Ever since the Buffalo Bills traded Lee Evans to Baltimore, there has been open speculation as to who would start opposite Stevie Johnson in Buffalo's receiving corps. After his five-catch, 51-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, Marcus Easley has been getting a lot of attention in those conversations.
Easley was the team's fourth-round pick out of Connecticut last season, but a knee injury landed him on IR before he'd even played a pre-season game. Another knee injury kept him out of the early portions of training camp this year, and in his first two pre-season games, he looked very rusty - even dropping a catchable ball that turned into an interception for Denver.
Still, given the investment the Bills made in him, it stands to reason that they'd like to see him emerge as a starter. He is perhaps the Bills' most talented wideout, with a combination of size and speed that none of his teammates possesses. He certainly has looked more worthy than others for that role. It's still too early to anoint him as a starter, however.
Whether fans are keen to the idea or not, the Bills' coaching staff - starting, of course, with Chan Gailey - is going to play the guys that they think they can win with. The idea of letting young players play is mostly a fan-driven initiative borne of the idea of letting players develop; coaches rarely acquiesce, unless they believe that a player is significantly better than a veteran option, or there is a much larger level of investment than a fourth-round pick.
The Bills have known commodities at receiver ahead of Easley. It doesn't start with Donald Jones, either, even though he is a known commodity, as well as the nominal starter since Evans was dealt. It starts with Roscoe Parrish, a veteran receiver that Gailey has big plans for, and who has an outstanding shot at being the team's second-leading receiver this season, no matter where he lines up or who "starts" ahead of him.
Then we get to Jones and David Nelson, who will likely have roles, as well. Nelson's role is well developed as a matchup nightmare out of the slot. To a man, the organization remains very high on Jones, who paid a year's worth of dues on special teams and made a few plays offensively in 2010. Heck, even Naaman Roosevelt seems ready to sneak a few reps in - and did in 2010, as well.
Easley, meanwhile, is an unknown. Yes, he is a highly skilled unknown, and the team very well may be keeping the spot warm for him until he's ready. That's the thing, though: he's not quite ready yet.
There's no reason that the team can't put Easley on a Nelson-like path: get him in as a sub-package receiver early in the regular season, let him make a few plays, and then work him up into the No. 2 role. In fact, not only is that what the team is likely to do, it's probably also the smartest play for a developing prospect that only had one good season in college, and who is still decidedly raw at his craft.
Patience, Bills fans. We realize it's very easy to get excited about Easley. We can be rationally excited. Easley isn't a starter yet, and that's the way it should remain for a while.