State of the Bills Roster: Wide Receiver

News about the Buffalo Bills' coaching staff is beginning to trickle in. We get that. We want to talk about it, too. Giff Smith is the new outside linebackers coach, there are reports that the team is switching to a 3-4 defense, and rumors run rampant that the majority of the staff is in place, awaiting official announcement. We'll get to that stuff when it happens.

For now, we're going to truck on with our State of the Bills Roster series, where this morning we'll examine the Bills' wide receiver position. There's little question that this unit was disappointing in 2009; amidst enormous expectations, Buffalo's entire passing offense fell flat on its face, busting out several teeth in the process. Did you know, however, that this group was more productive from a touchdown standpoint than any other combination of Bills receivers since 2004? Even the small numbers we saw this season were good by Bills standards.

Receiver isn't a position being talked about as a big need area - we all know that quarterback, the offensive line and linebacker are the most frequent destinations for those discussions - but with two rather major unrestricted free agents on the list and a lot of unproven talent, the Bills might enter the '10 season quite thin at this position. It'll need to be bolstered in some fashion, even if it's just by adding some mid-to-low-range veteran free agents to compete with the young guys. Our analysis of Buffalo's wide receiver position is after the jump.

What the new regime might be looking for
Gailey's most notoriously excellent player in his time at Georgia Tech was current Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson. This year, Tech is sending another gigantic Gailey recruit (Demaryius Thomas) to the NFL - and by gigantic, we mean the guy has freakish size for a wide receiver. That doesn't mean, however, that the Bills will target big receivers when they begin re-tooling this position; Gailey may have focused on getting big players to help off-set the lack of talent he had at the quarterback position. After all, the bigger the receiver, the less accurate the throw needs to be. In general, of course.

Basically we're saying we have no idea, but don't be shocked if they look at big dudes first.

Current personnel
Buffalo currently employs nine receivers in some capacity. That's sure to change over the next few months.

Lee Evans. No, the arrival of a certain T.O. did not make his numbers explode. But it can at least be argued that despite hauling in just 44 passes for 612 yards, Evans made his biggest impact since 2006. Evans hauled in 7 touchdown passes in 2009, one less than the 8 he combined to bring in in the previous two seasons. Given the fact that Buffalo hasn't been able to pass the ball for half a decade, Evans' 39 touchdown receptions in six years is a truly remarkable stat. The guy can play, and he's not going anywhere, no matter how badly you feel for him.
  Contract status: 3 years remaining. Owed $11.45M in base salaries, $5M in non-prorated bonuses

Terrell Owens. The Owens experiment was a failure - the team missed the playoffs, and Owens' numbers were the lowest he's put up since the 1999 season. Let's not pretend he didn't have an impact. Defenses were forced to account for both he and Evans all season, regardless of who was throwing or blocking, and that had an impact on Fred Jackson's impressive season from the running back spot. The 12 touchdowns that Owens and Evans caught were the most by Buffalo's top two receivers since 2004, when Evans and Eric Moulds caught a combined 14. Owens still has plenty left in the tank, and we're betting that a contender realizes it and takes a shot with him.
  Contract status: Unrestricted Free Agent

Josh Reed. In 2007 and 2008, Reed became a favorite target of Trent Edwards, catching a combined 107 passes in those seasons. When Edwards left the lineup after his demotion, he took Reed's relevance with him. Reed didn't see the field much and caught just 27 balls, his lowest total since a 16-catch season in 2004. An unrestricted free agent, we don't think Reed will be back.
  Contract status: Unrestricted Free Agent

James Hardy. He's been a non-factor in two years in Buffalo, dealing with a severe knee injury (which he's now recovered from) and barely seeing any field time. Still, he's young, talented, cheap, and has the type of size that Gailey seemed to covet while at Georgia Tech. We're betting he sticks around for at least the 2010 season while Gailey tries to figure out what he has in Hardy.
  Contract status: 2 years remaining. Owed $1.025M in base salaries

Roscoe Parrish. Let's face facts - Parrish is overpaid, nothing more than a gadget player and return specialist, and faces a very real possibility of being released outright to free up a little cap room. Expecting anything more from him at this point would simply be an inability to wrap our minds around how a player can be so good on Madden and so bad in the real world.
  Contract status: 2 years remaining. Owed $2.5M in base salaries, $1M in non-prorated bonuses

Steve Johnson. Whoa. Whoa. Calm yourself. Johnson is still one of the most popular players in the Bills' fan base despite his 12 career catches. Keep this in mind: the coaching staff that drafted, then subsequently fell in love with Johnson is no longer in Buffalo. The good standing he held is out the window; now, he'll stay or go based on his playing merit. We think he'll stay, but don't expect him to suddenly emerge as this phenomenal player. Though obviously that would be nice.
  Contract status: 2 years remaining. Owed $1.025M in base salaries

Justin Jenkins. A perennial superstar in the pre-season and a fringe special teams player during games that count, Jenkins is unlikely to return next season unless it's as a warm body in training camp.
  Contract status: Your guess is as good as ours

Felton Huggins. Spent '09 on the practice squad. When you can't beat out Justin Jenkins for a roster spot, you're not likely to survive a regime change.
  Contract status: Your guess is as good as ours

C.J. Hawthorne. Although pretty talented, we have yet to actually see that, as Hawthorne has yet to stay healthy even during a training camp. Unlikely to survive the regime change in any capacity.
  Contract status: Your guess is as good as ours

Who stays? Who goes?
Evans and Hardy are locks to stay. Owens and Reed, obviously, are not, and right now, it looks like both have played their last games in Bills uniforms. Parrish is a wild card - unless the Bills release him outright, which is a distinct possibility, Parrish doesn't have a contract that can be moved easily. Johnson will stick around as depth, in all likelihood, but it's time to temper expectations. The rest are fringe players, and while we might see one or two of them in training camp, they obviously won't be a part of the team's long-term plans.

If I were a betting man (and no, I'm not)...
Evans re-claims his spot as the Bills' No. 1 receiver, Gailey relies on using the tight end a bit more, and the Bills hold an open competition between Hardy and a free agent or two for the spot opposite Evans. The only thing that'll fix the passing attack is a quarterback with solid offensive line play, so we're guessing that bringing in a big name to help Evans like last season won't be a top priority.

Names to keep an eye on
I mentioned Demaryius Thomas at the top. Gailey is familiar with him, and if he's available on draft day in a best-player-available situation, don't be shocked if Gailey convinces Buddy Nix to pull the trigger. Don't sleep on Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, either - Buffalo may not get the guy they want at No. 9, and if they're forced to abandon need and go BPA so as to avoid yet another Top 10 reach, Bryant's got dynamite talent and may be available. San Diego's Malcom Floyd is a player that Nix is familiar with, but as he's an RFA, it might take a second-round pick or a sign-and-trade to get Floyd to Buffalo, and we don't view that as likely. Chris Chambers, Domenik Hixon and Bobby Wade are names to keep an eye on, as well.

Previous installments of the State of the Bills Roster series: QBRBTE.
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