The wide receiver unit of the Buffalo Bills is not a position that desperately needs to get addressed entering the 2014 NFL draft.
The Bills currently have Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, TJ Graham, Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin, Kevin Elliott and Cordell Roberson under contract for next year. In 2013 Woods got drafted in the second round and Goodwin in the third round and both players have shown promise. Nearly 12% of the team’s cap hit ($12,778,616) on offense is devoted to the position, second only to the money devoted to the offensive line.
Buffalo would seem to have more pressing needs at the tight end position, particularly if Scott Chandler is allowed to walk in free agency, as well as the offensive line (specifically at right tackle or guard) and possibly at safety if the franchise cannot work out a long term contract with Jarius Byrd.
Yet, still may need to look at the issues at wide receiver during the draft as well. Johnson has long been recognized as the Bills no.1 receiver, recording three straight seasons prior to 2013 with over 75 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving. Last season he struggled with a hamstring injury and other minor injuries forcing him to appear in 12 games. Finishing with with 52 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns, hardly the numbers the Bills are accustomed to.
His productivity might become the beginning of a downward slope and it’s not a certainty that he can return to the lofty expectations he has set for himself. As for Woods he became a solid no.2 option and displayed the qualities that made him and Marquise Lee such a devastating tandem at USC, logging 40 receptions for 587 yards and three touchdowns, a solid debut. Goodwin dealt with some injury issues (wrist) that held him out of games later in the season and is a more raw product than Woods, selected primarily based upon his speed (especially effective in the return game).
Yet these three are not enough of a threat to make defenders remove their focus from running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Easley and Graham still need to show more to prove they belong at this level. The Bills could use a receiver that has an immediate impact on the field so that they do provide second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel with a legitimate physical down-field threat to ensure that their play action game is more effective. And that is why they should not overlook the position in the first round of the draft.
Over the course of the last month there has been talk of the Bills selecting Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Greg Cosell, a senior producer of NFL Films and a widely respected NFL analyst, said that he feels Watkins is the best WR prospect since A.J. Green and Julio Jones in the 2011 draft. In 2013, Watkins had 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns (he also had a whopping 16 catches for 227 yards and 2 TDs in Clemson’s win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl).
Watkins has been billed as having top-end speed with the ability to easily separate from coverage on a consistent basis. He is described as possessing elite acceleration as a vertical route runner with the capacity for making defenders miss with his “devastating speed after the catch.” Watkins also displays good body control and a knack for going up to get the ball.
The only concerns regarding Watkins appear to be that he does not always take care to secure the ball fully which could be a result of minor concentration issues at times, easily fixable with the right coach. He is not a polished route runner so he could take some time to learn NFL routes which would require some patience on the Bills’ part.
In latest mock draft, the Clemson wide receiver gets taken at no.5 overall to the Oakland Raiders, who, even without Al Davis’ presence, apparently have still never met a speedy wide receiver that isn’t liked. As for Buffalo offensive tackle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M is the choice at no.9 and he has the ability to play either tackle position and is a solid run blocker.
This pick is more a matter of drafting for need and not necessarily the best player available.
Watkins’ potential appears vast and he would fit within the mode of the Bills’ preference for small, speedy receivers to play in the preferred spread offense scheme. One could argue that while Watkins might become the best fit with their current system, that the focus instead go to Mike Evans out of Texas A&M, a larger and sturdier receiver with big, strong hands and a wide catching radius, to counterbalance their smaller receivers.
Evans would provide Buffalo with a legitimate red-zone threat, a player that is good in traffic and at going up to get the ball even with defenders draped all over him , similar to that of Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Either way, taking a receiver ninth isn’t much of a stretch in this draft and many Bills fans would not have an issue if that happens.
Another route that might get taken, which will fulfill a value and need is to trade down and take a tight end either Eric Ebron out of North Carolina or Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech. Tight end is a definitive need for the Bills.
With an evolving pass-happy league and the rapid-fire proliferation of the use of the spread offense, tight ends are no longer just extensions of the offensive line, many of them serve as wide receivers (thus the current Jimmy Graham ‘is he a WR or TE debate?’)In that department the Bills are deficient, especially if Chandler signs elsewhere as a free agent.
Considering Chandler is little more than an average tight end who has an issue with dropped passes (bring up this past season’s loss to the Falcons in which Chandler dropped a sure fire first down in OT to a Bills fan and watch their reaction!) He also isn’t adept at blocking.
Beyond that, Chandler did have a solid season as a pass catcher (53 receptions for 655 yards and 2 TDs) yet that had more to do with various injuries to the receiving corps than a desire by the Bills to rely on Chandler more in the offense. Lee Smith hasn’t developed, Chris Gragg is an athletic tight end who is still an unknown, while Tony Moeaki signed in December and he’s struggled with injuries the last three seasons appearing in just 15 games with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite the current amount of money they have invested in the wide receiver position and their various other needs, if Watkins or Evans are available at nine, the Bills would be wise to seriously consider adding to their collection of speedy wideouts with either of these two solid draftees.