with being selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Allen showcased his elite-level arm strength throughout his 11 starts, completing 169 passes for 2,074 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also defied expectations as an athlete, rushing for a team-high 631 yards and eight scores.
Edmunds impressed in the 2018 season, as well, effectively serving as the signal caller in a Sean McDermott defense that works best when built around an athletic middle linebacker. The 20-year-old totaled 121 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions in his rookie campaign, finishing 14th in the league in total tackles.
The excellence of Allen and Edmunds has been recognized by NFL.com writer Daniel Jeremiah. In his final rookie ranking of the 2018 season, the analyst included Allen and Edmunds at numbers 15 and 16, respectively.
“Allen used his legs and big arm to keep the Bills competitive despite a very suspect offensive line and nondescript weapons in the passing game,” Jeremiah wrote of the rookie quarterback.
Four quarterbacks finished above Allen on Jeremiah’s ranking. Edmunds was one of just six linebackers to make the list.
2 - Levi Wallace finishes 2018 as PFF’s top rookie CB
He wasn’t supposed to have a breakout rookie campaign.
In fact, until just a few weeks ago, cornerback Levi Wallace had not even taken a professional snap. Wallace, who signed with the Bills after going unselected in the 2018 draft, spent the first nine weeks of his debut season on Buffalo’s practice squad.
Throughout the first half of the 2018 season, Wallace was not even on the Bills’ active roster. Finishing the year with a roster spot, let alone as one of the league’s top rookie cornerbacks, seemed like a long shot.
When a starting spot in Buffalo’s secondary opened up, the team filled the vacancy with Wallace, a player who had shown a strong work ethic on the practice squad. The former Alabama defensive back made his NFL debut in Week 10, playing on 100 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and recording a tackle.
Wallace was simply waiting for an opportunity, and once he received one, he didn’t let it slip.
Wallace saw considerable playing time as the season went on, starting Buffalo’s final seven games. He tallied 38 tackles and three pass deflections in addition to serving as a reliable player in coverage.
A late-season breakout has placed Wallace in elite company - he’s finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ top-graded rookie cornerback. An overall grade of 83.5 places Wallace above Denzel Ward and Jaire Alexander, both of whom were selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.
The fact that Wallace finished atop this list is incredibly impressive, especially when one considers that he wasn’t even eligible for the ranking just a few weeks ago.
This is the second consecutive year in which a Buffalo cornerback has finished atop this list. Tre’Davious White finished the 2017 season as PFF’s top-graded rookie corner, even earning the outlet’s Rookie of the Year award.
3 - Why shoulder surgery won’t alter Taron Johnson’s play
It was a bit strange to see throughout the 2018 season - a 190-pound nickel defender consistently attacking the line of scrimmage and making plays against the run.
Stopping the run has become a staple of Taron Johnson’s game. The rookie emerged as a physical and aggressive defender in the 2018 season, totaling 42 tackles and three pass deflections. He also picked up a sack and an interception, cementing himself as a foundational piece in a young Buffalo defense.
Johnson’s physical style of play did take a toll on his lean frame, however. The 5-foot-11 defensive back dislocated his shoulder in the Bills’ Week 1 matchup with the Ravens, and injury that nagged away at him throughout the rest of the campaign. Johnson was forced to undergo season-ending surgery in early December.
Already having paid the price for his style of play, a change in the way that Johnson plays the game would seem to be in order for the 22-year-old. Johnson, however, does not plan on altering his physical approach. Instead, he plans on building out his frame, something that will allow him to raise his intensity.
“I just want to try and focus on getting back, maybe more physically ready,” Johnson said. “Getting a little bigger, definitely stronger in my upper body. With those things happening, I feel like I can still play the way I want to play.”
Removing the physicality from his game is not an option for Johnson. According to the former Weber State Wildcat, bumps and bruises are simply a part of football.
“Before the game, I try to get my mind right, I know I’m going to be hurting a little bit,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of one of those things where I’m just like... I’m not going to say the word, but in my mind, I’m like ‘f- it.’ That’s how it is. That’s how I feel before every play, and that’s how I try to play.”