Which Buffalo Bills cornerback was Pro Football Focus’s third best corner in the entire NFL the last seven games of 2018? It’s the same cornerback that allowed only 0.45 yards per coverage snap in 2018, good enough for first among all corners with at least 135 snaps. Also, this Bills corner earned an 85.3 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus in the eight games he played and allowed only 94 total yards on 19 targets. It wasn’t standout corner Tre’Davious White. It was undrafted rookie Levi Wallace and you need to know him.
An undrafted rookie out of Alabama, Wallace became a starter in Week 10 of 2018. He played so well that by the end of the year he was picked in the first round of 2018 NFL re-drafts. The Bills added depth to the corner position this off-season, but Levi is still an anticipated starter. In fact he may have the most promise in a statistically sound Bills defense brimming with young talent. If 2018 is any indication, his 2019 is one to keep an eye on.
From Nothing to Something
Earning his way from bottom to top was nothing new for the Bills rookie corner. Wallace walked on at Alabama and won himself a scholarship on the star-studded Crimson Tide defense. During his senior season in 2017 he was named Second Team All-SEC and finished second on the team in interceptions. He was also a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top collegiate defensive back. Wallace led Alabama in pass breakups and led the SEC in passes defended.
Playing on a defense with studs like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Rashaan Evans, Da’Ron Payne, and Da’Shawn Hand often left Wallace overlooked. He didn’t play with flash or flair, and his measurements weren’t jaw-dropping. When time came for the draft, Wallace was seen as a nice story but little more than that. His success was attributed to the team he played on, and his lack of prototypical size and speed had analysts overlooking him once again. He fell into the Bills’ lap as an un-drafted free agent and when he got his chance he took advantage. Just like he did at Alabama.
Fit and Development
Levi Wallace may not possess elite size and speed at the NFL level, but he knows how to cover. His ability to excel in zone coverage and maintain responsibility makes him an ideal fit in the Buffalo Bills defense. Bills head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier are proponents of a 4-3 zone defense that relies heavily on back end coverage. They’ll work in blitzes every now and then but mainly use four man rushes with a mix of coverages in the secondary. This style of defense fits Wallace’s game very well based on how he played at Alabama. Multiple zone coverages and reading the game is what Wallace was used to and also what he does well. It was a smooth transition to the Bills defense for him and was the reason they took a flier on him when his physical grades suggested otherwise.
It’s hard to find a better college coach than Nick Saban. He demands a lot from his players and coaches them up at every level. What Wallace learned in college from Saban prepared him well for the NFL and laid a good foundation. Now, Sean McDermott and the Bills staff are adding polish to Levi’s game. McDermott’s track record on the defensive side of the ball cannot be understated, especially when it comes to player development. With Buffalo he turned Micah Hyde from a swiss army knife into a pro bowler. In Carolina he took Josh Norman, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson to new heights in their productivity. McDermott’s ability to get the best out of his players and Wallace’s natural fit in the Buffalo defense both point to a continued upward trend in his game.
Now That You Know Levi Wallace, What Could His 2019 Look Like?
Levi Wallace is a microcosm of the Buffalo Bills as a whole. He’s not given any attention, isn’t discussed on national television, but if actually looked at could turn heads. Wallace’s rookie season has Bills fans eagerly anticipating his sophomore year. The Bills defense is a legit unit and may the best unit you’re not paying attention to. Being part of a good defense should allow for Wallace to continue his development and mature in his game. But it also means he cannot afford to slip in his performance. Buffalo signed free agent corners Kevin Johnson and E.J. Gaines this off-season for depth, but both guys have starting experience and could overtake Levi if he regresses. Playing opposite of Tre’Davious White means that Wallace may see the ball thrown his way more often than not. We’ll find out very early on if he is once again up to the challenge.
What It All Means
Hopes are high in Buffalo for the Bills and for Levi Wallace. He came out of nowhere to grab a starting spot last year and finished the season with consistency and momentum. He’s had to earn every ounce of playing time just like he did in college, but he’s delivered when called upon. Being a natural fit in Sean McDermott’s defense and being coached by McDermott, are two huge reasons why Wallace had a successful rookie campaign and looks to have an even better second year. It won’t be easy for him, but nothing in his career has been thus far. The fans in Buffalo already know Wallace, and the rest of the league will too.
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