Can Evans build chemistry with QB Edwards? (Photo Source)
Prior to the 2008 NFL Draft - in fact, prior to the free agent signing period of this past March - we took a look at the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position, breaking down then-current personnel, finding holes, and building our community needs list.
Now that free agency and the Draft have been completed, and the Bills have infused their roster with new talent, it's time to repeat our process. Where has Buffalo gotten better? Where have they gotten worse? How will additions impact which Bills veterans remain on the roster? These are questions that we'll attempt to answer over the next week or so.
We continue those discussions today with an examination of Buffalo's wide receiver corps. To view our previous discussions on Buffalo's WR situation (pre-off-season), bang it here.
Lee Evans: Buffalo's top receiver suffered a steep statistical drop-off in 2007, catching just 55 passes for 849 yards and 5 touchdowns. Part of that drop-off may be directly attributed to the shuffling of quarterbacks, with another portion attributed to the seemingly constant double teams that Evans faced all season. Entering the "final" year of his rookie contract (he's signed through 2010, but the final year can be voided), Evans faces a lot of pressure to get the big pay day he wants anywhere, let alone Buffalo. The big question is whether or not he can assimilate to yet another full-time starting quarterback change.
Josh Reed: Reed's problem is not opportunity; he caught 51 passes last season and was a nice safety valve on underneath and possession throws for Edwards. The big problem with Reed is that he just doesn't score - he's scored eight touchdowns in six NFL seasons, and did not score last season. Expect more of the same from Reed this season - he'll catch 3 or 4 passes a game, mostly on third downs, and we'll be lucky to see him score a touchdown or two. There's a place on this team for Reed for now, but if the Bills can find a slot receiver who can score more frequently, it's a better situation for the team.
Roscoe Parrish: No, Parrish is not that slot receiver who can score. Perhaps it's from a lack of opportunity, but Parrish himself has only scored four receiving touchdowns in three seasons of NFL work. Easily Buffalo's most quick and elusive receiver, Parrish's true value comes as a punt returner, but he should continue to see work in Buffalo's offense as an alternative slot option. Keep an eye on whether or not Parrish gets suspended prior to the season; he was arrested for a DUI earlier this off-season and may see punishment from Commissioner Goodell.
Justin Jenkins: After starting the '07 season on the practice squad, Jenkins was called up to the active roster after injuries to Peerless Price and Sam Aiken. He provides very little from an offensive standpoint, but Jenkins surprised as a special teams ace and became one of Buffalo's better performers in that area, especially as a punt gunner. If he makes the roster - and he has a very good shot at doing so - it will be as one of the Bills' key special teams cogs.
Scott Mayle: Spent most of '07 on the practice squad and was called up to the big roster for the final regular season game in Philadelphia. A longshot to make the roster, but Bills coaches like his speed.
Felton Huggins: An even longer shot to make the roster, Huggins was released prior to the regular season and brought back on to the practice squad for the last ten games of the season. Unlike the rest of the incumbents on the roster at WR, Huggins has some size (6'2", 186).
The Additions: James Hardy, Steve Johnson, Jason Jones
Clearly, the "big" addition to this unit was second round draft pick James Hardy, a 6'5" scoring machine from Indiana. Hardy will start as a rookie next to Evans, and while there isn't a ton of pressure on him to produce above-average rookie receiver numbers, he will be counted on to score in the red zone and free up the middle of the field for the rest of Buffalo's receivers.
Johnson and Jones are intriguing names as well - Johnson, a seventh round pick, has the size the Bills coveted at the position and could develop into a heck of a slot option in time. Jones is a record-setting Division I-AA receiver from Arkansas Pine-Bluff that's extremely raw, but has a shot at sticking with the organization on the practice squad.
The Subtractions: Peerless Price, Sam Aiken
This duo won't be missed. Price, who spent most of '07 on IR, made one big play in his second stint with the Bills (a game-winning score in Houston) and otherwise was mediocre. Aiken was an excellent special teams coverage man for the Bills, but never provided anything offensively and wasn't worth keeping around. Their departures will have little to no negative impact on the receiving corps.
Pre-Season Outlook: Buffalo is bigger and younger at wide receiver, and it's still very uncertain as to whether that's a good or a bad thing. At the very least, the team is far more talented at the position, and the players that have been brought in - specifically Hardy and possibly Johnson - have a chance to work with Edwards right out of the gate. That will help their chemistry.
At a minimum, five receivers will be kept, but with such youth and inexperience at the position, it's more likely that six receivers will stick on the '08 roster. Predicting that Jenkins stays as a special teams player, that leaves guys like Johnson, Mayle, Huggins and Jones to fight it out for one (potential) roster spot.
Change: Youth and size.
As always, your thoughts on Buffalo's wide receiver position are welcome and encouraged in the comments section.