With the Buffalo Bills (4-8) all but eliminated from playoff considerations, head coach Sean McDermott, general manager Brandon Beane, and the rest of Buffalo’s brass plans to use the final four games as an evaluation period.
The Bills signaled their commitment to their youth movement earlier this week, when veteran (and under-performing) wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes were released.
That move opened up roster spots for youngsters who now have a chance to prove their worth in 2018 and beyond in cornerback Denzel Rice and defensive end Mike Love, who had previously been on Buffalo’s practice squad.
The Bills were among the league leaders in percentage of snaps played by first- and second-year players earlier in November. Rookie QB Josh Allen is settling into a groove directing the offense; second-year WR Zay Jones leads the team in receptions (41), receiving yards (459), and TDs (4) as he continues to come into his own after a rookie season filled with drops; rookie Wyatt Teller has also taken over at the left guard position.
Cutting Benjamin and Holmes also allows Buffalo to further evaluate promising youngsters at the wide receiver position like Robert Foster (eight catches for 256 yards, an average of 32 yards per catch), Isaiah McKenzie (seven catches for 71 yards), and Ray-Ray McCloud.
McDermott was asked how big of an opportunity it was for the team’s younger wide receivers to showcase their talents over the team’s final four games of the season.
“We have young receivers that have stepped up in the past couple of weeks and showed some signs of their potential,” McDermott told the media this week. “Our commitment to them is to give them better opportunities. To see them build a relationship with Josh [Allen], to see them develop, that’s important as we move forward. [It’s important] that we understand that we close out this season one game at a time, wherever that takes us, that we understand what our young players are, who they are, can they develop? Are they important pieces for us as we move forward in our organization? We’re going to move forward and develop these young players. Like I said, they’ve earned the right to be given more opportunities.”
The evaluation process extends beyond the team’s young and inexperienced wide receiver corps. Love is a prime example of a young talent who has an opportunity in front of him to showcase his talents and prove he belongs on this team moving forward.
Love, a standout defensive end at the University of South Florida, was viewed as a viable edge rusher coming out of college, despite dealing with injuries (he endured operations on both knees as well as a broken right foot in college). His best season came during his junior year, when he started nine games for the Bulls, making 27 tackles (seven for a loss) to go with three sacks.
“Mike’s another guy that’s done that. He’s worked his butt off, he’s earned his opportunity, and we’re excited to see what he can do during the week and then if he’s active for the game as well,” McDermott said of Love. “The evaluation continues.... The last couple of weeks as we’ve brought up young players, whether it be [ones] that were already active and we gave them opportunities to play and show us what they’ve got or brought young players up from the practice squad to take a look at some other players. Call it an audition, call it an evaluation, probably better said, and a chance for us to continue to grow this football team and develop this football team.”
Buffalo welcomes the New York Jets (3-9) to New Era Field at 1 p.m. Eastern Sunday in a Week 14 clash of teams on the outside of the playoff picture in 2018.