The last time Doug Marrone was in the NFL, he was - in name, at least - the offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints in 2008, the year before their world championship season. That year, the Saints rode the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense to a win in Super Bowl XLIV.
Marrone brings a very similar offensive system to his new job with the Buffalo Bills, and major changes are forthcoming to the team's personnel - particularly at wide receiver, where two fairly well-established restricted free agents will not be returning. In '09, the Saints had seven players catch 35 or more passes; let's review those seven players and try to find Bills players that can offer similar skill sets.
Marques Colston (70 receptions, 1,074 yards, 9 TD)
Colston is a former seventh-round pick out of Hofstra that has spent his entire career playing with Drew Brees; as a result, he's consistently put up excellent numbers in his now seven-year career. He's not a great athlete, but he's the team's go-to receiver - one that's excellent in the red zone and keeps the chains moving.
Bills equivalent: Stevie Johnson. Another former seventh-round pick, Johnson has strung together three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and, with any luck, could now embark on a career trajectory strikingly similar to Colston's, at least statistically. Johnson is a different athlete - he's not as physically imposing, but he's a smoother route-runner - but he offers many of the same general traits to the offense.
Devery Henderson (51 receptions, 804 yards, 2 TD)
A 2004 second-round pick, Henderson hadn't done much as a Saint until Brees showed up, and hadn't caught more than 32 passes in a season until 2009. In this offense, Henderson was the Saints' vertical threat, assigned with taking the top off of defenses.
Bills equivalent: T.J. Graham. Last year's third-round pick is very raw and has a lot of work to do, but there's no question that he has the type of vertical speed to accomplish what Henderson has accomplished for years in Sean Payton's offense.
Robert Meachem (45 receptions, 722 yards, 9 TD)
Drafted in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Meachem did nothing as a rookie, then caught just 12 passes in 2008 before exploding onto the scene in 2009 as the Saints' most dynamic receiver. The 6'2", 215-pounder terrorized defenses with his deep speed and his home run ability; while not the team's go-to option, he was without question the team's most explosive player that season.
Bills equivalent: N/A. Ironically, the Bills courted Meachem as a free agent last March. There's no player on the roster that offers what Meachem does athletically.
Jeremy Shockey (48 receptions, 569 yards, 3 TD)
The long-time New York Giants tight end was a Saints free agent addition in 2008, signed to give the team added versatility from the tight end position. Shockey was the team's "move" tight end, lining up in-line and in the slot.
Bills equivalent: N/A. The Bills do not have a "move" tight end that can comfortably line up out wide or in the slot on a routine basis.
David Thomas (35 receptions, 356 yards, 1 TD)
The Saints' "other" tight end, Thomas had his best season in 2009 as the team's second, in-line tight end. More a safety valve than a target for which plays are designed, Thomas nonetheless put up good numbers cleaning up the scraps.
Bills equivalent: Scott Chandler. Chandler is capable of much more than what Thomas has offered the Saints over the years - he's scored a dozen touchdowns over the past two seasons, after all - but coming off of an ACL surgery and without "move" abilities, this is where he profiles.
Reggie Bush (47 receptions, 335 yards, 3 TD)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft (Payton's first year with the Saints), Bush had a bad year in 2009 with career lows in rushes, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards. He still added eight touchdowns to the mix, however, and his speed and versatility were obviously an asset for one of the league's most diverse offenses.
Bills equivalent: C.J. Spiller. Already a better runner than Bush will ever be, Spiller actually had better receiving numbers last season (45/459/2) than Bush did in his Super Bowl season.
Pierre Thomas (39 receptions, 302 yards, 2 TD)
Thomas split most of the Saints' rushing duties with Mike Bell in '09, but he was also the Saints' best back, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, accumulating 1,095 yards from scrimmage and scoring eight total touchdowns. The former undrafted free agent out of Illinois had recorded just 69 touches the previous season.
Bills equivalent: Fred Jackson. Though he's on the downside of his career, Jackson can still contribute as a runner and receiver in a part-time capacity the way Thomas did in 2009.
Buffalo is a "move" tight end and a good receiver short of having very similar pieces to the '09 Saints. They could use Drew Brees, too.