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Familiarity with Poyer landed Bills a free agent steal


He signed a contract with the Bills the first day the free agent market opened. Safety Jordan Poyer however, was not a big name on a day when Buffalo, under new head coach Sean McDermott, had signed five free agents. His name largely went under the radar. Pro Bowl FB Pat DiMarco and fellow safety Micah Hyde were the players drawing the headlines that day.

Now two weeks into the 2017 season, it's Poyer's play that's demanding attention. Leading the team in pass breakups, tied for the team lead in sacks and interceptions and third in total tackles, the Bills safety looks like a free agent steal. But the Bills had some prior working knowledge on just the kind of player he could be.

Bills assistant defensive backs coach, Bobby Babich had worked with Poyer on a daily basis for three seasons, holding the same position with the Cleveland Browns.

Poyer, who was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles as a seventh-round pick in 2013, was cut by the club after appearing in three games as a rookie. Babich, who ran the defensive back field drills at the NFL combine that winter, was impressed with Poyer.

"We evaluated him coming out and there was something special about Jordan," Babich said. "Philly ended up drafting him. I was in the hotel before we were playing the Packers and we found out that Jordan got cut by Philly. The (pro scouting department) immediately asked us as a staff if we wanted him in Cleveland and we said, 'Absolutely.' So, that's where it all started."

In nine games with the Browns, Poyer was Cleveland's primary punt returner in his rookie year averaging 14.3 yards a return.

A spot starter in 2015, Poyer earned the Browns starting free safety job last season, but his 2016 campaign was cut short in Week 6 when he suffered a lacerated kidney on an illegal peel back block on a punt return. He had to be hospitalized for the injury and was subsequently placed on injured reserve.

"I just saw his game shoot way up to the point where we felt like even though he wasn't a starter that we had a guy where if he needed to go in we wouldn't miss a beat," said Babich of his time in Cleveland (2013-2015). "I think he was just a victim of circumstance and needed his shot. And when he got his shot he got injured."

Seeing Poyer on an ascending track for their three years together and being a reliable and trustworthy professional, it was easy for Babich, as a new member of Sean McDermott's staff, to recommend the free agent safety to fill one of the two holes at safety on Buffalo's roster.

"Why I felt like I could bring his name up and provide the information to all the decision makers was because Jordan Poyer is a trustworthy, reliable player," Babich said. "You're going to get the same person with the same consistency every day out of him. I've got no problem putting my name on a person like that."

"He knew a little bit about Jordan, talked to us about him, thought he'd be a guy, looking at our situation here," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "We were so thin at the [safety] position when we arrived after we evaluated what was on the roster. Jordan was a guy we wanted to take a look at. We thought he might fit what we were trying to get accomplished, so we made the decision to bring him in. Boy, it was a great decision. He's really stepped up like we were all hoping that he would."

As much credit as Babich gets for identifying Poyer as a good fit for Buffalo's defense, the Bills assistant coach believes it's Poyer himself who should get the kudos for proving to be a perfect piece in the Bills new defensive puzzle.

"The reason that Jordan Poyer is here is because of Jordan Poyer," Babich said. "God gave him the gift of understanding football and he works at it. But at the same time, he's a great football player. He has what we call our DNA. He's tough, smart. He can play in space and make plays on the ball. Him having that awareness and football intellect really helps him in the game."

"Really love his toughness, scrappy player, puts in a lot of time in terms of preparation, instinctive football player, I mean the things you look for," said McDermott. "Two games in I couldn't say more about the way he's played."

Poyer doesn't like to talk about himself much. Babich said that points to his selfless approach to the game. He'll do what's best for the team out on the field or anywhere else for that matter. That approach, and his success because of it, has certainly caught outside observers off guard, but not his assistant position coach.

"No surprise to me," said Babich. "The dude deserves everything he gets. All the work he has put in over the years, patiently waited, but his work ethic never changed. He deserves and has earned everything he's gotten this season."

With 14 regular season games to go there's a lot more for Poyer to get.

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