Essentially, the Buffalo Bills hope to replace Ronald Darby with E.J. Gaines. With his decorated career at Florida State that included a national title, Darby has been somewhat of a recognizable name.
Gaines, on the other hand, was a mid-round selection who spent his college days at the University of Missouri. He entered he league without much fanfare, and isn't an established name for most NFL followers.
What should the Bills expect out of Gaines?
How does he compare to Darby?
Athletic profile of Gaines (Darby in parentheses)
- Height: 5'10" (5'11")
- Weight: 190 (193)
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.51* (4.38)
- Vertical: 31 1/2* (41 1/2")
- Broad: 115"* (129")
- Three-Cone: 7.13* (6.94)
*Denotes a number taken from a pro day, not the NFL Combine.
Darby is a significantly explosive athlete -- much more so than Gaines -- which speaks to his specialty as a man-to-man cornerback. Gaines was lauded as capable zone cornerback when he entered the NFL in 2014. Darby spent much of his time at Florida State and with the Bills playing some variation of man coverage.
Looking for bounce-back seasons
As a rookie in 2015, Darby allowed a catch rate of 54.3 percent on 105 targets, and surrendered a passer rating of 78.3, the 21st-lowest among 117 qualifying cornerbacks that season. In 2016, quarterback's completed 60 percent of the passes thrown in Darby's coverage and managed a passer rating of 104.8, which for the cornerback, ranked 94th out of 119 players at his position. The yards per catch Darby allowed jumped from 11.6 in 2015 to 15.7 in 2016.
In Gaines' rookie year, he allowed a completion rate of 67.5 percent on 85 passes thrown in his coverage and gave up a passer rating of 79.0, the 30th-best out of 109 cornerbacks. The following year, Gaines suffered a foot injury and was placed on injured reserve before the start of the regular season. In 2016, Gaines couldn't regain his rookie form. Signal-callers completed 75 percent of the 72 throws they attempted in his coverage and amassed an enormous 141.7 passer rating when targeting him. For Gaines, that passer rating allowed was the second-worst in football.
Receivers averaged 9.6 yards per catch in 2014 and 12.0 yards per grab in 2016 with Gaines in coverage. Last season, Darby was credited with eight missed tackles and made 74 total. Gaines missed nine and had a total of 54.
(Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)
In Darby, the new Bills regime likely saw a man-to-man cornerback coming off a down sophomore season following an excellent rookie campaign, someone who, to a team like the Eagles, had high trade value. In Gaines, Buffalo may believe that two years removed from his foot injury, he'll be able to regain the play-making ability he showcased in his first pro season in 2014.
The Bills secondary takes a hit in the athleticism department going from Darby to Gaines, there's no doubting that. But Buffalo's coaching staff pinpointed Gaines as a worthwhile part of the compensation package it received from the Rams in the Sammy Watkins deal, possibly due to what the cornerback put on display as a rookie and his fit in Sean McDermott's zone-based scheme.