The safety position for our beloved Bills has garnered plenty of attention over the past several months. From Doug Whaley’s decision not to use the franchise tag on impending free agent Jairus Byrd, to the eventual loss of Byrd during free agency, to the contract extension given to Aaron Williams, there has been no shortage of newsworthy items. Ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft, let’s take a closer look at the current state of the youngest position group on the team.
*Ages are as of start of 2014 season
Aaron Williams (age 24) - Back in early March, the Bills signed Williams to a 4 year, $26 million dollar contract extension. Undoubtedly, this extension enforced the belief that Buffalo would lose three-time Pro-Bowl safety Jairus Byrd to free agency, which they eventually did. Expected to be the opening day starter at strong safety, Williams now steps into the forefront as not only the 8th highest paid safety in the NFL, but also as the clear top safety on Buffalo’s current roster. Expectations will remain high for Williams as he enters his 4th NFL season, especially after his move from cornerback to safety paid dividends during the 2013 campaign. In 14 games, Williams posted 82 total tackles and recorded 4 interceptions. While the Bills certainly took a risk by giving Williams top-ten safety money, it was a move they had to make – not only to hedge the loss of Byrd, but also because of his high ceiling. The Texas Longhorn product will only be 24 years old when the 2014 season starts, so there should still be more room for Williams to improve at a position where he is still relatively inexperienced.
Da’Norris Searcy (age 25) - Searcy has played in all but one game in his three-year career, and gained valuable starting experience last year while Jairus Byrd was injured. With Byrd gone to New Orleans, the 25 year-old Searcy can be penciled in as the team’s starting free safety for the time being. The signing of free agent cornerback Corey Graham raised speculation that the Bills could move yet another cornerback to the safety position, sliding the former Raven into the mix at the free safety spot. However, until training camp starts, we won’t know for sure how Doug Marrone and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz plan to deploy Graham in the defense. Until such a time, or until the Bills spend another high draft choice on a safety, the former Tar Heel figures to be near the top of the off-season depth chart, and compete for the starting job with whoever else is part of the rotation at camp.
Duke Williams (age 23) - A fourth round pick from a year ago, Williams figures to be the most logical in-house competition for Da’Norris Searcy to start at free safety outside of Corey Graham. What should be one of the more intriguing position battles at this year’s training camp, it would be unfair to count Williams out of the competition at this point. Known as a hard-hitting safety from his college days at Nevada, Duke also possesses above average speed, posting a 4.48 40 yard dash time at last year’s combine. Speed will be the biggest advantage Williams possesses over the other contenders, and even if he loses out on the starting gig, he should be a valuable asset for a special teams unit that needs to improve from a year ago.
Jonathan Meeks (age 24) - The Bills selected back to back safeties during 2013′s NFL draft when they made Jonathan Meeks their selection in the 5th round. With no clear backup to Aaron Williams at strong safety, Meeks should enter training camp with a prime opportunity to win the job as the second man in line at the position. At age 24, Meeks is the third oldest safety on the current roster, putting into perspective how incredibly young the Bills are in the back-end of their defense. Knowing that they have made a significant investment in Aaron Williams as their starter, it shouldn’t be a surprise if they also look to bolster the strong safety position through the draft, not only to provide insurance for Williams, but to hopefully bring out the best of Meeks through competition during training camp.
Jajuan Harley (age 23) - The Bills signed the former Seattle Seahawk to a futures contract in mid-January. The Middle Tennessee State product will battle for a position on the 53-man roster as a special-teamer and reserve safety.
Generally, I feel okay about this group. If the season began today, I would expect Aaron Williams (SS) and Da’Norris Searcy (FS) to be your starting pair. Replacing an elite level talent like Byrd will be challenging, but there is still a solid collection of young talent on this roster. Unless the Bills use a 1st or 2nd day draft choice on a safety, it would be wise for them to include Corey Graham as part of the rotation during training camp. He could provide a veteran presence and also add another layer of competition at the free safety spot. The Bills would also have the flexibility to move Graham throughout the defensive backfield depending on matchups and injuries.
Bills fans – how do you feel about the current makeup of Buffalo’s safeties?