One of this year’s biggest training camp battles is shaping up to be young veteran Duke Williams vs. rookie sixth-round pick Isaiah Hodgins for the final wide receiver spot on the Buffalo Bills depth chart. Both players fit the mold of the “big slot” receiver that both Bills fans and the Bills brass have been looking for.
Their search started with veterans like Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes. The offense, however, quickly stagnated because Josh Allen proved unable to “throw receivers open” and connect on contested-catch passes. However, Allen flashed an ability to make the contested catch throw in the Houston Wildcard Round game. Since that game, the Bills flirted with contested-catch receivers Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, and Antonio Gandy-Golden in the pre-draft process.
The Bills ultimately decided to wait and go with Isaiah Hodgins in round six to compete with returning player Duke Williams who flashed some potential in limited reps this past season. That begs the question; who will ultimately win the role of “big slot” receiver for the team this fall?
The Case for Isaiah Hodgins
What stands out for Hodgins is his collegiate statistics in the red zone.
Of the 22 catchable balls thrown his way at Oregon State, he caught 21 of them for 16 touchdowns with zero drops. Over his career, he only dropped 3 passes on 179 targets. Checking in at 6’4, 210 at the NFL Combine Hodgins fits the mold of the “big slot” receiver the Bills have been coveting. His sure hands run in contrast with his competition, Duke Williams, who was very hot and cold reeling in his targets in 2019.
Hodgins is a student of the game. His father was James Hodgins the Super Bowl-winning fullback of the early 2000’s St. Louis Rams. In his conference call with the Buffalo media following his selection, he mentioned studying NFL receivers the night before every game at Oregon State to help perfect his craft. One receiver he studied; now Buffalo Bills teammate Stefan Diggs. With NFL bloodlines and the right work habit, Hodgins can become a player in this league that far outperforms his draft position.
The Case For Duke Williams
Standing in Hodgins way is fan favorite and highlight real maker Duke Williams.
Duke Williams showed glances of his potential in limited playing time last season. His first career game he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Josh Allen in the red zone. His presence was felt in most of his game action in the red zone and on third down. Williams finished the season with 12 catches for 166 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
Despite a limited run in the regular season, Williams was a featured player in the Bills Wildcard loss the Houston Texans. Williams was targeted 10 times but only caught four passes. His contested-catch drop in the end zone on a beautiful touch pass from Josh Allen is seen as many as a contributing factor to the Bills losing that game. You have to ask yourself the question, however, if Duke Williams had been playing all season and was in a rhythm with his quarterback and the offense does he catch some of his key drops that game? He showed an ability to make those catches consistently in his limited reps and in the practice setting.
Williams was a practice squad MVP last season. Viral video after viral video showed highlight real catches, a fiery demeanor, and an ability to push his teammates. The biggest knock on Hodgins was his 4.65 40 time at the combine. Many pundits question his ability to separate at the next level. Albeit with similar intangibles, Williams has at least shown some ability to get open at the professional level. But will that be enough to unseat a player this regime invested draft capital in?
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