Buffalo Bills: Aqib Talib

Top free-agent roundup: AFC East

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
In years past, our ESPN NFL divisional bloggers would compile lists of the top free agents within their respective divisions. We're continuing that tradition this offseason, but with a twist: We asked each of our ESPN NFL Nation bloggers to rank their team's free agents, which then were compiled into a master list for each division.

With the free-agent signing period opening Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, here's our AFC East free-agent ranking:

1. Jairus Byrd, Bills S: Ball-hawking safety had four interceptions last season and was named to his third Pro Bowl in five years.

2. Aqib Talib, Patriots CB: Matchup man-to-man cornerback was a centerpiece in the Patriots' game plans in 2013, with injuries the only real blemish on his resume.

3. Julian Edelman, Patriots WR: Coming off a career-high 105-catch season -- staying healthy for all 16 games for the first time -- the receiver is poised to cash in.

4. Austin Howard, Jets T: An ascending player who would generate significant interest if he hits the open market.

5. Paul Soliai, Dolphins DT: He is one of the top run-stuffers on the market. Soliai can fit in the middle of a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, which adds value.

6. Scott Chandler, Bills TE: A 6-foot-7 tight end who posted career highs in receptions (53) and receiving yards (655) but was a non-factor in the red zone.

7. Randy Starks, Dolphins DT: The Dolphins used the franchise tag on Starks in 2013 but only used him as a rotational player. A change of scenery is probably best for him.

8. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots RB: The 250-pound running back was tough to bring down once he got rolling late last season; deserving of an upgraded contract.

9. Ryan Wendell, Patriots C: Undersized center has the smarts and durability that could appeal to a team looking to fill a void in the pivot, but sometimes gets overpowered.

10. Brandon Spikes, Patriots LB: Hard-hitting linebacker is a top player against the run, but struggles at times in coverage.

11. Calvin Pace, Jets LB: Recorded a career-high 10 sacks last season, but there will be a limited market because he'll be 34.

12. Chris Clemons, Dolphins S: He's a decent safety with plenty of starting experience. Clemons is strong in run support and a sure tackler, but he struggles at times in pass coverage.

13. Nick Folk, Jets K: Designated as a franchise player.

14. Dan Carpenter, Bills K: Kicker is coming off his best season as a pro, converting 91.7 percent of his field goals, including every kick in the second quarter or later.

15. Alex Carrington, Bills DL: Versatile lineman can play tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4; started first three games in 2013 before an injury ended his season.

X's and O's thoughts: Covering Johnson?

September, 7, 2013
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson made it clear recently that he doesn’t believe there is a New England Patriots defensive back that can cover him.

It’s a bold proclamation from Johnson, though he’s had some success against the Patriots during his career, hauling in four touchdown passes.

Johnson’s words got us thinking about possible ways the Patriots could counter him tomorrow, which is the focus of the debut of “X’s and O’s thoughts,” which we’ll aim to use each week in this space.

Concept: Aqib Talib shadowing Johnson

Talib didn’t want to get into a verbal back-and-forth with Johnson this week, instead opting for praise of the five-year veteran. But as the Patriots' best cornerback, it could be Talib who is called upon to handle Johnson, as the Patriots used him, at-times, to shadow an opponent’s top receiver during the 2012 season.

Johnson is an efficient player from the slot whose game is more dependent on his precise route-running and quickness than it is his speed. Talib is typically the Patriots' left cornerback, though he does have the requisite traits to kick inside to the slot if needed.

One of the issues in shadowing Johnson with Talib is that it puts the onus on the Patriots' other cornerbacks to match up with Buffalo’s speed players, highlighted by receivers T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin. Talib is a talented perimeter cornerback who can neutralize such speed players with his own speed and length.

The Patriots did not have games where they exclusively used Talib to shadow an opposing receiver, rather he was called upon for particular stretches to take on such players as Andre Johnson of the Texans.

While it seems unlikely that they’d use Talib strictly in a shadow role over Johnson, if Johnson starts to have some success on Sunday, it’s a wrinkle the Patriots could turn to on an as-needed basis.

Either way, we’ll find out on Sunday whether Johnson’s words were accurate or an underestimation of the Patriots' secondary.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson made some headlines recently in stating that no Patriots defensive back could cover him, but Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib hasn't been paying attention, as he had no response to the remarks when asked about them Thursday.

"I don't watch NFL Network or read the newspapers during the season," he said. "I'm a basketball fan, so my TV pretty much stays on NBA TV and I don't really read what nobody says."

Asked if the comments give him any extra motivation to perform well this Sunday, Talib offered, "I didn't hear it. I don't really read into it, so I guess it is what it is."

While Talib wasn't interested in engaging in an exchange of words with Johnson before Sunday's contest, he had plenty of praise for the talented wideout.

"He definitely demands a lot from a defense," he said. "He's a good receiver, we're preparing for him."

"He's sharp on his routes," Talib added. "He's really good in his releases off the line, so we've just gotta, you know, prepare for him."

As far as gearing up for the start of his sixth pro season, Talib said the season opener is no different than any other for him from an emotional mindset standpoint.

"Every game, man, it's the same thing man," he said. "You get the same jitters, same nervousness, man. Every game."