In the weeks leading up to the start of Buffalo Bills training camp, Buffalo Rumblings will be taking a look at the ten most intriguing positional battles set to take place at St. John Fisher this summer. Previous entries in this series can be found in our training camp section.
When an offense utilizes three- and four-wide receiver sets as much as Chan Gailey's offense does with the Buffalo Bills, the chances of two things increase dramatically: that a team will keep a lot of receivers on the final roster, and that there will be more than one competition brewing for those jobs.
That's the case in Buffalo. While fans (justifiably) focus on a "starting" job up for grabs, the team also has a battle brewing for the sixth spot in the rotation - one that will help determine the shape of the back end of the team's roster.
For the purposes of this discussion, we'll label the Bills' top five receivers as follows (and clearly, the order in which the names appear will be decided during training camp): Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, Derek Hagan and T.J. Graham.
With the Bills likely to keep six receivers, that leaves (in my opinion) three receivers in contention for that sixth and final spot: Marcus Easley, Ruvell Martin and Naaman Roosevelt.
Now, clearly, Easley's is the most recognizable name of that trio to the fan base. He's the best athlete of the trio by a significant margin. He represents the biggest investment; the former fourth-round pick trumps the street free agent and the undrafted free agent every time. Without question, he has the most upside - but he's clearly also the biggest risk, given that he's yet to appear in a regular season game despite being in the league for two full years.
Roosevelt, meanwhile, is coming off a season in which he ranked third among Bills receivers in receiving yardage. Granted, he only had 257 - 60 of which came on one reception in a Week 6 loss to the New York Giants - but it's much more than Easley has accomplished as a pro, and more than Martin has accomplished in the last five years.
Roosevelt may have the experience edge, but Martin has an edge, too - his special teams ability. That's how he stuck with the team throughout the 2011 season; even though he contributed minimally on offense, he was a valuable member of the team's coverage units. Then again, when Easley was drafted in 2010, he came into the league far more proven as a special teams coverage player than as a receiver, so Easley has that going for him, too.
The way we see it, if Easley is healthy and even moderately productive during pre-season play and training camp, he's the clear winner of this competition in a yawn-fest. But two years have taught us not to take Easley's health for granted - and if things go awry once again for the third-year receiver from UConn, the battle between Martin and Roosevelt could be one of the better camp battles we'll witness.