Well, it’s official. The Bills won an ESPN Monday Night Football game for the first time since the Clinton administration. (I’ve been told that the 2014 Bills-Jets game in Detroit was on CBS, so it didn’t count.) Once again, the passing game fired on all cylinders. Allen, Diggs, and Beasley did their things, Isaiah McKenzie made the jet motion cool again, and (*spits out coffee*) Dawson Knox had four catches for 27 yards and a touchdown?! Okay, I see you Knox. On defense, Micah Hyde (assist by A.J. Klein) and Tre’Davious White (unassisted) recorded picks, while Justin Zimmer had a stellar audition for backup right guard. (Watch out Brian Winters, you’re officially on notice!)
You already know where I’m going with this. My standout player from this game (besides Allen) was Gabriel “Stefon Jr.” Davis. He has been on another level as of late, recording at least three catches, 60 yards, and a touchdown in three of the last four games. He has undoubtedly been the Best Offensive Rookie so far this year. The following gif is the best way to illustrate Bills fans’ reaction to Davis’ rookie year:
That’s because most fans never expected him to do this well as a rookie. So this begs the question, is his rookie campaign historic? In this week’s installment of “2020 Vision”, I will compare Gabriel Davis’ rookie campaign to four of the best wide receivers in Bills history (and Sammy Watkins).
The receivers included in this piece satisfied each of the following requirements:
- They were drafted by the Bills. (So no James Lofton or Frank Lewis.)
- They produced immediately and consistently in their rookie season. (This excludes Bob Chandler, Eric Moulds, and Stevie Johnson.)
Additionally, for the sake of readability, this comparison was limited to five receivers. While Peerless Price, Josh Reed, and Robert Woods had solid rookie years, they were less productive than the five receivers who were selected.
Elbert Dubenion (1960)
14 Games: 42 Receptions, 752 Yards, 7 TDs; Averaged 17.9 Yards/Reception, 53.7 Yards/Game
Elbert Dubenion, arguably Bluffton University’s most famous alumus, was a bright spot in an underwhelming inaugural season. “Golden Wheels” led the Bills in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns as a rookie, setting franchise records in the process. In addition, he was second on the team in receptions behind tight end Tom Rychlec.
Jerry Butler (1979)
13 Games: 48 Receptions, 834 Yards, 4 TDs; Averaged 17.4 Yards/Reception, 64.2 Yards/Game
Jerry Butler, one of two Clemson receivers selected top-five overall in Bills history, performed well in his first year. As Joe Ferguson’s second option, Butler led the team in receiving touchdowns. He trailed veteran Frank Lewis in receptions and receiving yards.
Andre Reed (1985)
16 Games: 48 Receptions, 637 Yards, 4 TDs; Averaged 13.3 Yards/Reception, 39.8 Yards/Game
Fresh out of Kutztown, Andre Reed was a solid contributor as a rookie on a putrid Bills team. He led the team in receiving touchdowns, accounting for just over 44% of Buffalo’s passing scores. (Vince Ferragamo, Bruce Mathison, and Frank Reich combined for nine passing touchdowns in 1985.) He trailed the aforementioned Jerry Butler in receiving yards and running back Greg Bell in receptions.
Lee Evans (2004)
16 Games: 48 Receptions (74 Targets), 834 Yards, 9 TDs; Averaged 17.6 Yards/Reception, 52.7 Yards/Game
Lee Evans, the 13th overall pick out of Wisconsin, was an integral part of the 9-7 Mike Mularkey-led Bills. (They were one win away from earning the privilege of being curb-stomped by Peyton Manning and the Colts in the wild card.) As a rookie, he led the team in receiving touchdowns. He trailed Eric Moulds in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
Sammy Watkins (2014)
16 Games: 65 Receptions (128 Targets), 982 Yards, 6 TDs; Averaged 15.1 Yards/Reception, 61.4 Yards/Game
Watkins, the second top-five pick from Clemson in franchise history, was a solid contributor during his rookie campaign. (This was the year Kyle Orton became a Bills legend.) He led the team in targets, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Furthermore, he trailed only running back Freddy Jackson in receptions.
Gabriel Davis (2020)
Through 12 Games: 25 Receptions (39 Targets), 422 Yards, 5 TDs; Averaging 16.9 Yards/Reception, 35.2 Yards/Game
You all know the big plays that Gabriel Davis has made this season such as Mossing a Chargers defender and catching the go-ahead score against the Dolphins. However, you may not know that he currently leads all Bills receivers in receiving touchdowns. Furthermore, he is third on the team in receiving yards and fifth in receptions and targets.
How Does Davis Fare…
Through 12 Games?
Through 12 games, Davis is comparable to every receiver in one way or another, with the exception of Elbert Dubenion. He has only four fewer receptions on nine fewer targets than Lee Evans had in ’04. His receiving yard and yard per game totals are in the ballpark of Andre Reed. Davis has the same number of receiving scores as Evans and Sammy Watkins, which is one more than Reed and Jerry Butler. Furthermore, he recorded his five scores in nearly half the receptions and a third of the targets it took Watkins. Davis is averaging nearly five more yards per reception than Reed, four more than Watkins, and is only a fraction behind Butler.
Note: Ballpark – Within 10 receptions, 10 targets, 100 yards, 1.0 yard per reception, and 10.0 yards per game.
In a Full Season?
While the 2020 season isn’t done yet, we can still conduct this comparison. It is projected that Davis will end his rookie year with the same number of touchdowns as Dubenion on nine fewer receptions. His receiving yard and yard per game totals will remain in the ballpark of Reed. Meanwhile, Davis will likely end up in the ballpark of Dubenion, Butler, and Evans in yards per reception. (He is projected to have almost four yards more per reception than Reed and two more than Watkins.) The most impressive thing about this is that he will likely do all this with less than 50% of Watkins’ targets and 20% less than Evans.
These projections assume that Davis will continue to produce at his current pace (2.1 receptions, 3.3 targets, 35.2 yards, and 0.4 touchdowns per game). Nevertheless, Gabriel Davis is having a solid rookie season. He has come through time and time again with big plays when called upon and is clearly earning the trust of his quarterback and teammates. The sky is the limit for this grown man. If he continues to shine on the field, both this year and beyond, he may end up in the same conversation with Dubenion, Butler, Reed, and Evans as an all-time Bills great.
* Player Targets have only been tracked since 1992; that’s why Dubenion, Butler, and Reed have “N/A” in that column.
* All player stats provided by Pro Football Reference.
What do you think? How does Gabriel Davis stack up? Will he become an all-time great? Let me know on Twitter (@zvaughn2712).