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Will special teams be enough to save Brad Smith's job?

By Tim Graham

As a special-teamer, Brad Smith is known for making big returns.

He's pretty good at stopping them, too.

Overlooked in Smith's repertoire is his effectiveness as a safety valve on Buffalo Bills coverage units. Analytics site noted Wednesday that Smith made three touchdown-saving tackles on punt returns that broke for more than 20 yards.

Smith is a quarterback/receiver/Wildcat running back. Last year, he ran 14 times for 116 yards and a touchdown and caught 14 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged an impressive 27.6 yards per kickoff return and brought one back for a TD.

But he has been a core-four special-teamer since he turned pro.

"I take pride in what I'm asked to do every time I step on the field," Smith told me after Wednesday's workout at One Bills Drive. "I love making tackles. I love blocking for my guys, blocking for" Leodis McKelvin.

Under former special-teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven, Smith was asked to hang back on coverage units to read how a return breaks and "be in position to shut them down." posted its breakdown of special-teams tackles, which are not official NFL stats. The site tracks return tackles (straightforward) and return stops (tackles made after a return shorter than a metric projects).

Smith led the Bills with 12 special-teams tackles, but only four were considered stops because of the role he played.

Smith might have trouble making the team this year because of all those rookie receivers the Bills have harvested.

The Bills also reinvested in McKelvin by re-signing him to a four-year contract extension worth a little over $20 million and likely will want him returning kicks, further mitigating Smith's existence.


Brad Smith | Leodis McKelvin
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |