This NFL offseason featured several veteran quarterback transactions, which included AJ McCarron signing with the Buffalo Bills and Tyrod Taylor being traded by the Bills to the Cleveland Browns. Both McCarron and Taylor enter similar situations in that they will be fighting for playing time along with newly-drafted rookies who hope to become their respective franchises’ future long-term quarterbacks. But, who is better set up with the tools to have the more successful 2018 campaign?
Options are limited for McCarron
Although the starting job for the Bills is technically wide open, it’s at least somewhat likely the newly-acquired A.J. McCarron will be the Week 1 starter. The former Cincinnati Bengal has only 4 career starts, completing 86 of 133 passes (64.7%) for 920 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Though the sample size is small, it appears as though he can be a serviceable NFL quarterback as he has averaged 230 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per start thus far.
However, McCarron’s supporting cast looks to be one of the weakest in the league. The Buffalo receiving corps finished last season with 115 receptions for 1,474 yards, which was among the worst performances league wide. The Bills also lost two of their better receivers in Deonte Thompson and Jordan Matthews to the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots, respectively, this off-season. To add insult to injury, Buffalo has only signed Jeremy Kerley in the way of any “proven” replacements.
Currently, receivers Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin are the two top players at the position; however, Jones’ availability remains in question after it was announced he underwent knee surgery this spring. The second-year receiver’s rookie season was less than stellar, as he had just 27 receptions for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns through 15 games. If all goes well, Jones should be back in plenty of time for Week 1, but he has yet to prove he can be a reliable target for McCarron.
Benjamin was plagued with injuries last season involving his knee, but he is currently as healthy as he’s ever been. He’s shown he can be an effective option for Buffalo, particularly in the red zone with his size, but his speed remains an issue when creating separation. Benjamin had one touchdown with Buffalo, and probably should have had a second with the Bills had it not been overturned on a questionable call in the final Patriots game last season. If he can stay on the field, he should be McCarron’s top target.
Buffalo also has two veterans in Andre Holmes and Rod Streater, who are 29 and 30 years old, respectively. In Holmes’ best season with Oakland four years ago, he had 47 receptions for 693 yards. However, he had mostly a special teams role last year and it remains unclear whether he can be a true asset on the offensive side of the ball.
Streater’s best season was in 2013, also with the Raiders, where he caught 60 passes for 888 yards. Similar to Holmes, he is a taller veteran, but his impact in the receiving game appears to be anything but certain.
The Bills added two rookie receivers in this year’s draft that included Austin Proehl out of North Carolina and Ray-Ray McCloud from Clemson. Proehl looks to be a good fit for the slot while McCloud will likely have more of a special teams role as he did in college. However, it’s almost always impossible to predict if a rookie can be a reliable pass catcher.
Other receivers on the roster include the newly signed Jeremy Kerley and Kaelin Clay, whom Buffalo re-signed this off-season. Kerley is 29 years old, and his best season came as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, where he had 64 receptions for 667 yards two years ago. Clay has only 6 career NFL receptions and was waived by the Bills in October of 2017. Again, neither of these guys have proven they can be a true threat to opposing defenses.
McCarron will also face an uphill battle with the offensive line as Eric Wood, Richie Incognito, and Cordy Glenn will no longer be playing for the Bills. That leaves him behind an unproven cast which includes Ryan Groy, Russell Bodine, Vladimir Ducasse, John Miller, Dion Dawkins, and rookie Wyatt Teller. If the offensive line can’t give him solid protection while creating holes for LeSean McCoy, the odds for success will be slim for the inexperienced McCarron.
Cleveland has a variety of weapons for Taylor
The Browns took a chance when they allowed Josh Gordon back on the team after numerous drug offenses; however, it looks as though he can still be effective if he remains on the field. The former All-Pro had 18 receptions for 335 yards and a touchdown in 5 games for Cleveland last year. During his best season in 2013, the talented wide out had 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns. If he can stay out of trouble, he should be a true threat for Taylor.
The addition of Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins will also be a huge asset for Taylor. The shifty receiver has been voted to 3 Pro Bowls and has had 84 and 110 receptions in his last two seasons. His presence will force defenses to pay attention to him, which will likely open up other receivers for Taylor’s choosing.
Cleveland also has Corey Coleman and tight end David Njoku. Though he’s missed significant time with a hand injury in his first two seasons with the Browns, Coleman has shown to be productive when healthy, as he has 56 receptions for 718 yards and 5 touchdowns in 19 games. Njoku was one of quarterback Deshone Kizer’s favorite options in his rookie year last season, as he had a solid 32 receptions for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns. Given the comfort Taylor showed throwing to his tight ends in Buffalo, Njoku looks as if he could become a breakout player at the position this year.
The Browns did lose former Pro Bowler Joe Thomas to retirement, but Taylor’s mobility should help make up for any weaknesses that his departure could expose. He also won’t have Shady McCoy to bail him out all the time, but running back Carlos Hyde is good enough to relieve at least some of the pressure on him.
Taylor has been criticized for his unwillingness to take risks, but his new arsenal at the receiving position appears to be a significant upgrade from what he was working with in Buffalo. If the play calling doesn’t try to pigeonhole Taylor into something he’s not (as it often did under Rick Dennison), he should have enough help around him to have a decent season. Assuming Cleveland isn’t overly anxious to insert rookie Baker Mayfield into the starting role, Taylor certainly appears to have the better opportunity to succeed in 2018.