This post is part of a continuing series in which we break down 13 2011 NFL Draft prospects - our Baker's Dozen - that should interest the Buffalo Bills. Keep up to date on our Baker's Dozen series here.
Buffalo runs a hybrid passing game incorporating all four NFL offensive philosophies. This hybrid offense calls for receivers to run both vertical and hortizontal timing routes, as well as sight adjustments. Buffalo uses three basic wide receiver positions: X-receiver, Z-receiver, and the slot receiver. Chan Gailey likes to cross-train his receivers so they can play all three spots, running all routes from the basic route tree.
Basic Route Tree
In Buffalo's base set, the X receiver lines up on the line of scrimmage, and the Z receiver one yard off the line of scrimmage. In Buffalo's scheme, the X is normally responsible for deep routes, running No. 4 through No. 9, and variations of each of those routes. Z normally runs the shorter, catch-and-run routes. When Gailey calls vertical timing plays, the X normally opens the field up with a No. 9 or deep No. 8 route to allow the Z to run a No. 6 or No. 8 in combination.
Base Offense- Slot Variation
This set has the X and Z on the same side, with the Z off the line of scrimmage. This set allows for combinations and route crossing, where the X again opens the field up for the Z.
Three WR Offense
The concept in Buffalo's three-receiver set is the same in its four and five receiver sets. The X and Z act as dual X receivers, and the slot(s) runs Z routes.
A.J. Green at X Receiver
Right up front, this is Green's best position. In Buffalo's offense, the X receiver is asked to stretch the field vertically, though the X receiver does run a full route tree. Green is ideal for this position, and could yield similar results to Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Green is simply too tall and athletic for most corners to handle. At X, Green can blow the top off defenses vertically, and open the field up for other receivers. Unlike Lee Evans, who currently plays the X receiver, Buffalo quarterbacks can still regularly target Green on jump balls and high-point deep balls.
Green at Z Receiver
Green's athletic abilities make him a fit for any team, but the Z receiver exposes Green to a bit too much contact over the middle. Inside route Nos. 2, 4 and 6 should be routes that Green runs after the corner and safety bracket him deep, to keep the defense off balance. Green has running ability after the catch, but like Ftizgerald and other taller receivers, the scheme should put them into positions to use their height. Z may not be the best spot to do so.
Green in the slot
This position also puts Green in a position to lessen the effects of his abilities. In this type of formation, though, defenses would be hard pressed against Evans and Green, as both need to be doubled deep.
Green at Z in a Three-Receiver Set
In a three-receiver set, the X and Z receivers can have nearly identical schematic responsibilities. One option is to have the Z act as another X receiver. This is where Green could be most effective. While Evans is a one-trick pony going deep, he's good at that trick and demands a safety over the top. So could Green. The defense would be forced to play Cover 2, with Stevie Johnson causing all kinds of havoc from the slot. This set would be nearly impossible for most NFL defenses to counter without a lights out pass rush like the Giants', that can get to the quarterback without much blitzing help.
Green is a schematic fit for Buffalo at X, Z in three-receiver sets, and is viable as well as the slot receiver. With most NFL teams using a combination hybrid of all four NFL offenses, there are very few teams that couldn't use Green, as three of the four offensive schemes require a receiver to open the field up vertically. In Buffalo, the issue would be numbers. Evans is still on the team, despite average production, because he of his deep ability. Johnson is a silky-smooth route runner, and is an ideal Z receiver. Roscoe Parrish began to emerge as an explosive slot receiver. Where does Green fit in? If Buddy Nix is convinced that Green is worth the third pick, then either Parrish is out with Johnson manning the slot, or Evans' days in Buffalo may be numbered, though that is somehwat unlikely with Gailey's recent comment about needing to get him the ball more.
One thing would be certain, though: Buffalo would field one of the best receiving trios in the league.However, drafting an X receiver - even one as dominating as Green - is something that Buffalo cannot do with all of their pressing needs.