GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 02: Justin Blackmon #81 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys catches a 67-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against Chase Thomas #44 of the Stanford Cardinal during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 2012 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills are entering the 2012 NFL Draft in a frame of mind that they haven't had in quite some time: they don't seem convinced that they need a starter with their first-round pick. Sure, they'd like to get one - who wouldn't? - but the way GM Buddy Nix and his associates have been speaking of late, they're clearly comfortable with their current personnel in several key areas.
Still, the team knows at which positions they need to provide reinforcements, and haven't been shy about talking about options they have in those areas this week.
Over the next few days, we're going to take one more look at the Bills' four most prominent "need" areas - including the current personnel that resides there, and what any draft pick might be expected to do at the position should they become the newest member of the Bills.
We'll start this exercise off with the wide receiver position. Next week, we'll go over the remaining three areas: linebacker, cornerback and left tackle.
WIDE RECEIVER: Stevie Johnson was re-signed to a five-year extension this off-season, but the team has stated plainly that they'd like to make his job easier by finding him a running mate.
Players with defined roles: Johnson has been the team's go-to receiver for the better part of two years, and now he's paid like it. David Nelson has established himself as a quality possession receiver and red zone threat out of the slot, and has 92 receptions, 1,011 yards and eight scores to show for it as a former undrafted free agent.
If training camp were to start today: The team would have several young receiving prospects that it likes vying for one or two semi-prominent receiving roles in Chan Gailey's offense. That includes one outside role, for sure, and a smaller slot role inside as a fourth receiver in Gailey's multi-receiver, boundary-to-boundary passing attack. Of the eight or so candidates, the most intriguing contenders for those roles would be Donald Jones, Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan and David Clowney.
The bigger picture: Gailey already has an established pecking order, of sorts, relating to his offensive weaponry and their respective touches. Fred Jackson tops the list. Johnson and Nelson follow. C.J. Spiller could be climbing that list, and tight end Scott Chandler will be a factor. The more prominent open receiver role could rate as high as third in the pecking order (behind Jackson and Johnson), but will more likely settle for fourth or fifth (behind Nelson and potentially even Spiller). Therefore, whoever fills these two roles could simply be vying for roughly the same number of touches as Chandler; the difference, of course, is that the roles could become much more with consistent performance.
How that picture could change: If the team were to draft a receiver that they perceive as an immediate difference-maker. That type of player would simply slide into the No. 2 receiver role opposite Johnson, and then the incumbent prospects would be vying for one minor role. Any other receiver prospect that the team liked would simply add to the current competition at the position.
Round 1 possibilities: Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State has lost some of his January luster, but one could easily argue that he'd be an immediate No. 2 in Buffalo. It has long been unlikely, however, that Blackmon will be available with the No. 10 pick. Michael Floyd of Notre Dame is the other big name, but the Bills have acted lukewarm about him of late. Kendall Wright of Baylor has also long been considered Round 1 material, but he's never been satisfactorily linked with the Bills' pick in any way.
Other intriguing prospects: Rueben Randle of LSU is perhaps the best athlete at receiver this year, and while he's not an immediate contributor, he has major potential. Among the many more big receivers with speed that the Bills typically gravitate towards, Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech), Brian Quick (Appalachian State), A.J. Jenkins (Illinois), Marvin McNutt (Iowa), Tommy Streeter (Miami) and Marvin Jones (California) rank among the more intriguing players that the team could consider.
Five questions for you: These are some relevant questions, in our opinion, to be answering and dissecting insofar as the receiver position goes.
- Let's call Blackmon the best receiver in this draft class. How high would you rate him on the pecking order list of offensive weapons? Slot him into a list containing Jackson, Spiller, Johnson, Nelson and Chandler.
- Do you, personally, consider Blackmon and/or Floyd immediate No. 2 receivers? Do you believe the team will? Should they?
- It's fairly well-known that this year's receiver class is deep. How many receivers in this deep class, however, are capable of coming in and legitimately competing with the unproven incumbents for a defined role? More importantly, how long can Buffalo wait to get one?
- Considering that the Bills already have five players with defined roles in line for touches, does that affect the team's perceived need for another receiver in any way?
- How confident are you in Gailey's ability to "make do with what he has" in the event that the team can't satisfactorily address the competition at this position in this year's draft?