An off-season obsession for Buffalo Bills fans - one which intensified after the 2012 NFL Draft concluded - has been which young receiver in a group of prospects would emerge as the team's "No. 2" receiver this summer. Reading between the lines of some Thursday commentary from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, we may never get an answer.
"It's not like we've got two receivers on the field a lot. Usually we've got three or four receivers on the field," Fitzpatrick told WGR 550's The Howard Simon Show yesterday. "You want to always be able to name a No. 2 guy, but really it's going to be by committee for us - only because we're rarely in the two wide receiver sets."
Fitzpatrick mentioned three receivers that are likely to be in the mix early alongside top target Stevie Johnson: David Nelson, Donald Jones and Derek Hagan.
We've talked at length this week about Jones, the current front-runner for a starting job and a player that Fitzpatrick is clearly very high on. He's high on the other two options, as well.
"David Nelson had a really, really strong off-season. He's been great in OTAs, and he's really worked in some stuff he needed to work at," Fitzpatrick said. He's got great hands, and is such a reliable guy. (And) I've got a lot of work (in) with Derek Hagan, who really did some good things at the end of the year for us."
Between the foursome of Johnson, Nelson, Jones and Hagan, the Bills have players that don't necessarily have a diverse skill set, but who are fairly interchangeable and can be utilized in several different ways. Johnson will, of course, be predominantly used on the outside, just as Nelson will predominantly be used in the slot. It's easy to envision Jones and Hagan flipping back and forth in how each is aligned, with Hagan's presence on the field allowing Jones to move to the slot, where he may be a more valuable commodity.
Assuming the Bills go with that four-man rotation, of sorts, one could easily wonder where that leaves a guy such as third-round pick T.J. Graham, who is quite different than the above quartet in that he's got a defining trait (deep speed) that the others don't. Fitzpatrick is high on the rookie out of North Carolina State, but admits that he's got a ways to go.
"He's definitely got a long way to go, but he's got a willingness to do it," Fitzpatrick explained. "Our playbook is not easy for a receiver, just because we expect you to know all four positions, and they get moved around a lot. You've really got to understand the concepts. OTAs have been so valuable for him, to be out there running with the ones, and to be doing some of the things he's doing. He's making some mistakes, but he's learning from them. I feel like he's a guy that's just going to continue to get better, and he's made some big plays in OTAs."
From the sound of that, Graham - along with fellow green prospect Marcus Easley, who was not brought up during this specific interview - might have to wait to have more than just a limited role in Chan Gailey's passing attack. That's especially true when considering that Fitzpatrick also has high expectations for tight end Scott Chandler.
"For us, I think the three wide receiver sets, the stuff with Scott Chandler getting involved, that's really going to be able to be a big factor for us this year," Fitzpatrick opined.
The Bills have talked about competition all off-season, so it's still too soon to make any sort of declaration about what Buffalo's passing attack will look like come September 9. Right now, however, I think it's clear that things are beginning to take shape in players' minds, and that the team's plan at receiver is to work with their top four guys as described and bring the younger guys (Graham and potentially Easley) along slowly.