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.
We have talked about the Buffalo Bills' wide receiver position an awful lot this off-season, and the position has even already come up once in this series. As training camp begins, there's plenty to watch in terms of personnel battles, but none of them are likely to receive as much attention as the receiver position.
A trio of players - Donald Jones, Derek Hagan and T.J. Graham - will factor into the race for a starting job, and a sleeper candidate such as Marcus Easley could add his name to the conversation at some point, as well.
It's well-established at this point that for a second straight pre-season, Jones - the third-year former undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State - is the front-runner to receive the most playing time, if not earn a starting job outright. By far the most experienced player in the system, Jones has gotten a significant amount of playing time in his first two seasons, but only has 41 receptions in 23 career games to show for it.
Jones' chief challenger for a major offensive role appears to be Hagan, the street free agent signing from a year ago who did enough over the Bills' final four games of the season (13 receptions, 138 yards and a score) to warrant a long look this summer. If both of the young receivers in the conversation perform this pre-season, however, Hagan could once again be looking for work this year; Hagan has a shot to start, but his is also the most tenuous roster spot of the group.
Easley, a fan favorite for over two years now despite the fact that an injury and a heart ailment have prevented him from appearing in a regular season game, has a shot to earn a role. He must first prove that he's healthy; all indications are that he is. Easley's on the outside looking in at this point, but with a quick start to camp, he could very quickly emerge not only as a factor in this race, but perhaps even vault to front-runner status. Easley is the most athletic receiver on the roster.
No one's job is safer than Graham's, as the third-round pick out of NC State is a lock to make the team despite the fact that he probably will not be among the receivers taking the majority of snaps this season. The best vertical threat on the roster by a considerable margin, expect head coach Chan Gailey to ease Graham into the receiving rotation early in his rookie season, then gradually increase his role if Graham proves up to the task.
The team desperately needs Graham's explosive speed on the outside, so long-term, he is clearly the ideal starting candidate to line up opposite top receiver Stevie Johnson. Until he's ready, however, the Bills have themselves a bit of a free-for-all at receiver, and how this position shakes out will help shape Buffalo's offense heading into the 2012 season.