Tre'Davious White deserves the attention he's currently receiving following a standout rookie season for the Bills at the cornerback position. But his secondary mate, E.J. Gaines, pieced together a fine campaign of his own and put an exclamation mark on it against the Dolphins in Miami.
The fourth-year cornerback out of Missouri received an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 85.4 in the regular-season finale, which made him one of the site's "elite" cornerbacks in Week 17. He was thrown at six times and allowed four grabs for just 16 yards.
PFF labeled 20 cornerbacks with "elite" grades for their play over the course of the entire regular season. Gaines finished as the No. 17 overall player at his position.
He allowed a 74.8 passer rating on throws in his coverage area, the 28th-best figure among 121 qualifying cornerbacks.
Gaines surrendered 38 receptions on 60 targets for 307 receiving yards, which equates to a yards-per-catch average of 8.1, the fourth-lowest number among qualifiers at his position.
But he wasn't solely an impact player in coverage during the regular season. On 654 snaps, Gaines made 20 "stops," the 14th-highest number among all cornerbacks, and nine of those defenders were on the field for more plays than he was in 2017.
Gaines was officially credited with 59 tackles (48 solo), and PFF had him for six missed tackles.
The player acquired in the Sammy Watkins trade has been an important aspect of Buffalo's secondary, as the steadiest outside cornerback opposite White. In PFF's system, he had six pass breakups, one interception, and gave up one touchdown.
When Gaines was active during the 2017 regular season, the Bills allowed 18.8 points per game. In the five games without him, Buffalo surrendered 30.4 points per game. Clearly, not all of that discrepancy can nor should be placed on the presence of a cornerback, but the Bills defense was stingier against the pass with Gaines available.
In the 11 regular-season games Gaines played in 2017, Buffalo allowed 6.59 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks. In the five contests without the veteran cornerback, signal-callers averaged 7.52 yards per attempt against the Bills defense. Quite the disparity.
Gaines will continue to play his underrated role in the playoffs against Jacksonville. He'll see plenty of rookie speedster Dede Westbrook who had 27 catches for 339 yards with one score in seven games this season.
(Grades and stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)
Story topics: E.J. Gaines