Tossing a Hail Mary. Throwing stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks. Lobbing something over the fence and hoping for the best. All of these catch phrases sum up the recent strategy that the Buffalo Bills have adopted to address their wide receiver position.
— Bills Report (@BillsFGSN) May 15, 2018
How Brandon Beane Is Tossing Hail Marys in Addressing Buffalo Bills Receiving Corps
The Buffalo Bills have ostensibly found their long sought after franchise quarterback in newly drafted Josh Allen. Whether or not Allen is able to flourish in Western New York will be determined in the next handful of years. Many feel that his lack of accuracy while at Wyoming was largely attributable to the team’s paltry talent within their receiving corps. Knowing this, one would think that Bills general manager Brandon Beane would invest heavily in the area to give Allen the right tools to excel at his job, right?
Not so much.
A Not So Formidable Spread
The list of existing Bills wide receivers is not exactly akin to the 1989 Washington Redskins. The motley crew is comprised of a talented prototype with injury concerns, a pair of questionable characters and plateaued veterans, as well as several enigmatic youngsters to round things out.
The Talented Prototype
The acquisition of Kelvin Benjamin ahead of the 2017 NFL trade deadline was exactly what Bills fans had been waiting for. The team was exceeding all expectation, despite trading away some of their higher profile players – including oft-injured receiver Sammy Watkins. To show their loyal fan base that they were committed to ending the soul-crushing 17-year playoff drought, Benjamin was to give (then) quarterback Tyrod Taylor the physically imposing red-zone option that he was in dire need of.
Unfortunately, the 6’5″, 245 pound monster of a man battled both injury and inadequate quarterback play in his first half-season with Buffalo. As a result, Benjamin pulled in a feeble 16 receptions for 217 yards in six games with the team. The Florida State product is now recovering from a successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus and is poised to have a bounce-back season.
Despite Benjamin being a match-up nightmare and having two solid seasons of NFL production under his belt, the Bills have been non-committal about locking up the receiver, who is in the final (option) year of his rookie contract, to a long-term deal. Instead, they are hoping that the aforementioned Allen or newly signed A.J. McCarron can get the most out of the 27-year-old wideout.
The Questionable Characters
I will go on record and say that I was smitten when the Bills moved up in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft to select Zay Jones out of East Carolina University. He had the size (6’2″), pedigree (son of Superbowl Champion Robert Jones), and production (NCAA all-time leader in receptions) that made him as close to a can’t miss prospect as can be secured on day two of the draft. An atrocious freshman NFL year and one of the most bizarre off the field incidents in recent memory later, and the Jones selection is looking more and more questionable.
Speaking of questionable, I hate to keep harping on Jeremy Kerley‘s “ghost story” when probed regarding his four-game PED suspension last November, but it does raise questions about the 29-year-old’s character. The Bills signed the diminutive receiver to a one-year, prove it contract in April, in hopes that he can provide some much-needed production in the slot. It is scary to say, but Kerley is likely the team’s most accomplished received on paper, hauling in 268 catches during his seven-year NFL career. Only time will tell if he can find a niche with this team and stick.
Andre Holmes and Rod Streater get lumped into the same bucket. Both are physically gifted receivers who have shown flashes of competence, but neither are on the precipice of providing consistent, material production. Holmes has shown to be a more than capable special teams contributor as well as being quasi-effective in play-action roll-out plays near the opponent’s goal-line. Unfortunately, he lacks the ability to routinely separate and, as a result, will be no better than the team’s fourth option.
Streater was quickly becoming a fan favorite during the team’s training camp last season. The Temple University product routinely made dazzling catches and was a front-runner to crack the team’s 53-man roster. Alas, Streater suffered a horrific foot injury during the team’s second preseason game that ultimately sidelined the six-year pro for the remainder of the year. In a classy gesture by general manager Beane, the team signed Streater to a reserve/future contract in January to afford him the opportunity of cracking the team’s 2018 roster. Although Streater’s resilience and athleticism are commendable, he likely won’t be moving the needle much for the Bills.
The Enigmatic Youngsters
The Bills have shown a recent propensity to toss late round pick and undrafted free agent Hail Marys at the receiver position in hopes of connecting on one of them. Might the team be jaded from the debacle that was the Watkins draft-day trade? Whatever the case may be, the team is laden with enigmatic youngsters looking to make their mark.
Practice squad holdovers such as Brandon Reilly and Malachi Dupre were both intriguing enough to be retained by the team, yet were not good enough to crack an uninspiring group of Bills receivers during the 2017-18 campaign. Although the ongoing love affair of Kaelin Clay is noteworthy, the 26-year-old offers little more than being a punt/kick returner and occasional go-route runner. Oh, there’s also Quan Bray, who has amassed six receptions in three NFL seasons.
The Bills added to their existing crop of enigmatic youngsters with the late-round selections of Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl. Both stand at 5’10” and are equipped with the shiftiness and agility required to play the slot position. In a perfect world, one (or even both) will develop a connection with Allen or McCarron and supplant Kerley to see significant minutes this season. Realistically, expect the pair to have to work their tails off on special teams to crack the 53-man roster.
What was the team’s biggest Achilles heel at the wide receiver position last season? Their lack of speed. The Bills’ inability to have a have a receiver create separation down the field was almost comical. That makes the undrafted free agent signing of Robert Foster rather appealing. The 6’2″ speedster from Alabama ran a blistering 4.41 40-yard dash time at this year’s Combine, which was the third-fastest of all receivers who participated. His combination of size and speed is something that simply does not exist on this roster. His lack of production in college cannot be overlooked, but his offensive coordinator at Alabama, Brian Daboll, has now taken over such duties for the Bills and must have seen something that he liked.
The Last Word
It’s no secret that LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay were the team’s leading receivers last season. Therefore, in theory, the Bills may not require a robust set of receivers for Allen and/or McCarron to work with given the supplementation from other positions.
The fact of the matter is that the team was historically bad at the position in 2017 and cannot rely on an aging running back and an injury-prone tight end to handle a similar type load this year. They have invested the bare minimum in the position and are hoping that a few of the Hail Marys in the crowd will be answered.
Only time will tell.