When the Buffalo Bills signed star wide receiver Terrell Owens during the 2009 off-season, Bills fans everywhere immediately looked to the receiver position as a team strength. With Owens joining veterans Lee Evans and Josh Reed, the Bills suddenly had a receiving corps that could hurt defenses at every level of the field.
As we discover all too often in the NFL off-season - and in particular with this franchise - looks can be deceiving. An offensive line in flux and poor quarterback play led to an anemic passing attack, with no Bills receiver gaining more receiving yards than Owens' 829. His 55 receptions also led the team. New GM Buddy Nix and new head coach Chan Gailey did not see fit to retain the services of either Owens or Reed. Suddenly, that position of strength is now just another area with very little in the way of proven talent.
Let's assume, just for the sake of this poll, that Gailey is capable of creating enough opportunities for Evans so that the six-year veteran leads the Bills in receptions. (A large assumption, I realize, but just roll with it.) Our question for you this morning is this: who emerges as Buffalo's second-leading receiver in 2010? You'll see our list of candidates before you hit the jump, but if you're looking for a little more info on the contenders, you'll want to head there before casting your vote.
Fred Jackson: The unheralded running back was actually Buffalo's second-leading receiver in 2009, hauling in two more passes (46) than Evans (44). Given the fact that the Bills have three legitimate running backs, it's unclear exactly how many opportunities Jackson will get, but at the moment, he's quite easily the most proven commodity on this list.
C.J. Spiller: The rookie halfback is arguably the team's best offensive weapon, even having not yet played an NFL down. Nix drafted Spiller with the idea of letting Gailey use him in a variety of ways, which could indicate that Spiller will be used frequently as a receiving option. He averaged 35 receptions per season over his final three years at Clemson.
Shawn Nelson: The second-year tight end has a world of potential, but struggled with injuries en route to an 18-catch rookie season. That total is nearly equal to the combined efforts of the next two players on this list, however.
James Hardy: A second-round pick in 2008, Hardy has accrued 10 receptions, two touchdowns, and one serious knee injury through his first two NFL seasons. Most believe he'll get the first opportunity to win the No. 2 wide receiver spot opposite Evans.
Steve Johnson: A seventh-round pick in 2008, Johnson has accrued 12 receptions, two touchdowns, and zero serious knee injuries through his first two NFL seasons. The team's previous coaching staff loved his instincts, but it's unclear how he's regarded by the new regime.
Marcus Easley: Though he's only been with the team for two months, Easley has opened eyes by making several big plays during OTAs. Still, this is a guy who, a year ago today, had just five career receptions at UConn. Has an outside shot of earning a starting gig, but will need an unusually strong pre-season to do so.