With Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans reportedly on the trade block - and expected to be moved sometime this weekend - it's time to look at the team's receiving corps in a world without Evans. Despite our citing this position as the team's deepest and most talented, this is still a very green and unproven group, folks.
Receiver No. 1: Stevie Johnson. If (can we say "when" yet?) Buffalo moves Evans, there will be an extraordinary amount of pressure on Johnson to produce as the team's top receiver - not just because he's capable of doing so, but because he's going to get a ton of attention from opposing secondaries.
You're aware by now that Johnson put up Pro Bowl-worthy numbers in 2010, hauling in 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Beyond Johnson, no Bills receiver (aside from Evans, of course) has recorded more than 35 receptions in a season (Roscoe Parrish), 400 yards (Parrish) and three touchdowns (David Nelson). Only Parrish and Buster Davis, the newest Bills receiver and a former first-round draft pick of GM Buddy Nix in San Diego, have more than one year of experience in the league.
So, yeah. Until one of those other guys becomes a force, of course teams are going to double Johnson. We don't even know if he's ready to handle it yet, even as he's dominating training camp practices and drawing comparisons to Eric Moulds.
Receiver No. 2: Roscoe Parrish. In our view, Parrish would be the starting receiver opposite Johnson. Early in 2010, when Johnson was struggling with his consistency, Parrish became a starter opposite Evans. Given that head coach Chan Gailey still has big plans for Parrish as a receiver, it stands to reason that Parrish would be the starter of choice if Evans departs.
In just eight games last season, Parrish looked like an entirely different player, and was well on his way to a career season with 33 catches, 400 yards and two scores in just a half-season's worth of playing time. If Evans leaves, Parrish stands to gain the most statistically - if he can stay healthy, of course.
Receiver No. 3: David Nelson. I know there is some rhetoric that Nelson has as much upside as any receiver on this team. While that may be true, it's also true that in the short-term, Nelson will still be a much more effective matchup from the slot - which complicates issues with the second and third receivers, as both are better in the slot. Nelson (31 catches, 353 yards, three touchdowns) was productive as a rookie, and he, too, would stand to see more looks from Ryan Fitzpatrick, particularly as a possession receiver.
Receiver No. 4: Donald Jones. Jones was a lock to make the team before this Evans trade talk heated up; now he's something more than a certainty to make the team. Again, Jones is a player that works better in the slot than outside, but he's unique to this group in that he provides a degree of physicality to his game that none of the other receivers possess. Jones, pound for pound, is one of the toughest and most physical players on this football team, and Gailey will find ways to utilize that asset.
The Wild Cards: Naaman Roosevelt, Buster Davis, Marcus Easley. Surprise! Roosevelt and Davis are better working out of the slot, as well, though Roosevelt was able to make some plays as an undrafted rookie free agent on the edge, and Davis certainly has the raw talent to play out there, as well. Easley, however, is the true wild card here, as he has loads of talent and, aside from Johnson, may be the only other true edge receiver the team employs.
I know Nix has said that he loves his receiving corps and the talent within it, and that's justified. Make no mistake, however, that if Evans is traded, the Bills will have a lot to figure out - not just in terms of dividing up touches between a bunch of "goon squad" members (as they call themselves), but in terms of scheming the game to keep their only proven receiver, Johnson, free of too much attention. This would be a gamble, but if the Bills are gambling, this is probably the positional group to do it with.