With veteran wide receivers like Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes failing to consistently produce for the Buffalo Bills, there have been opportunities for the team’s younger receivers to step up and immediately contribute. Wideouts like speedster Robert Foster who, in just two games, has gone from an undrafted free agent to the Bills’ in-game leading receiver in back-to-back weeks.
For instance, during the first quarter of Sunday’s 24-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the University of Alabama product ran a deep slant route over the middle of the field, kept hustling, leapt, and hauled in a perfect strike from fellow rookie Josh Allen, which Foster took 75 yards for a touchdown on Buffalo’s longest play of the season. It was the first touchdown of what the Bills surely hope will be many more to come from Foster.
The play sent a jolt of electricity through the New Era Field crowd, which rose to its collective feet and delivered a loud ovation for the home-run throw and catch from Allen to Foster.
“It’s something we just game-planned throughout the week and came through with it,” said Foster, who impressed with his 4.41-second speed in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Against Jacksonville, Foster nearly recorded his second straight 100-yard receiving day, but wound up hauling in two passes (on three targets) for a game-high 94 yards and the touchdown catch.
Before Buffalo’s bye, Foster broke onto the scene in a big way during a 41-10 rout of the New York Jets in Week 10. He caught three passes (four targets) for 105 yards, including a 47-yard catch off a pass from Matt Barkley on Buffalo’s first offensive play of the game. That deep ball sparked the Bills, who entered the contest having scored 33 points over their last four games, but nearly surpassed that total by halftime.
Outside of second-year wide receiver Zay Jones, who is quietly enjoying a solid season with the Bills (37 catches for 392 yards and two TDs), and with a lack of established receivers, Foster is making the most of his playing time.
“I just think we’re watching a young man develop and number one, understanding what it takes to play in this league,” Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott said of Foster. “He’s earning the right to get playing time, and he’s made the most of his opportunities since coming back. I’ve enjoyed watching him develop and there’s still room for growth there, just like our whole football team.”
His 100-yard outing against the Jets came just one day after he was elevated from the team’s practice squad and onto the 53-man roster. It was his second stint on the active roster, as Foster showed enough during the off-season and preseason to crack the team’s 53-man roster. While he was active, the Bills didn’t turn to Foster for much, with the rookie making only two catches for 30 yards over six games (both catches came in a 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2. He also showed a propensity to drop deep passes.
The Bills released Foster in October, then re-signed him to the practice squad before bringing him back up to the 53-man roster leading up to the Jets game.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Foster said the fact that the Bills cut him served as the ultimate motivation to pick up the slack and become a better receiver.
“I needed it. I needed to be cut because at the end of the day, it helped me,” said Foster, who recorded Buffalo’s first 100-yard game since Deonte Thompson on Oct. 22, 2017. “It made me work on things that I needed to work on. It made me do a lot more things that I could do to benefit the team.”
Foster has turned into a model teammate since the Bills brought him back. Before he was cut, Foster admits he wasn’t participating in any post-practice work, failing to take advantage of a valuable opportunity to establish more chemistry with fellow rookie Josh Allen and the rest of the team’s quarterbacks.
Once the team brought him back, Foster changed his tune, and now has committed himself to putting in the extra time and effort running routes and catching passes after practice had ended.
“That’s the thing, I wasn’t doing some of the things that I’m doing now,” Foster told the AP. “That’s why I say I try to embrace it all now.”
For a team sorely lacking a wide receiver who can fly around the field, Foster’s emergence has been just what this offense needed. In a grand total of 140 offensive plays in 2018, according to Next Gen Stats, Foster has developed into one of the fastest offensive players in the NFL. Twelve times this year, Foster has eclipsed 20 miles per hour (mph) on a run, including going 21.11 mph on the home-run touchdown toss vs. Jacksonville.
Bills WR Robert Foster has proven to be one of the fastest offensive players in the NFL in short time as an undrafted rookie.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 25, 2018
Foster has reached 20+ MPH 12 times this season on just 140 offensive plays, including this 75-yard TD today against the Jaguars (21.11 MPH).#GoBills pic.twitter.com/DQixEdMWGw
Despite his slow start, Foster is making up for it with back-to-back productive weeks. He now has seven catches for 229 yards — a ridiculous average of 32.7 yards per catch—and has a good chance to eclipse his collegiate numbers with a strong finish to the 2018 season. In his four seasons playing for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, Foster made 35 catches for 389 yards and three touchdowns.
Foster is doing his best to make a strong impression on the Bills, and in doing so, he might finally be giving Buffalo another reliable weapon for Allen.