The Buffalo Bills receiving corp ranked in the bottom third of the NFL last year and they did little in the offseason to help the passing game this offseason.
Buffalo, with first-year starter Tyrod Taylor under center, had the fourth-worst passing attack in the NFL last season — averaging just 208.9 yards a game. Still, Taylor had a strong year, completing 63.7 percent of his passes and tossing 20 touchdowns with just six interceptions. The bigger problem was that his receivers weren’t that good.
The Bills receivers, including tight ends and running backs, ranked 30th in the league in receptions with 295, and 29th in receiving yards per game (225). The good news is that while Buffalo’s receivers did not make a lot plays, they did make some big plays. They tied for eighth in the league with eight plays over 40-yards but were only 2stt with 51 plays of 20-or-more yards, plus they fumbled six times.
Footbology rated Buffalo’s top three receivers – Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Chris Hogan — as the 21st best trio of receivers last year. Hogan is no longer with the team, as he signed with the New England Patriots as a restricted free agent.
Watkins got off to a rough start last year, hauling in 19 passes as he was just targeted 27 times in the first eight weeks of the season – the 22-year-old also missed three games during that stretch. However, Watkins grabbed 26 passes over the final four weeks and surpassed the 100-yard plateau twice. He finished the season with 60 receptions for 1,045 yards and nine touchdowns.
Watkins suffered a minor foot fracture in May and may not be ready until the start of the regular season, reports Kevin Paltra of the NFL.
Woods, the Bills’ No. 2 wide receiver, regressed in 2015 after having a breakout season in 2014. The 24-year-old had 47 receptions for 552 yards and three touchdowns last season. Woods finished third on the team in receptions and second in yards, behind Watkins and tight end Charles Clay.
Speaking of Clay, he must make a greater impact as a big-play and red-zone tight end, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN. Clay, the seventh-highest paid tight end in the league, caught 51 passes for 528 yards and three touchdowns. The 27-year-old caught 58 and 69 passes, the previous two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
With Hogan gone and Percy Harvin having retired, the Bills need to find a No. 3 wide receiver. Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin, Kolby Listenbee, Leonard Hankerson, Greg Salas, Dezmin Lewis, Greg Little, Jarrett Boykin, Davonte Gray, and Gary Chambers will battle for the other three or four roster spots designated by the Bills for receivers.
Easley, Goodwin, Hankerson, Salas, Boykin, and Little are veterans. Hankerson, Boykin, and Little are trying to revive their career with the Bills.
Easley, a former fourth round pick of the Bills, has mainly been a special teams ace for the team since being selected in the 2010 draft. The 28-year-old has three career receptions.
Goodwin is extremely fast and athletic, but has yet to make an impact on the football field. The 25-year-old has caught 20 passes for his career, including just two last season, since being selected in the third round of the 2013 draft. Goodwin is currently trying to chase his Olympic dream of gaining a spot on the United States’ track and field team for the long jump. If he makes it to Rio de Janeiro, he won’t likely return to the team until mid-August.
Salas appeared in two games and hauled in three passes. The former 2011 fourth round draft selection has 46 career catches for 615 yards and no touchdowns.
Little, a second round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2011, is the most accomplished of the veterans though he hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2014. The 27-year-old has 161 receptions for 1,890 yards and eight touchdowns in 54 contests.
Hankerson, a third round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2011, was claimed by the Bills off waivers in 2015. The 27-year-old recorded 26 catches for 327-yards and three touchdowns in eight games with the Atlanta Falcons last year. Hankers has 107 receptions for his career.
Boykin sat out last year, but played three seasons for the Green Bay Packers. The 26-year-old has 57 career receptions for 731 yards and three touchdowns.
Listenbee and Lewis are the likeliest of the youngsters to make the squad. Listenbee, the Bills’ sixth round pick in this year’s draft, is a speedster out of TCU, while Lewis was the team’s seventh round choice a year ago out of Central Arkansas.
Joe Buscaglia of WKBW believes that Lewis is poised to make a push for a spot on the Bills’ 53-man roster. The six-foot, four-inch receiver has great leaping ability, but had a shaky training camp last year. He intrigued Buffalo enough to earn himself a spot on the practice squad.
With the Bills’ receivers suffering from a rash of injuries, Lewis was promoted to the 53-man roster for the final two-weeks of the season. The 23-year-old saw the field sparingly against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 though he was not targeted.
Buscaglia reported that Ryan has been impressed with what he has seen in Lewis so far this summer.
“I think he has taken a big leap forward. He needed to. I think when he came out here initially he was real raw, but he got better and better as the year went on and really encouraged with him right now. He’s obviously got that size that you look for to compete for the ball, to contest the ball, so those are some real good traits that he has but it’s also not that he breaks the huddle and he’s thinking. He knows the system now and so I think that gives him a physical chance to compete.”
The Bills’ tight end battle could be as intriguing as the wide receiver battles are expected. Buffalo carried four tight ends last year, but it is possible that they only carry three this year. Jim Dray, who is more of blocking tight end, is presumed to be No. 2 on the depth leaving Chris Gragg, Blake Annen, and Nick O’Leary to battle for the final roster spots.
Gragg, a seventh round pick of the Bills in 2013, caught 12 passes for 150 yards in 13 games. Eight of Gragg’s receptions were for first downs. The 25-year-old has 24 career receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
O’Leary, the Bills sixth round selection in 2015, appeared in the final four games of the season last year – recording one catch for 37-yards. However, Vic Carucci, of Buffalo News, wrote that O’Leary may be on his way out as he has been getting pushed around by defenders.
Annen, a big six-foot, four-inch, 247-pounder, went undrafted out of Cincinnati. The 25-year-old appeared in five games with the Chicago Bears in 2014, but did not appear in a game last year.
[Photo by Bill Wippert/Associated Press]