One of the big storylines that Bills fans have been following over the course of the offseason has been the race for the nominal third receiver, behind Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.
If the past two games are worth anything, that race was never much of one to begin with, although the latter spots could still be up for grabs.
At this point, the clear third receiver in the Bills offense is Marquise Goodwin. Four receivers have been on the field with Tyrod Taylor so far, and Goodwin’s 23 snaps with Taylor are well clear of Greg Little (7) and Walter Powell (2). Even after dropping a catchable ball in his only series against the Indianapolis Colts, Goodwin remained in the role for the first quarter against the New York Giants. He’s been solid, if unspectacular, which is generally how a third receiver is supposed to look. While the true third option in Buffalo’s offense is more likely to be LeSean McCoy or Charles Clay, Goodwin should fill the third spot on the depth chart going into the season, barring an injury.
The race for the spot below Goodwin is pretty interesting. The two receivers who have seen the most action so far are Powell (57 snaps) and Little (54), with Jarrett Boykin (51) not too far behind. Most of Boykin’s action, however, has been in the second half of each game, as 42 of his snaps have come with Cardale Jones under center.
Powell is well clear of the field in terms of numbers, with his seven catches and 130 yards well ahead of Little’s five and 52. Little does seem to be in the good graces of the coaching staff, though, as he’s been the third receiver to appear in both games. Little has a major edge in experience, as he’s caught 161 passes over his four years in the league, including 61 as a rookie in Cleveland back in 2011. Powell, on the other hand, has experience as a return man, and has shared that role with Reggie Bush during the preseason.
The third preseason game will go a long way toward determining the pecking order, but at this point both men have a grasp on roster spots, with Little primed to see more action in the offense during the season.
With five roster spots spoken for, what of the rest of the receivers in the group? Greg Salas has been nursing an injury for the last couple weeks, and is likely to hold on to the final roster spot if he can make it back on to the field in the near future. Boykin is probably right below him at the moment, but as I said, he hasn’t seen much of the field in the early part of each game and is likely to find himself on the outside if Salas makes it back.
That leaves two receivers who are long shots to make the 53-man roster. Dez Lewis didn’t see the field at all against the Colts, but played extensively in the second half against the Giants. When the Bills were running out the clock at the end of the game, he saw a few snaps as a single-wide and did a decent job as a blocker. He strikes me as a poor man’s Robert Woods, which isn’t a bad thing to have but not something that’s going to earn a roster spot without showing improvement. Kain Colter saw his playing time drop from 19 snaps against the Colts to three against the Giants, and has exclusively played out of the slot when the second-tier receivers (Little, Powell, and Boykin) have been on the field. He’s a practice squad candidate, at best.
To recap, here’s my best guess at where the Bills’ receivers stand right now:
- Sammy Watkins
- Robert Woods
- Marquise Goodwin
- Greg Little
- Walter Powell
- Greg Salas
- Jarrett Boykin
- Dez Lewis
- Kain Colter
I think the top three spots are locked in at this point, barring injury (which isn’t out of the question). Little probably has the edge on Powell right now for the fourth receiver spot, but both should make the 53. Salas has a tenuous grasp on the sixth spot, and a huge game from either Boykin or Lewis could knock him out of it. If Colter survives the cutdown to 75 after the next preseason game, I’ll be shocked.