One of the biggest needs of the Buffalo Bills this offseason is at the wide receiver position. While the team re-signed Stevie Johnson to a five-year, $37.5 million deal last offseason, the depth behind him is very bleak. The team selected speedster T.J. Graham with their third-round pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, but he failed to provide the deep threat the Bills were looking for.
David Nelson is coming off of injury and is a restricted free agent, and the team announced last week that Donald Jones wouldn’t be tendered to return for 2013. This leaves the Bills with Chris Hogan, Kevin Elliot, Marcus Easley, and Graham left as the only wideouts under contract aside from Johnson for the 2013 season.
Buddy Nix expressed his desire for a “big-time target that can make catches when he’s covered” when asked about what he looked for at the wide receiver position. He also noted that Johnson’s best fit might be in the slot, where his above-average route running ability would be better utilized, leaving a huge hole at both outside wide receiver positions.
While I personally believe that targeting a wide receiver in the draft is the best route for the team to go, there certainly is some intrigue in this year’s free agent class.
Danny Amendola, 27, St. Louis Rams
While Danny Amendola doesn’t fit the height/weight/speed requirement that Nix described, he certainly adds play-making ability to an offense. Undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2008 by the Dallas Cowboys, Amendola made a name for himself on HBO’s Hard Knocks series. The versatile 5’11” 188-pounder is an ideal option for the slot, and he is the perfect target for short-to-intermediate passes, and consistently moves the chains. In 2012, he dislocated his clavicle early in the season, but still managed to come back shortly after, finishing the year with 63 catches for 666 yards, and three touchdowns, despite playing just 524 snaps.
Dwayne Bowe, 28, Kansas City Chiefs
Dwayne Bowe is the wide receiver that best describes what Buddy Nix is looking for. He’s 6’2” and weighs 221 pounds. Drafted with the No. 23 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of Louisiana State, Bowe has been a productive receiver for the Chiefs, despite their inadequate quarterback situation throughout his career. Bowe has produced three 1,000 yard seasons, and had a stellar 2010 campaign in which he recorded 72 catches for 1,162 yards while scoring 15 touchdowns. While Bowe is definitely an intriguing option, he has had his share of off-the-field issues. He held out as a rookie, missing a bit of training camp, and was suspended for four games in 2009 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. In his six years with the Chiefs, Bowe has caught 415 passes for 5,728 yards and 39 touchdowns, while averaging 13.8 yards per reception.
Brandon Gibson, 25, St. Louis Rams
Brandon Gibson is far from a household name, but the St. Louis wide receiver has begun to show that he’s a capable outside receiving option. Standing 6’0 and weighing 210 pounds, the former sixth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles had a quality 2012 season, catching 51 passes for 691 yards and five scores. The former Washington State standout is just 25-years old, and has decent speed, running a 4.49 second 40-yard dash. In his 38 career starts, Gibson has made 174 receptions for 2,090 yards, and nine touchdowns. He’s an interesting free agent to keep an eye on, as he shouldn’t command much of a contract on the open market.
Danario Alexander (RFA), 24, San Diego Chargers
Danario Alexander is a restricted free agent of the San Diego Chargers, but would be well worth the draft pick required to obtain his services. After being undrafted in 2010, the 6’5” 217 pounder finally caught on this year, and became one of the most efficient wide receivers in the National Football League. He caught 37 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 17.8 yards per reception, despite starting just seven games. The Buffalo Bills had Alexander in for a workout, but opted against signing the big wide receiver. According to ProFootballFocus, a website dedicated to analyzing and grading football players, Alexander had the highest “WR Rating” in the NFL, at 134.1. WR Rating refers to a quarterback’s passer rating when targeting a specific wide receiver.
Greg Jennings, 29, Green Bay Packers
It will be interesting to see what kind of contract wide receiver Greg Jennings will receive on the open market. He’s had the luxury of receiving passes from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for his entire career, while playing in a vertical offense that featured Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and most recently, James Jones, to take coverage off of him. The 2006 second-round draft pick out of Central Michigan has had an outstanding career, catching 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns in his seven seasons. Jennings is coming off of a groin injury that required surgery in 2012, and while the 5’11” 198 pound receiver doesn’t offer much in terms of size, he is a consistent route runner with great hands.
Chaz Schilens, 27, New York Jets
Chaz Schilens has incredible size and speed, standing 6’4”, weighing 225 pounds, while running a 4.33 40-yard dash, but has never really been a consistent receiving option since being a seventh round draft pick in 2008. He played four seasons with the Oakland Raiders before signing with the New York Jets in 2012, catching 100 passes for 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns in his career. He’s an intriguing physical specimen that definitely warrants a look, at least for training camp.
Kevin Ogletree, 25, Dallas Cowboys
Kevin Ogletree is a more popular name, due to playing for the Dallas Cowboys, but he’s a nice third or fourth receiving option. Undrafted in 2009 out of Virginia, the 25-year old emerged as a contributor in 2012 with the Cowboys as a situational player, making 32 receptions for 436 yards and four touchdowns. The 6’0” 190 pound wide receiver has started just 2 games in his career, but has appeared in 46, and will probably sign for a bigger deal than he’s worth.
Jerome Simpson, 27, Minnesota Vikings
Jerome Simpson was a second round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008 after being an extremely reliable receiver for Coastal Carolina. The 6’2” 199 pounder finally cracked the starting roster in 2010, due to injuries to Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, and carried that success into 2011, when he recorded 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns. He signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings for this past season, after it was announced that he would be suspended for the first three games of the year, due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He caught just 26 passes for 274 yards, while failing to find the endzone.
Mike Wallace, 26, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Wallace is the biggest deep-threat wide receiver in the National Football League. Drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Ole Miss, Wallace has established himself as a major weapon for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past four seasons. After an impressive rookie season, the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets, making Wallace a full-time starter for the 2010 season, in which he caught 60 passes for a ridiculous 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns; averaging an absurd 21 yards per reception.
Arguably the fastest wide receiver in the league, Wallace runs a 4.33 40-yard dash, and stretches the field better than anybody in the league. In his four years with the Steelers, he’s caught 235 passes for 4.042 yards, an average of 17.2 yards per catch, while scoring 32 touchdowns. At just 26 years of age, Wallace is going to get a huge deal in free agency this year.