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Buffalo Bills: Wide Receiver analysis prior to training camp

The Buffalo Bills are coming off of one of their best statistical passing seasons in franchise history. A season in which we saw Josh Allen pass for over 4,500 yards. We saw Stefon Diggs lead the league in receiving yards and receptions. Additionally, secondary options Cole Beasley and rookie Gabriel Davis put up great supplementary numbers.

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The Buffalo Bills are coming off of one of their best statistical passing seasons in franchise history. A season in which we saw Josh Allen pass for over 4,500 yards. We saw Stefon Diggs lead the league in receiving yards and receptions. Additionally, secondary options Cole Beasley and rookie Gabriel Davis put up great supplementary numbers.

Heading into this offseason, people generally felt good about the Buffalo Bills Wide Receiver corps. Then the Bills decided to release John Brown after an injury-riddled season. We then saw Brown quickly replaced by veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders. However, even with that swift replacement, there were still talks about additions to the receiver room. Prior to the draft, there were mentions about the Bills taking a Wide Receiver in the first round. Then after that didn’t happen, Julio Jones became available via trade and we saw fans put all their eggs into that basket.

One would think that this position group is all set simply based on last year’s production from the Buffalo Bills Wide Receivers. Apparently nothing can be assumed because people still wanted the Bills to make additions to this position. Although I wasn’t one of those people, the line of thinking makes sense. The Buffalo Bills love to pass the football. The Bills offense runs through Josh Allen. Therefore, give him more weapons in the passing game. However, aside from the Sanders signing, not much else changed.

The Core Four

Prior to the start of last season, I think most Bills fans felt like we had a clear top three when it came to our Receivers. This included Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley. I don’t think many felt that Gabriel Davis would contribute the way that he did in his rookie season. With that being said, he produced and has earned his spot in the “core four”. The only difference now is that John Brown is replaced by Emmanuel Sanders.

Most teams aren’t as the Buffalo Bills at the wide receiver position. Conversely, most teams to utilize three and four wide receiver sets as much as the Buffalo Bills offense does. Therefore, depth is needed in order to maintain the type of offense that was so productive in 2020.

Buffalo Bills WR1 – Stefon Diggs

I think everyone is expecting top-tier production from Diggs in 2021. I’m not sure if he will necessarily improve from a statistical standpoint, but there will certainly be improvements when it comes to his relationship with Josh Allen and his comfort level in the offense. After the year that Diggs had, most defenses will be game-planning for Diggs. Thus my reasoning for caution when it comes to Diggs improving statistically from 2020 to 2021. With that being said, the Bills have plenty of weapons and Diggs is still a beast. Brian Daboll and company will do everything they can to get their best wide receiver the ball as much as possible.

Buffalo Bills second pass catching option

In 2020, we saw Josh Allen favor Cole Beasley as his second option. This could’ve been partly due to the injuries that John Brown was dealing with, or it simply could’ve been Beasley’s ability to get open and be that safety net for Allen. If teams plan to take away Diggs in 2021, that means players like Beasley, Sanders, and Davis will be seeing a lot of single coverage.

Beasley is a lock to contribute from the Slot Receiver position. But where do Davis and Sanders factor in? My assumption is that Davis and Sanders will platoon to replace John Browns role in the offense. However, I don’t think either are limited to just that role. Sanders is capable of winning on the outside or from the slot. I think he could actually replace Beasley in the slot every now and again. Similarly, Davis can also line up on the boundary and from the slot position. This versatility from the top four receivers will make this Buffalo Bills offense very difficult to game plan against.

I don’t think any one of Beasley, Sanders, and Davis will definitively be the WR2 on the 2021 Buffalo Bills. But rather, all three will play their parts to take pressure off of Diggs to be the focal point of the offense with Josh Allen. Furthermore, if Davis can improve just marginally on his rookie campaign, the Buffalo Bills will have a deadly four Wide Receiver offensive set for this coming season.

Final receivers to make the roster

I feel pretty confident saying that Diggs, Sanders, Beasley, and Davis are locks for the final roster. However, in Sean McDermott’s time as the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, he has traditionally kept six Receivers on the final roster. As of right now, the Bills have 12 Wide Receivers on the roster. After identifying the top four as roster locks, that means that there are eight Receivers competing for what is assumed to be two more roster spots.

There is plenty of intrigue surrounding these final eight Receivers on the roster. The eight players remaining are Isaiah McKenzie, Jake Kumerow, Brandon Powell, Lance Lenoir, Isaiah Hodgins, Duke Williams, and rookie Marquez Stevenson. Obviously, any two of these eight Receivers have a chance to make the final roster, but there are three that stick out to me. Those three are McKenzie, Hodgins, and Stevenson.

McKenzie, Hodgins, and Stevenson

The most influential wrinkle to this decision is how much each play can respectively contribute to special teams. After the departure of Andre Roberts this offseason, the Buffalo Bills are looking for someone to replace his return abilities. For that specific role, McKenzie and Stevenson will likely be competing directly with one another for the same role on this team. That role is the primary returner with gadget and depth Wide Receiver responsibilities.

However, there is a world in which both McKenzie and Stevenson make this roster, and that would mean Isaiah Hodgins is the odd man out. Hodgins doesn’t have kick and punt return experience as a way for him to make this team. With that being said, he was a 2020 draft pick from Brandon Beane, and I’m sure he would like to give his draft picks as much of a chance to make the final roster. Hodgins a bigger receiver that had a lot of production in college. I was actually more excited about him than Davis after last year’s draft. Unfortunately, Hodgins sustained an injury during the preseason last year that placed him on year-ending injured reserve. Therefore, this would be his pseudo rookie season.

I will be very focused on the competition between these three players specifically for the final two roster spots at the wide receiver position. All three have very clear paths to making the roster, which will make it particularly painful to see one of them go. We’re all aware of Isaiah McKenzie and how well he can produce on limited opportunities. However, I’m also interested to see if the rookie Marquez Stevenson can be even better in that role while contributing as the return specialist. And I’m still extremely interested in what Hodgins can be at the next level.

Air Raid Hour recap

If you liked what read about the Buffalo Bills Wide Receivers, you’ll love the most recent episode of the Air Raid Hour. Judge and Tilt opened up the show touching on the recent trade of Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans. Then we broke down the Bills 2021 Wide Receiver room in even more detail than I did above. We share our nuanced opinions on the “core four” and the final two Wide Receivers to make the roster.

If you missed us live and want more Wide Receiver talk, you can watch the replay by clicking the link embedded above. Lastly, if you have any feedback or disagree with anything I said, you can write it in the comment section below or let me know on my Twitter @MirskyKendall.

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