State Of The Buffalo Bills Roster: Wide Receiver

Buffalo Rumblings is in the process of breaking down the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position. Installments you may have missed: QB, RB, OT.

It's tougher to pinpoint a position at which the Buffalo Bills have more pending off-season intrigue than at wide receiver. Their top target, Stevie Johnson, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency and a fairly controversial figure. Behind Johnson on the depth chart are a slew of occasionally productive players and a few good stories.

Yet this is a position that could see a fairly massive amount of change, even if Johnson is successfully re-signed. The team needs better athletes with speed and leaping ability to diversify what is a fairly uniform group of players in terms of skill set. Put more succinctly, they need more play-makers - and if that play-maker is explosive athletically, all the better.

We take a look at the Bills' receivers, as well as what may happen at the position in the off-season, after the jump.

STEVIE JOHNSON
Age:
25 (26 in July 2012)
Contract: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

Stevie Johnson is a very good wide receiver capable of beating the league's best corners on a consistent basis. He is entering the prime of his burgeoning career. He is also, however, often times a distraction with his post-touchdown celebratory antics and penalties. That does not change the fact that Johnson is exactly the type of home-grown talent that GM Buddy Nix promised he'd retain when he took over the team's football operation. Johnson wants to be back. The Bills want Johnson back. His impending free agent status is the biggest story line to follow as the Bills prepare for a busy off-season.

DAVID NELSON
Age:
25 (26 in November 2012)
Contract: RFA in 2013. Will make $490K in base salary in 2012.

In two years as a former undrafted free agent out of Florida, Nelson has developed into a productive (92 receptions, eight scores) and reliable safety valve target for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has not, however, been able to capitalize on opportunities - afforded by injuries to teammates - to become a more prominent member of the team's passing attack. The coaching staff has preferred to keep Nelson in the slot almost exclusively. Add in Nelson's limited athletic upside and run-after-the-catch ability, and he's shoehorned in as a third or fourth slot receiver, at maximum. It's time to accept Nelson for what he is: a player limited to a very specific role, but one who can really cause problems for defenses in that capacity.

DONALD JONES
Age:
24 (25 in December 2012)
Contract: RFA in 2013. Will make $490K in base salary in 2012.

Given an opportunity to start alongside Johnson after the trade of Lee Evans, Jones struggled mightily as the team's No. 2 receiver. He could not consistently separate from defensive backs, showed inconsistent hands when he did get open (which was often enough), and was not very productive (23 receptions in eight games) before landing on IR with an ankle injury. The team was very high on Jones over the summer, and even after a down year, they still seem pretty high on him. Jones is also an excellent special teams player, meaning that he's a lock to be back competing for playing time near the top of the depth chart.

ROSCOE PARRISH
Age:
29 (30 in July 2012)
Contract: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

If Chan Gailey had big plans for Parrish - and indications are that he did - those plans were wasted by two straight season-ending injuries that caused Parrish to miss 22 games. He hasn't played a full season for four years running. With changes coming, it's hard to imagine that the team believes Parrish can be a reliable part of the team's future plans.

BRAD SMITH
Age:
28 (29 in December 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2015. Signed a four-year, $15M deal in July of 2011.

It's important to remember that Smith was signed as a "third quarterback," and spent most of the beginning portions of the 2011 season as a player with a very limited role as a receiver and, more prominently, a Wildcat runner. Injuries forced him into playing receiver full-time, and he recorded 23 receptions and a score. He'll return to his niche role in 2012, but we're listing him as a receiver because it doesn't make sense to list him as a quarterback.

MARCUS EASLEY
Age:
24 (25 in November 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2014. Owed $1.065M in base salary over final two years of his rookie deal.

A purportedly serious heart condition ended Easley's season after some promising exhibition performances. It was the second straight season that the 2010 fourth-round pick missed; he has yet to play in a regular season game. The team says that Easley's condition has been cured and won't recur, so the super-athletic unknown commodity will very likely be back competing again next July. Hopefully the third time's the charm for Marcus.

RUVELL MARTIN
Age:
29 (30 in August 2012)
Contract: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

A late pre-season roster addition, Martin made the opening day roster as a special teams player, and stuck in that capacity throughout the season. He was never given an opportunity to play much receiver, however - even after a bunch of injuries - which says all you need to know about his place in the team's plans moving forward.

DEREK HAGAN
Age:
27 (28 in September 2012)
Contract: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

A late-season street signing due to injury, Hagan showed well over the final four games, hauling in 13 passes in that time frame - including seven in the regular season finale in New England. Gailey said that Hagan performed well enough to merit consideration next summer, so it wouldn't be surprising if he was signed to a short-term deal and given an opportunity to earn playing time in training camp.

NAAMAN ROOSEVELT
Age:
24 (25 in December 2012)
Contract: Contract details undisclosed. Re-signed in September after season-ending injury to Parrish.

The local product has been a nice story for two years, but he was a roster casualty coming out of the 2011 pre-season, and by the end of the regular season was an afterthought to just-acquired veteran players. It's tough to imagine Roosevelt being in the team's plans, though he is still apparently under contract for 2012.

KAMAR AIKEN
Age:
22 (23 in May 2012)
Contract: Contract details undisclosed. Signed off of the team's practice squad in November.

Something of a fan favorite after a solid pre-season, Aiken spent most of the season on Buffalo's practice squad, and struggled to make the game-day roster when he was on the team late in the year.

DAVID CLOWNEY
Age:
26 (27 in July 2012)
Contract: Signed a reserve/future contract in January 2012.

Clowney has gotten plenty of looks in five-plus years since becoming a pro thanks in large part to his blazing speed. He's never caught more than 14 passes in a season and was signed as a street free agent. His signing is interesting in that it could indicate the team is looking for more speed, but it's difficult to envision Clowney making the team next year.

POSITIONAL OUTLOOK: The Bills want Johnson back, and if they're able to accomplish that, they also want to give him help in the form of a true counterpart that can make plays when covered and keep defenses from rolling coverage Stevie's way. From there, they have prospects that they'll continue to try to develop (Jones and Easley), a reliable role player (Nelson), a guy potentially worth bringing back to compete (Hagan), and the need for more explosive athletes as competition for the remaining incumbents.

FREE AGENCY: Again, the plan is to get Johnson under contract. Parrish, Martin and Hagan are also free agents, and from the sound of things, Hagan probably has the best chance of getting a new deal and another look next summer - and that's no slam dunk. It's tough to imagine Nix breaking the bank for a big-name receiver in free agency (and there are plenty of them), but one exception could be San Diego star Vincent Jackson. Nix was in San Diego when Jackson was drafted, and the team already has a prime recruiter on the roster in Shawne Merriman, a former teammate of Jackson's. If Nix is willing to spend big bucks for a free agent receiver, Jackson seems like the logical leader in the proverbial clubhouse. Skepticism about the team's willingness to spend here, despite the obvious ties, is very warranted.

2012 NFL DRAFT: A far more likely scenario to the team pursuing Jackson in free agency is looking hard at this year's incoming crop of rookie wide receivers. That list starts with Oklahoma State product Justin Blackmon, who very well could be long gone by the time the Bills pick at No. 10, and also includes juniors Alshon Jeffery and Mohamed Sanu, senior Michael Floyd, and many others we'll likely name at a later date. Nix wants size, speed and play-making ability, and he'll likely have an easier time trying to find that in the draft.

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