Buffalo Bills wide receivers overview: young guns

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

The Buffalo Bills need more size and talent at wide receiver, but don't let that distract from the fact that the talent on hand is quite good - and still very young.

No Buffalo Bills wide receiver caught more than 52 passes, accrued more than 597 receiving yards, or scored more than three touchdowns in the 2013 season. True, it was also a season in which the Bills started three different inexperienced quarterbacks - rookie EJ Manuel 10 times, the little-known Thad Lewis five times, and undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel once - but those numbers are hardly inspiring, no matter the level of quarterback play.

Fans are justifiably hoping that the Bills are able to find Manuel a genuine, go-to target this offseason. Some of that rhetoric is focused on the tight end position, but a lot of it is focused on wide receiver, even though the Bills have spent three of their seven picks in Rounds 1-3 in the last two drafts on the position.

All of that - the pedestrian production from the team's passing game, the lack of chemistry the team's receivers had with its quarterbacks (with a wide variety of explanations), and the lack of a highly talented and consistent performer in the group - masks the fact that maybe we're looking at this the wrong way. Yes, the Bills need to find that go-to target for Manuel. But the wide receivers on the team are very young, and have quite a bit of talent and untapped potential.

Robert Woods

  • Age: 21 (22 on 4/10)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2016 season. Scheduled to make $576,217 in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Tgt Rec Yds Avg TD Fum Drop
910 78.4 86 40 587 14.7 3 0 1

Woods came into the NFL as a second-round pick billed as the most pro-ready receiver in last year's draft class, and while his production was not consistent, it was also easy to see how he earned that reputation. He stepped right into Buffalo's starting lineup and produced as well as any of his peers. Woods is not the biggest, fastest or strongest receiver in the league (or even on his own team), but he's good; you can tell when you watch him that he's the kind of receiver that can start and produce in the league for a long time. If you don't already consider him the Bills' best receiver, it probably won't be long before that opinion changes.

Stevie Johnson

  • Age: 27 (28 on 7/22)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2016 season. Due a $1.75 million roster bonus at the start of the new league year (4PM ET, March 11), and a $275,000 workout bonus during the year. Scheduled to make $3.65 million in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Tgt Rec Yds Avg TD Fum Drop
701 60.4 100 52 597 11.5 3 1 7

After three straight seasons of consistent production playing with departed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the only thing surprising about Johnson's season - which saw a dip in production with a dip in quarterback play and a role change in a new offense, and his usual bout of nagging injuries - was the sudden passing of his mother, which kept him away from the team the last two weeks of the season. Johnson remains a difficult one-on-one cover for even the league's best defensive backs, and despite whispers about his future with the team being in doubt, he's not likely to go anywhere. All Johnson needs to return to form is more consistency at quarterback and a more clearly defined role on offense.

T.J. Graham

  • Age: 24 (25 on 7/27)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $580,000 in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Tgt Rec Yds Avg TD Fum Drop
828 71.3 56 23 361 15.7 2 1 3

Because he hasn't emerged as a starting-caliber NFL receiver through two pro seasons, and because he was drafted ahead of Russell Wilson, Graham's name has been repeatedly and enthusiastically dragged through the mud by fans this offseason - so much so that the impassioned defenses written about him, and the deep analytical dives into his play, are a bit much for a player of his reputation. What Graham is: a young player with a coveted skill (speed) that hasn't developed as quickly as he should have. This year's training camp is going to be a very big one for Graham, particularly if the Bills add a receiver that can step in and play immediately.

Marquise Goodwin

  • Age: 23 (24 on 11/19)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2016 season. Scheduled to make $495,000 in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Tgt Rec Yds Avg TD Fum Drop
313 27.0 32 17 283 16.6 3 1 1

Fans knew him roughly a year ago as an Olympic athlete trying to make it in the league as a speed receiver; Bills fans know him today as a dangerous speed receiver with a significant amount of upside. There is some concern about the fact that Goodwin struggled with various injuries throughout his rookie season - his 5'9", 183-pound frame plays into that - and there's a real chance that he never emerges as more than a third or fourth option in an offense. If he keeps making plays like this, however, he'll have value even if he's not a starter.

Chris Hogan

  • Age: 25 (26 on 10/24)
  • Contract: Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Rep % Tgt Rec Yds Avg TD Fum Drop
187 16.1 17 10 83 8.3 0 0 0

"7-11" was a reserve and special teams player for the Bills last season, and when he stepped into the lineup - almost always after injuries had taken players out of the lineup - he was productive. Hogan is clearly not a game-breaker, and is quite easily the most replaceable Bills receiver that saw any playing time last year.

Marcus Easley

  • Age: 26 (27 on 11/2)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $730,000 in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Tgt Rec Yds Avg TD Fum Drop
61 5.3 5 2 13 6.5 0 0 1

Easley was a virtual non-factor offensively, buried on the depth chart even behind Hogan, but he has a fair amount of job security heading into the 2014 season thanks to his special teams ability.

Kevin Elliott

  • Age: 25 (26 on 12/21)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $570,000 in base salary in 2014.

Added to the Bills' roster late in the 2012 season, Elliott was making explosive plays last summer before a torn ACL ended his season. The Bills are high on him, but he'll likely have an uphill climb toward making the team next summer.

Cordell Roberson

  • Age: 23 (24 on 12/3)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $495,000 in base salary in 2014.

Roberson spent part of the 2013 season on the Bills' practice squad, then the last part of the season on the active roster after Johnson's season came to a premature end.

Brandon Kaufman

  • Age: 23 (24 on 10/26)
  • Contract: Signed a reserve/future contract in January, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season.

Kaufman spent 2013 training camp with the Bills as an undrafted free agent, looking good for stretches. The Bills cut him, and only brought him back to the practice squad late in the season after Roberson was promoted.

Ramses Barden

  • Age: 28
  • Contract: Signed a reserve/future contract in January, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season.

A former third-round pick of the New York Giants, Barden was once a well-regarded prospect that is likely getting a look in Buffalo due to his playing at Cal-Poly, a key rival of Cal-Davis (alma mater of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett).

Chris Summers

  • Age: 24 (25 on 7/10)
  • Contract: Signed a reserve/future contract in January, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season.

Summers did not spend any time with the Bills in 2013, but was signed to a reserve/future deal on the same day that the team inked Barden.

Three Os

Opinion: Johnson's future is the big story at this position, but it shouldn't be - not yet, anyway. Woods is the real story of this position; if any one player is going to make Johnson expendable, it's the team's youngest receiver. Woods and Johnson offer a lot of the same skills to a West Coast offense, with the minor difference that the smoother Woods will be a more consistent deep threat. He had better rapport with Manuel than anyone on this list, and if he takes off in his second season, then - and only then - should Johnson's future with the team be in doubt.

Observation: Of the four receivers that played significant roles last season, only Johnson (just under 6'2") stands above six feet tall. Easley is just under 6'3", and every other receiver on the roster is listed by the Bills between 6'3" and 6'6". More than half of the team's receivers stand 6'2" or above. It could not be any more obvious that the Bills are trying to add size at this position.

Outlook: Bills fans want more size at this position. The Bills themselves seem to be emphasizing size at the position. If a wide receiver is added this offseason - and that's a distinct possibility, even with the No. 9 overall pick - then it's a fair bet that that receiver will be a big one. That's the one trait that's absent from the top end of Buffalo's receiving group; if they can add that trait, the sky is the limit.

Three Qs

No. 1: Aside from finances, do any of the reasons cited for the Bills potentially parting ways with Johnson hold water with you?

No. 2: How concerned are you by the nagging injuries that plagued Goodwin's rookie season?

No. 3: If the team isn't able to add an impact receiver (including a tight end) that can step right into the top of the rotation, how confident are you that Manuel can progress with the combination of Johnson, Woods, Graham and Goodwin as his primary targets?

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