NFL training camps and the preseason are the arenas in which players battle to make NFL rosters. Although it’s May, and we aren’t clear of COVID-19, training camp and the preseason both loom on the horizon. For the wide receivers of the Buffalo Bills it’s going to be a battle and a dogfight to make the final cuts. For the second off-season in a row the Bills will go into camp with several new faces at wide receiver. Several new faces added via trade and the NFL draft that will make it hard to decide who gets cut and who stays. Yes it’s May. And yes it’s early in the decision making process. But it’s never to early to take a look at what players will impact the 2020 NFL season and why. With that being said, let’s take a look at the Buffalo Bills wide receivers.
An Early Look at the Buffalo Bills Wide Receivers
In the 2019 off-season, the Buffalo Bills added wide receivers John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Andre Roberts. They also signed Duke Williams from the CFL. This off-season, the Bills traded for Stefon Diggs, drafted Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins, and brought back Isaiah McKenzie. Add in third year wideout Robert Foster along with Ray-Ray McCloud and Nick Easley and you have a crowded group. The Buffalo Bills 53-man roster will not include 11 wide receivers. So who from this grouping will it include and why?
Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley are locks to make the roster. They form arguably one of the most formidable wide receiver trios in the NFL in terms of ability and production. However, because these three are the top three wide receivers for the Bills, a chain reaction in the rest of the grouping may result.
Versatility, matchups, and dynamics are important when putting a team together. Diggs, Brown, and Beasley are a more than solid top three for any team. But they’re similar in terms of stature and play style. And that’s not a knock against them it’s just a fact. Diggs is 6’0 191 lbs. He’s arguably the best route runner in the NFL, a vertical threat, and can do almost everything at the wide receiver position. Brown is 5’11 178 lbs and is less technical than Diggs, but is an absolute burner downfield. Beasley is 5’8 174 lbs and is a matchup nightmare over the middle and in the slot. All three are very good and productive NFL wide receivers. But collectively they offer little in terms of physical presence and large catch radiuses.
Head Coach Sean McDermott called the 2019 Buffalo Bills wide receivers “smurfs” due to their size and stature as a group. In that regard, the addition of Diggs hasn’t done anything to change that. And while size and height isn’t always necessary, it’s nice to have it as an option. Having the rest of the supporting cast of wide receivers be able to present a different dynamic than the top three (i.e. bigger frames and a physical presence) would round out this positional grouping. The top three are set. And they’re legit. The rest of the depth chart needs to complement them.
We know the top three. But what about the rookies the Bills drafted in 2020?
The Bills drafted Gabriel Davis in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL draft. At 6’2 210 lbs Davis uses his large frame to separate from defenders and is very good at high pointing the football. He’s faster on film than his 40 time suggests and his ability to work the boundary for back shoulder throws and jump balls is a dynamic the Bills don’t currently have. Because of all of that, he’s got a good chance of making the 53-man roster.
Isaiah Hodgins was drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL draft. He’s 6’3 201 lbs and studied film of Stefon Diggs the night before games. Which makes sense when you watch film of Hodgins. Hodgins is a fluid and sharp route runner that creates separation from the quality of his routes. His size gets attention, but his route running is what he wins with. He has tremendous hands and can also high point the football. Much like Davis, his size and overall combination of ability provides a dynamic the Bills don’t currently have. Hodgins has a quality shot of making the 53-man roster.
The Filling Out
The Bills first 53-man roster last year had six wide receivers. The way the entire roster is shaping up for 2020 we can expect the Bills to carry six or seven wide receivers with a higher probability of seven.
Wide receiver Andre Roberts poses the biggest wild card. He’s never been much of a factor on offense but as a return specialist he was an All-Pro in 2018 and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years. In 2019 he was seventh in yards per punt return (8.0) and fourth in yards per kick return (26.6). If the Bills can find someone to fill return duties, Roberts’ place on the team is in serious jeopardy. But as of now, his niche is his alone.
Isaiah McKenzie carved a role out for himself on the Bills in 2018 and 2019. His speed and burst is a constant threat and he is particularly effective on jet sweeps, screens, and gadget plays. The only question is how valuable that is now given the other options the Bills have?
Robert Foster came on strong in 2018 as an undrafted free agent. His 2019 campaign was a letdown and he struggled through toe and hamstring injuries. He has a lot to prove in 2020 and though his upside is still present, by no means does he have a roster spot locked up.
Duke Williams had fans clamoring for him in 2019 because of his size and stature. He made some plays but was never really able to make himself a permanent mainstay. With the Bills drafting Davis and Hodgins, his job security is the most in doubt out of the returning Bills wide receivers.
McCloud and Easley are almost guaranteed to be the odd men out provided nothing dramatic happens.
What It All Means for the Buffalo Bills Wide Receivers
Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley are roster locks. After that, the combinations of wide receivers that make the team are multiple and varied. The drafting of Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins isn’t a great sign for any Bills receiver that isn’t Diggs, Brown, or Beasley and throws the depth chart into flux.
Expect Duke Williams, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Nick Easley to come up short of making the 53-man roster. Leaving a combination of Davis, Hodgins, Isaiah Mckenzie, Robert Foster, and Andre Roberts to join Diggs, Brown, and Beasley. Calling it today, Davis and Hodgins join the top three giving the Bills five wide receivers. Mckenzie has an established role so he also makes it. Leaving the seventh spot to Roberts or Foster. In order for Roberts to not make this team someone has to rise in the return game and/or Foster has to re-establish himself. Training camp and the preseason are going to be something to watch intently for Bills fans.
Embed from Getty Images