Following an exciting offseason, we now have a better vision of what the Buffalo Bills are looking to do on both offense and defense under new Head Coach Rex Ryan, who’s exotic, aggressive and physical defensive scheme will complement Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman’s multiple and new-age offense that is a run-first, “beat ‘em down” brand of football.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be breaking down the biggest training camp battles to watch at each position. In this third installment, we’ll highlight the wide receiver position, which has the potential to be one of the more explosive units throughout the National Football League.
Previous installments below:
Sammy Watkins dealt with nagging injuries throughout his highly anticipated rookie season, but still managed to produce respectable numbers- catching 65 passes for 982 yards (15.1 yards-per-reception) and scoring six touchdowns. He was overshadowed by fellow rookie wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans, but Watkins’ rookie year is still one of the top 20 in history.
He showed the ability to beat press coverage, take the top off a defense, make contested catches and create yards after the catch. After undergoing offseason surgery, a healthy Watkins should be a real weapon for the Bills’ offense in 2015.
While all eyes were on Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods quietly had an impressive season in his own right, catching 65 passes for 699 yards and five touchdowns. Woods is an excellent route runner with reliable hands and there’s an intensity and energy to his game that makes him extremely fun to watch.
Like Watkins, Woods is effective whether he’s lined up on the boundary or in the slot, so it will be interesting to see the type of formations we see this season.
Percy Harvin only needed to spend eight weeks with Rex Ryan and wide receiver coach Sanjay Lal to know that he wanted to follow them from the New York Jets to the Buffalo Bills. Harvin is one of the most explosive playmakers in the league, despite catching 51 passes for just 483 yards and a touchdown last year.
The Seahawks traded a first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Harvin, after he caught 149 passes for 1,644 yards and 9 touchdowns, adding another 345 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and averaged 32.5 yards-per-kick return during his final 24 games in Minnesota.
For whatever reason, things didn’t work out in Seattle, but Harvin is looking to prove that he’s still the playmaker he was two years ago.
Marcus Easley was expected to be the big, physical wide receiver that the Bills have lacked for years when the team selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. While that hasn’t been the case, he’s found a way to make himself valuable by developing into one of the premier special teams players in the league. Recently re-signed to a four-year, $7 million contract, Easley is a lock to occupy one of the slots on the “wide receiver” depth chart after racking up 28 tackles over the last two seasons.
Chris Hogan doesn’t have elite speed or athleticism, but he’s one of the more crafty route runners in the NFL, a skill that’s earned him the nickname “7-11” as he’s seemingly always open. In 2014, Hogan surpassed Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin on the Bills’ wide receiver depth chart and caught 41 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns.
An efficient slot receiver with good hands, Hogan has a strong chance to beat out a guy like Marquise Goodwin, due to his ability to be effective on underneath routes and move the chains in key situations.
Marquise Goodwin In 2013, the Bills’ rookie third-round pick caught 17 passes for 282 yards (16.6 yards-per-catch) and scored three touchdowns. It looked like the former Olympian and Texas Longhorn was heading towards a breakout year in 2014, but nagging injuries forced him down the depth chart and into Doug Marrone’s doghouse. He finished the year with one catch or 42 yards.
Goodwin has elite speed that you can’t find everywhere in the NFL, but he’s extremely raw as a wide receiver. He struggles getting out of breaks, doesn’t track the ball well and has a limited route tree. He doesn’t offer much in the short or horizontal passing game and the signing of Percy Harvin, who shares similar athleticism and speed to him, could make Goodwin expendable.
For years, the Bills have lacked a wide receiver with size that can consistently win in contested-catch situations—particularly in the redzone. Seventh-round pick, Dezmin Lewis, out of Central Arkansas can potentially be that guy. Lewis suffered a leg injury in OTA’s that may make him a candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list for the first six weeks of the season, but he has all the traits requisite of a solid possession receiver.
Lewis, who stands 6’4” and weighs 215 pounds, had an extremely productive collegiate career, catching 197 passes for 2,618 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s big, physical, has reliable hands, tough over the middle of the field and has decent speed. Early on, his route tree will likely be limited to go’s and comebacks, but these are routes where Lewis has the ability to dominate. He may not have much of an impact as a rookie, but having players like Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin, among others, ahead of him on the depth chart will allow coaches to be patient with his development.