State of the Bills Roster: Wide Receivers


Reed's importance displayed in 2008 (buffalobills.com)

The "State of the Bills Roster" series trucks on! If you're new around these parts within the past nine months or so, this series is an off-season progression of posts in which we'll break down Buffalo's roster in-depth. From these discussions, we'll put together a "Community Needs List" in priority order, then begin researching potential free agent and draft acquisitions that will satisfy all of the Bills' needs as we perceive them.

Hey - at least this way, we're doing the job right. Right? Unlike a certain front office we're forced to support.

And now, we continue our foray into heavy-duty off-season work at Buffalo Rumblings. It's our "State of the Roster" series, off-season mode, and we'll continue the discussions by breaking down the situation at Buffalo's wide receiver position.
  Previous installments: QB :: RB :: TE

Opening Statement
In the NFL, wide receivers unsurprisingly tend to go as quarterbacks go.  As a result, Buffalo's receivers as a group were up and down in 2008, largely because quarterback Trent Edwards was up and down.  This receiving corps was certainly better in 2008 than they were in 2007, but that isn't exactly saying much.  There is talent here, but for now, it's being seriously hampered by its collective youth as well as Edwards' own inexperience.

#83 Lee Evans (starter)
   5'10", 197 pounds
   Age: 28 in March 2009
   Contract status: 4 years remaining (UFA in 2013); owed $20.4 million base salaries and $5 million in roster bonuses over the final 3 years of the deal
- He got his big extension this year, and now the Bills have Evans locked up for the prime of his career.  Evans will probably never be considered an "elite" receiver in the NFL, but he's good enough to start for most teams.  He needs more help; Buffalo's two rookies did little to take defenders away from Evans, and even a solid season from Josh Reed didn't help.  Evans should be devastating once a second threat is found; until then, he'll be hot and cold, just as he has been during his entire Bills career.

#82 Josh Reed (starter)
   5'10", 210 pounds
   Age: 29 in May 2009
   Contract status: 1 year remaining (UFA in 2010); owed $2.025 million in base salaries
- Put together a solid season with 56 grabs and established himself as Edwards' go-to target in clutch situations.  People also forget that Reed is barely a year older than Evans; he's got some serious years left in the tank.  He is tops in this receiving corps in the most critical area: knowing how to get open.  With one year left on his deal, the Bills might - probably won't, but it's debatable as to whether they should - look at extending Reed this off-season.

#11 Roscoe Parrish
   5'9", 171 pounds
   Age: 27 in July 2009
   Contract status: 3 years remaining (UFA in 2012); owed $3.05 million in base salaries, $1.5 million in signing bonuses and $1.5 million in roster bonuses
- He'll never be more than a gadget player in this league, but his modest salary and bonus structure is worth it simply because he's the game's most dangerous punt returner.  At this point in his career, however, counting on him to emerge as a viable receiver is a waste of time.  He has a role in Buffalo, but it's only prominent on special teams.

#13 Steve Johnson
   6'2", 210 pounds
   Age: 23 in July 2009
   Contract status: Entering second year of undisclosed, multi-year contract.
- Johnson became a viable option for Buffalo at the end of his rookie season, but let's not get starry-eyed; we're talking about a guy who caught 10 passes this season.  He's got a load of potential, though, and he's got the goods to be a spot contributor in his second year in the league.  To rely on him as anything more as a slot option in spread formations next year is risky business, however.

#81 James Hardy
   6'6", 220 pounds
   Age: 24 in December 2009
   Contract status: Entering second year of undisclosed, multi-year contract.
- Quite possibly Buffalo's biggest disappointment in 2009, Hardy caught just 9 passes as a rookie when the Bills needed much more.  That said, he's still got the raw tools to excel in this league, particularly in the red zone.  It's far, far too early to give up on Hardy at this point, but just like fellow rookie Johnson, to expect a landmark rise in production next year is unrealistic.

#17 Justin Jenkins
   6'0", 207 pounds
   Age: 29 in December 2009
   Contract status: Restricted Free Agent
- As an RFA, Jenkins' chances of returning next season are about 50/50.  He was solid on special teams this past season, but didn't have the impact there that he did in 2007 and found himself inactive on a few Sundays this season.

Other receivers on the roster: Felton Huggins, C.J. Hawthorne (both practice squad)

The Breakdown
Keepers: Evans, Reed, Parrish, Johnson, Hardy.  Yep, all five of 'em.  As a group, their skills are diverse and there's a nice mix of veteran and youth.  I'm not saying that this is a complete receiving corps, but all five have a place on next year's team.

Extendables: None.  Almost put Reed here, and certainly wouldn't mind seeing him extended, but we have bigger fish to fry with next year's money.

Expendables: Jenkins, Huggins, Hawthorne.  Jenkins is a run-of-the-mill special teams guy, and it's certainly not a necessity that he stay.  Hawthorne has practice squad eligibility left, and the skills to contribute at some point; expect him to be stashed again next season.

Goners: None.

What we need: The Bills have five "keeper" receivers in their receiving corps, yet they're still missing a piece.  They need that one veteran guy (not named Parrish) that can contribute as a second or third receiver and allow Buffalo's young, talented receivers - Johnson and Hardy - to develop without being pressured to contribute unrealistically.  I don't want to name names, but I think it'd be a huge deal to lure a guy like New England's Jabar Gaffney into Buffalo.

That's it. I'm done with the easy stuff. Now it's on you, folks. Got any tough love for Evans as a "#1" receiver? Want to talk more about what a pleasant surprise Reed has been? Want to gush over Johnson/Hardy's potential some more? Have any names of potential additions you'd like to throw into the ring? Have fun with this, and let's get brainstorming.

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