Cornerback Kevin Johnson hasn’t had the career he’s wished for thus far, but he may be turning it around with the Buffalo Bills.
The Buffalo Bills went under-the-radar signing cornerback Kevin Johnson days before free agency. The former Houston Texans 2015 first-round pick didn’t work out with his former team, leading to a release from his rookie contract. The Bills swept in, seeing the underwhelming Johnson as a redeemable prospect, then inked him to a one year $3 million deal.
So far their low-risk signing appears to be working out. Johnson was impressive during spring practice, as many noted he looked the part of a first-round pick. His performance in practice has led to ESPN dubbing him as a ‘surprise standout,’ as their Mike Rodak said;
"He has participated in OTAs with the second-team defense but is expected to compete with Levi Wallace and E.J. Gaines for a starting role. Johnson had an interception in an OTA open to reporters and has impressed coach Sean McDermott. “He’s gotten his hands on some footballs this spring to this point, which is important for us in terms of taking the ball away,” McDermott said."
Johnson showed promise in his rookie season, starting ten games and recording a pick, nine pass deflections, and 52 tackles. He then started his second season on a good note, as he had a high Pro Football Focus 81.2 grade during his first six games before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. Since then, he hasn’t quite been the same — starting five games in two seasons.
Now healthy, Johnson is looking to put the past behind him by competing for the Bills’ No. 2 cornerback spot alongside Tre’Davious White. So far, he’s brought the mindset he needs to compete for the job against last year’s rookie standout Levi Wallace and free agency addition E.J. Gaines. During organized team activities (OTAs), the 6-foot, 185-pound corner earned praise from Sean McDermott; as the head coach said in a press conference:
"What I’ve seen to this point is a young man who is extremely focused, works extremely hard, is smart, plays the game the way that we want it to be played."
For a cornerback looking to put the past behind him, Johnson has brought the mindset he needs. Now that he’s competing for a starting job, he has more motivation than ever, but he’ll need to continue to show out. Wallace, the incumbent starter, shined in his rookie season and earned PFF’s best rookie cornerback nod. Gaines returns to the team after leaving for Cleveland last year — in 2017, with the Bills, he had a career-high 80.1 PFF coverage grade.
Johnson’s switch from Houston to Buffalo should be positive. ESPN and McDermott’s appraisal is warranted; the talent is still there for the cornerback — he’s a physical, athletic player worthy of a first-round selection — and so is the mindset. However, Johnson must continue that upward trend in both to see starting snaps in a loaded cornerback room, but there isn’t an apparent reason (other than an injury) why he can’t.