Buffalo Bills: Why E.J. Gaines could be a surprise starter at cornerback

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

After enjoying a great 2017 campaign in Buffalo, E.J. Gaines has struggled through two injury plagued seasons and now has a chance to reinvent himself again with the Buffalo Bills.

At the start of the 2017 season the Buffalo Bills had a cornerback depth chart containing: rookie Tre’Davious White, a relatively unknown in E.J. Gaines and a low level starter in Shareece Wright. With a bunch of uncertainty at corner, McDermott crafted a formidable 1-2 punch with White and Gaines.

There hasn’t been a better cornerback duo for the Bills since, while Levi Wallace has morphed into a reliable option, Gaines was a surefire starter his year in Buffalo and didn’t have the athletic limitations Wallace has. The Buffalo Bills brought the injury prone cornerback in before 2019 but he ended up with another injury prior to the season. Now after a full year off from football the productive defender had plenty of time to rehab.

What Stands in Gaines way in 2020?

Like mentioned before, injuries are going to be the biggest roadblock for Gaines for the upcoming season. If the promising cornerback can stay healthy, he should give himself a shot to prove himself on the Bills roster.

Buffalo is solidified with the top corner and at nickel where the incumbent Tre’Davious White and Taron Johnson will find themselves. With Josh Norman signing a one-year $6 million contract this offseason, he is most likely the favorite to start opposite of White. The Bills do still have Levi Wallace, who has started most of the games last season and some games in 2018, so he will have an inside track on Gaines. Rookie Dane Jackson was a seventh-round pick of the Bills in the recent NFL Draft and adds more value on special teams than Gaines would. If there’s a battle at the bottom of the roster between the two, the rookie corner would have the upper hand.

Gaines will have to outplay both Norman and Wallace if he wants a shot on the Bills roster. Norman playing himself to getting cut is the most realistic way for Gaines to make the roster. With Buffalo going with a platoon role that they usually rely on at the second cornerback spot.

Norman has shown signs of slowing down and has been beaten in coverage routinely, especially in the end zone:

With Gaines being only 28 years old and more athletic than both Wallace and the declining Norman he will be hard to ignore for Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.

Needs to return to his 2017 form

In order to crack the 53-man roster the ill-injured cornerback will have to show some semblance of what he was in 2017.

Appearing in 11 games, and starting all of them, Gaines racked up 59 tackles, 1 interception, 9 passes defended and an impressive 3 forced fumbles. He was reliable in coverage and used his great speed to close on receivers (4.44 40-yard dash at combine). A great season in 2017 was highlighted by PFF:

The Buffalo Bills have lacked cornerbacks with speed on the boundary, going with measurables over athleticism. Wallace and Norman are both long, slow footed corners who can shrink passing windows with their length. As for Gaines, he showed well in McDermott’s scheme and they still believe in him with their signings the last two seasons.


I believe the oft injured cornerback has the makeup to be the Buffalo Bills second best at the position, as he should be fresh at just 28 years old, and coming off of a lost season. With Norman being almost 33 years old, I doubt he returns close to his old form and Wallace has a low ceiling with his athletic limitations.

If Gaines can rekindle what he showed in 2017, Buffalo would have the problem at the second cornerback position fixed and could make their great defense even better.