Players in Review (2022): Gabe Davis
For the next few weeks, I’m going to review different Buffalo Bills players and discuss how they performed this past season. Working with Iestyn Harris, we’re going to highlight players who fans have had some questions about during the season and moving forward. The first player who I want to talk about is WR Gabe Davis.
Davis became a bit of a polarizing figure this year due to his big-play capabilities but lack of production. But that’s the thing — did Davis actually fail to produce, or did we expect too much from him after watching the Divisional Game against the Chiefs?
The third-year wideout set career highs in targets (93), receptions (48), receiving yards (836), and yards/reception (17.4), as well as tying a career-high in TDs (7) in 2022. This was the first season that Davis didn’t have to split snaps with guys like John Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. The Buffalo Bills deemed him as WR2 going into last offseason; everyone thought he was ready for that role after playing the WR4 role his first two seasons. (The slot receiver is WR3.)
As a rookie, Davis had 35 receptions on 62 targets, 599 yards, and 7 TDs while starting 11 games. He followed that up with 35 receptions on 63 targets, 549 yards, and 6 TDs in 2021; he played in 16 games, but only started four of them.
So between his lack of playing time, his playoff performance(s), and having Josh Allen as his quarterback, Davis was expected to break out in 2022. After watching him explode for 201 yards and four TDs on just eight receptions in Kansas City last January, a lot of people expected Gabe Davis to cement himself as a top WR in the league.
However, it was almost the opposite.
While he did set career highs in multiple categories, were they that impressive? His 836 receiving yards ranked 30th among WRs with at least 20% of the league’s highest volume. His 93 targets were T-36th while his 48 receptions were T-52nd. The only category where Davis finished in the top 15 was receiving TDs, where he was T-12th with seven.
Furthermore, Gabe Davis set a career-low in terms of his PFF grade, finishing with a 64.2. (He had a 64.9 his rookie season and a 73.7 in 2021.) The former fourth-round pick also set a career-low in catch rate, only catching 51.6% of the balls thrown his way. (For what it’s worth, he posted a 56.5% catch rate in ’20 and a 55.6% rate in ’21.) According to Pro Football Reference, he dropped nine passes in his 15 regular season games, T-4th worst in the league. (The Buffalo Bills had 38 dropped passes as a team, which was fourth-worst.)
After always being able to make the tough, contested catch his first two seasons, Davis seemed to have an issue holding onto the ball this past season. If he had caught just 10 more balls, he would’ve finished with over 1,000 receiving yards (1,010 to be exact), according to his yards/reception average.
To really get a gauge on how Gabe Davis fared this season as the Bills’ second-best option, let’s take a look at some other WR2s around the league. Tee Higgins is the first name that comes to mind as he is arguably the best WR2 in the game. Higgins finished 2022 with 104 targets, 74 receptions, 1,029 yards, and 7 TDs in 16 games. He had a 77.1 PFF grade and caught almost 68% of his targets, although he did have eight dropped passes.
Chris Godwin is another great example of a WR2. Godwin played 15 games this past season and set career highs in targets (142) and receptions (104) after coming back from a torn ACL suffered in Week 15 of the 2021 season. He only caught three TD passes, but did finish with 1,023 receiving yards, a 75.1 PFF grade, a 73.2% catch rate, and just three dropped passes.
And I can’t believe I’m putting his name here, but Zay Jones was a sneaky good WR2 in Jacksonville. Jones only had 13 less receiving yards than Davis, finishing with a career-high 823 yards. The former second-round pick also set career highs in targets (121) and receptions (82), while hauling in 5 TD passes.
Looking at it this way, Davis was underwhelming in just about every receiving category in 2022.
Whose Fault Was It?
So this leads back to the original question: Did Gabe Davis fail to produce, or did we expect too much from him?
I think it’s a combination of both. Yes, he could’ve put up bigger numbers in such a high-powered offense. But I also think we were a little naive when it came to evaluating the depth in the receiver room going into the season. We seemed to think that as long as they had Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, they’d be fine.
The Buffalo Bills went into the season with just two main outside receivers (Diggs and Davis). They had three slot receivers (Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, and Khalil Shakir) and one receiver (Jake Kumerow) who was primarily used for special teams and run blocking. They did have another boundary WR in Isaiah Hodgins, but the Giants claimed him off waivers halfway through the season after he bounced around on the Bills 53-man roster and practice squad. And then factor in losing Crowder and Kumerow to season-ending IR; the Bills literally had to call John Brown and Cole Beasley out of retirement (at least Beasley).
So the front office already mismanaged the WR room to begin with. But then on top of it, first-year OC Ken Dorsey mismanaged his weapons; he failed to mix up his play calls and take what the defense gave him. Way too many times, Dorsey would dial up a deep route to Davis, making it harder for him to make a catch and harder for the offense to get into any sort of rhythm.
There are three that stick out: The first two were back-to-back against the Dolphins in the Wild Card game in the fourth quarter while the Bills were nursing a lead. Both fell incomplete and the Dolphins forced the Bills to punt after using not even a minute of clock. The other deep route that sticks out like a sore thumb was the following week against the Bengals, as Allen threw an almost 40-yard pass to Davis on 3rd and 2, again falling incomplete and forcing Sam Martin to punt.
You can’t expect these post routes to be successful the more you try them. Rather, you need to take what the defense gives you and utilize the short to intermediate part of the field. And then, when they come up far enough and are least expecting it, that’s when you take the top off.
I still remember how CB Patrick Peterson said on a podcast after the Minnesota Vikings beat the Buffalo Bills that he was able to pick off Allen’s pass to end the game because he KNEW EXACTLY WHERE DAVIS AND THE RECEIVERS WERE GOING. He specifically said that Davis only runs three or four routes, making it easy for the defenses to understand where they are running to and where Allen wants to throw to. That should’ve been a wake up call to Dorsey and the Bills. But instead, they insisted on forcing the ball downfield the rest of the season, being way too aggressive every week.
There are many reasons for the lack of production out of Gabe Davis this year. Yes, Davis didn’t live up to the hype that he had going into the season. But it’s important to look at the parts around him; the front office and the coaching staff didn’t make things any easier for him.
Moving forward, I think the Buffalo Bills need to draft a WR in either round one or two this April. Because, let’s not forget, they have to build for the future as well as the present. The only WRs currently under contract are Diggs, Davis, McKenzie and Shakir. Plus, Davis and McKenzie will both be free agents after next season.
GM Brandon Beane has never drafted a wide receiver higher than round four, which was when he selected Davis. (Zay Jones was a second-round draft pick in 2017, but that was a Doug Whaley-Sean McDermott pick.) I think it’s time that Beane invests in a WR early in the draft. I would also like to see him sign a low-cost veteran to round out the receiver room.
Gabe Davis’ Final 2022 Grade: C+
Featured Image: Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports