One of the things that separates a Super Bowl contending team from a team fighting to end a playoff drought is how many roster battles occur during the preseason and where on the depth chart those roster battles occur. For the Buffalo Bills, the loss of reliable veteran backup safety Dean Marlowe (who ironically enough, signed with the Bills’ first preseason opponent the Detroit Lions), opened up a backup safety spot for this team.
While the assumption this offseason has been that third-year Miami product Jaquan Johnson would move into the third safety spot, the fourth and likely final roster spot at safety is a battle not often discussed. While the Bills’ backup cornerbacks struggled against Detroit, the two leading candidates for that fourth safety position both shined.
The tale of the tape on the two spotlighted individuals is difficult because former Pitt Panther Damar Hamlin has official combine athletics testing, while Appalachian State product Josh Thomas did not receive a combine invite and did not have a formal pro day due to the restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. As such, Friday night’s preseason tilt against the Lions is the best data we have on both the 2021 sixth-round pick in Hamlin and the 2020 undrafted free agent in Thomas. Last year, practices were closed to the public and Thomas was only brought to the active roster two times in 2020: once against the New England Patriots in Week 8 and the other against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10, recording only 15 special teams snap in total.
On Friday evening, though, they both played well enough to warrant not just a note on my postgame show, but also an article here on Buffalo Rumblings. On at least three separate occasions, Josh Thomas showed strong run-game recognition and fill ability and his trigger downhill jumped off the screen. Damar Hamlin showed some hitting prowess as well, although he missed a tackle on a Detroit fourth-down conversion and also got nicked up late in the game, returning a short time later.
Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic noted that if he were to project the Bills’ 53-man roster right now, Thomas would get the fourth safety spot over Hamlin and I’m inclined to agree. UDFA rookie Tariq Thompson appears to be behind these two and looks at this point like a candidate for practice-squad development, though the preseason isn’t over yet and the judges have yet to tally their scores.
The additional year in the system that Thomas has over Hamlin manifested itself on the field on Friday evening and this battle deserves your attention and interest moving forward.
…and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” and “Food for Thought” every week on BuffaloRumblings.com!