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Resetting the Bills' WR race before the preseason finale

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Greg Little was a favorite to make the 53-man roster. Then the Bills cut him. Where do the remaining receivers stand?

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

When I took a look at the Bills’ wide receiver position last week, one of the players I thought was all but guaranteed to earn a spot on the 53-man roster was Greg Little.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Little was among the first players released as the Bills trimmed their roster to 75 players Tuesday afternoon. Little was one of the few receivers who earned playing time on the first team offense during the preseason, and although he had a couple drops against Washington, I didn’t think either of them were entirely his fault. What made it even more surprising was the fact that Little was let go while Kain Colter, who has played all of 25 snaps combined in the three preseason games, remains on the roster.

So, where does that leave the position heading into tonight’s preseason finale against Detroit?

Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are obviously going to make the roster and remain atop the depth chart in that order. Marquise Goodwin has, concussion notwithstanding, made a very positive impact on the coaching staff and will have a roster spot as long as he remains healthy enough to play. Greg Salas filled Goodwin’s spot as the third receiver against Washington and was considered a safe bet to make the roster even while he was sidelined with a hamstring injury for the first two preseason games.

That leaves four receivers to fight for either one or two roster spots, depending on how the team decides to structure the tight end position and its offensive line depth. Walt Powell continues to remain a front-runner for one of those positions, based on his high level of production during the preseason and his ability to fill in as a return man, a role he has almost shared with Reggie Bush up to this point.

Jarrett Boykin has been a solid player throughout the preseason, and some fans point to his history with Tyrod Taylor as Virginia Tech Hokies as a factor that could serve in his favor. While the two are still probably friends, they haven’t played together since 2010 and have yet to share the field in the preseason (something that won’t change after the Lions game). Any chemistry the two had from college needs to be rebuilt, and an offseason of practice can only go so far.

Dez Lewis has seen his stock plummet since the minicamps and early training camp sessions, to the point where I’d be surprised to see him make the final roster. He is the big-bodied red zone target that is sorely lacking in the offense (he’s three inches taller than any receiver on the roster aside from Boykin), but to this point in the preseason the thing about him that has really stood out to me is his blocking ability. While blocking is a criminally under-appreciated aspect of a receiver’s game, it’s hard to make a roster primarily as a blocking receiver. That counts extra when you’re on a team that features Woods, one of the better blocking receivers in the NFL. Lewis will need a big game as part of the passing offense against the Lions, something he turned in last year with a six-catch, 81-yard effort in Detroit.

Last week, I said I’d be shocked if Colter made the 75-man roster. Now that he has, I stand by that comment. He played 19 snaps against the Colts, and followed that with three in each of the next two games. The only reason I can think of that he’s still on the roster is that Rex Ryan, a noted critic of the 75-man cutdown, wanted to give Colter some extra game tape in the finale. Having clearly made up his mind about Little, who already has several years of NFL experience, he pulled the trigger on releasing him early to preserve a roster spot for someone who might not see another opportunity in the NFL. Of course, he could also be using him as cannon fodder. Who knows? Either way, my astonishment that he’s on the 75-man roster would be dwarfed by my astonishment to see him make the 53-man roster.

There are two other receivers I failed to mention in my last piece, for good reason. Marcus Easley and Kolby Listenbee will both begin the year on the shelf with injuries, and both received designations that guarantee their absence through at least the first six weeks of the season. Easley has never been much of a contributor with the offense, save for one huge touchdown catch against Jacksonville last year and would probably return to his primary role as a special-teams ace. Listenbee’s sports hernia hasn’t limited him physically up to this point, but unless there’s a huge need for a receiver in the window he can return to action (weeks 7-10), he’s probably going to end the year on the IR.

One other factor to consider: Rex doesn’t seem entirely impressed with the depth chart that he has to work with at the position. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Bills take a look at some of the receivers who are released prior to the 53-man deadline on Saturday, or even someone who was just released on Tuesday. James Jones and Rueben Randle are currently on the unemployment line, and although there aren’t any indications that the team is interested in either, a bad day in practice from a few currently rostered Bills receivers could change that.