With training camp now officially open, I’m re-examining the State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, going position-by-position.
Here’s an in-depth look at the safeties:
Hyde has been one of the most valuable members of the Bills since the day he arrived in Buffalo, the same offseason Sean McDermott was hired as head coach. He’s a leader off the field and a solid, every-down player on it. He’s a calming presence in the Bills’ secondary, always understanding where to be and when to be there, and is also the team’s main backup punt returner behind Pro Bowler Andre Roberts. Last year, Hyde scored the team’s only non-offensive touchdown all season when he made an incredibly athletic play and returned an attempted onside kick back to the end zone against the Miami Dolphins.
Like Hyde, Poyer came aboard during the same offseason McDermott was hired, pairing him with Hyde right away, and the two have been terrific since. But like Hyde, Poyer was scheduled to be going into the last year of his contract this season. The Bills rewarded his play and extended him for two more seasons back in March. Amongst all NFL safeties, Poyer is tied for the third-most interceptions in the league since the start of the 2017 season with 11. Last season, Poyer and Hyde combined for 176 total tackles, three interceptions, and five forced fumbles.
Neal is listed as a safety, but he actually became the team’s backup slot corner last season, as well. He is really a Swiss Army Knife type of defender, able to play cornerback, linebacker, and safety in different situations. He did a solid job in his role as the “Buffalo Nickel” or “Big Nickel” cornerback last season, even coming up with a sack in the team’s playoff game against the Houston Texans. But Neal’s best attribute and value is his special teams ability. He was terrific last season, leading the team with eight special teams tackles and also causing a fumble. He has the combination of size, toughness, and athleticism that might allow him to have a solid NFL career as a special teams player. He’s a great fit on the roster and for coaches who value position flexibility.
Johnson was active for 13 games last season as a rookie, but didn’t play a single snap on defense until the regular season finale when other players sat or came out early. Johnson played well in that game, collecting three tackles and making a terrific interception that was called back via a penally. He was a key special teams contributor when active. Johnson is only 5-foot-10 and isn’t a thumper, but he’s smart and takes good angles and always seemed to be in the right place while playing at the University of Miami, and even in the preseason in Buffalo last year.
Marlowe has developed into a reliable backup for the team in his two seasons on the active roster, including being called upon to start three games over that time. He entered the league in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers when McDermott was their defensive coordinator, spent two seasons there, then was on the Bills’ practice squad in 2017 before making the club the last two years, so he’s been with McDermott and in his defensive system for five straight years now, which is a big reason they trust him to fill-in when called upon.
Thomas was signed by the Bills this offseason as an undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State. He was named to Pro Football Focus' First-Team All-Sun Belt team last season after recording 72 tackles, including two for a loss, a fumble recovery, and a pick-six interception return.