clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Buffalo Bills wide receiver corps riddled with questions, including Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones

The Bills added bodies, but did they do enough this offseason at wide receiver?

The Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver corps has concerns all over it. Despite adding players this offseason, they didn’t do much to address those concerns, and enter the 2018 season with concerns up and down the position group.

As Buffalo breaks in new quarterbacks, they are looking at 2019 as the offseason with which to upgrade at wide receiver. Lots of cap space, regular draft capital, and fewer holes to fill primes the pump for a top-flight receiver or two next offseason, which makes evaluation the key component of 2018.

Kelvin Benjamin

  • Contract status: signed; $8.459 million cap hit
  • Age: Turned 27 on 2/5/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 220 snaps (20.91% of offensive total), 3 ST snaps (.69%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 27 targets, 16 receptions, 217 yards (13.6 YPC), 1 TD with Buffalo

Buffalo’s big-ticket acquisition in the middle of the 2017 season didn’t quite live up to expectations, although that wasn’t entirely his fault. after making his debut with the team in an embarrassing home loss to the New Orleans Saints, he injured his knee on the first play of his second game in red, white, and blue, taking a direct hit after making a twenty-yard reception against the Los Angeles Chargers. After missing two games, Benjamin gutted out the rest of the season with a torn meniscus.

Benjamin is an absolutely tremendous target, standing at 6’5” and weighing in around 240 pounds. He isn’t lightning-fast, but he certainly isn’t slow. Gaining separation isn’t his greatest asset, but he does a fantastic job winning contested balls in one-on-one situations.

It will be interesting to see what a fully-healthy Benjamin can do this season in an entirely different offense. He averaged fewer than 4 targets per game as a Bill, which is absurd given the dearth of talent behind him, but not entirely surprising given that he came to the team halfway through the year. Establishing a rapport with his quarterback, whomever it may be, will be priority number one for Buffalo’s passing offense next season. He is too big of a weapon to waste.

Zay Jones

  • Contract status: signed; $1.5 million cap hit
  • Age: Turned 23 on 3/30/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 792 snaps (75.92% of offensive snaps), 4 ST snaps (.92%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 74 targets, 27 receptions, 316 yards (11.7 YPC), 2 TD

The rookie had his share of struggles this season, as his lack of receptions even with the most targets among Bills’ receivers would indicate. Not all of those balls were catchable, as he was second in the league in uncatchable passes thrown his way at the season’s midway point. For whatever reason, he and Tyrod Taylor could not find a rhythm with each other in Jones’s rookie year.

Add to that the revelation that Jones played this year with a torn shoulder labrum, and I’m willing to cut Jones a break on a statistically sub-par rookie campaign. The Bills moved up in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft to select him knowing that he has talent, and he also clearly has quite a bit of toughness and heart.

Earlier this offseason he was involved in a bizarre incident where he allegedly damaged a hotel but he won’t face charges. He also had surgery and missed all of the offseason workouts, so he’s already going to be a question mark heading into the year.

Jeremy Kerley

  • Contract status: signed a one-year, $790,000 contract this offseason
  • Age: Will turn 29 on 11/8/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 277 snaps (26.74% of offensive total),40 STs snaps (8.51%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 27 targets, 22 receptions, 217 yards (9.9 YPC), 1 TD, 16 punt returns, 85 yards

Kerley signed a one-year deal fairly late in the first wave of free agency. He looks like he’ll be the third receiver and handle some return duties. Some are counting on him to be a huge difference maker. That’s probably a stretch.

Andre Holmes

  • Contract status: signed; $1.75 million cap hit ($600,000 cap savings if cut)
  • Age: Turned 30 on 6/16/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 339 snaps (32.22% of offensive total), 208 ST snaps (47.6%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 22 targets, 13 receptions, 120 yards (9.2 YPC), 3 TD

Holmes’s roster spot would appear to be in jeopardy based solely on his receiving numbers (and injury concerns), but his contributions on special teams make me think that he’ll be around in 2018 again. He led the Bills in receiving touchdowns in 2017, as well, hauling in 3 on the year.

Ray-Ray McCloud III

  • Contract status: signed a four-year, $2,619,824 million deal following the draft ($519,956 cap hit)
  • Age: Will turn 22 on 10/15/18
  • Key 2017 statistics: 49 receptions, 503 yards (10.3 YPC), 1 TD, 6 rushes, 30 rushing yards, 25 punt returns, 303 PR yards, 1 PR TD for Clemson

Buffalo’s sixth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, McCloud brings speed and punt return ability to the Bills. He has speed but didn’t develop a full route tree in college because of the way his coaches wanted to use his speed. Our scouting report has more.

Austin Proehl

  • Contract status: signed a four-year, $2.53 million contract following the draft ($497,267 cap hit)
  • Age: Will turn 23 on 10/11/18
  • Key 2017 statistics: 21 receptions, 337 yards (16.0 YPC), 1 TD at the University of North Carolina

Buffalo’s seventh round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Proehl has been spending a lot of time trying to get on the same page as fellow rookie Josh Allen this offseason. It’s a smart move for a guy looking for a roster spot. Nothing is guaranteed for the former UNC Tar Heel.

Malachi Dupre

  • Contract status: signed; $480,000 cap hit
  • Age: Will turn 23 on 10/12/18
  • 2017 Playing time: N/A
  • Key 2017 statistics: N/A

Brandon Reilly

  • Contract status: signed; $555,000 cap hit
  • Age: Will turn 25 on 9/24/18
  • 2017 Playing time: N/A
  • Key 2017 statistics: N/A

Quan Bray

  • Contract status: signed; $630,000 reserve/future contract
  • Age: Turned 25 on 4/28/18
  • 2017 Playing time: N/A
  • Key 2017 statistics: N/A

The three players above are all essentially lottery tickets, so it’s best to tackle their roster outlook all at once. Reilly and Dupre ended up on the active roster by season’s end due to injuries to other players, but neither player saw any field time. Dupre and Reilly were never active for a game, and Bray was only signed to the practice squad on December 30. All three are at least as likely to be released as they are to be kept next season, but if one proves himself to be worth a shot, it could save the Bills some capital in terms of investing another outside body into the position.

Rod Streater

  • Contract status: signed; $705,000 reserve/future contract
  • Age: Turned 30 on 2/9/18
  • 2017 Playing time: N/A
  • Key 2017 statistics: N/A

A preseason darling last summer, Streater was poised to break camp with the team until a serious toe injury led him to land on injured reserve after Buffalo’s second preseason game. Signing him to a reserve/future contract is only odd given his age—at 30, his NFL future is far more limited than players like Reilly or Bray, who have more time to develop. It’s a wise move on Buffalo’s part, since he knows the staff and their expectations, but assuming that he is a lock for the 2018 roster would be ill-advised.

Kaelin Clay

  • Contract status: signed a one-year, $720,000 contract this offseason
  • Age: Turned 26 on 1/3/18
  • 2017 Playing time: N/A
  • Key 2017 statistics: 19 targets, 6 receptions, 85 yards, 3 rushes, 27 yards, 2 punt returns, 149 yards, 1 touchdown between Buffalo and Carolina

Clay was traded to the Bills at the end of the 2017 preseason and played a few games for Buffalo before being cut and re-joining the Panthers. The Bills re-signed him this offseason but it’s hard to see him having a more significant role on the roster than he did last year.

Cam Phillips

  • Contract status: signed a standard three-year, $1.71 million undrafted free agent contract ($570,000 cap hit)
  • Age: Will turn 23 on 12/16/18
  • Key 2017 statistics: 71 receptions, 964 yards (13.6 YPC), 7 touchdowns at Virginia Tech

A fiesty, max-effort receiver, Phillips will earn fans at training camp. A foot injury held him out of his final bowl game and pre-draft workouts. He doesn’t have great speed or burst, and needs to learn to work to open space against zone coverage, but his catch radius and running after the catch can find him a place on an NFL roster.

Robert Foster

  • Contract status: signed a standard three-year, $1.71 million undrafted free agent contract ($570,000 cap hit)
  • Age: Turned 24 on 5/7/18
  • Key 2017 statistics: 14 receptions, 174 yards, 1 touchdown for Alabama

A car collision and sophomore shoulder injury contributed to Foster’s run as a career reserve. With 4.41 speed, Foster is a deep threat with enough agility to find space underneath defenders too. He catches the ball against his body, and his route running and instincts are raw right now.

Camp Outlook

The position group is wide open. With Jones sidelined this offseason, virtually every player has seen some first-team reps.

Can Benjamin step into the lead receiver role as he enters a contract year looking for a big pay day? Can Jones move beyond his bad offseason to a place of stability and productivity? Will the draft picks pan out? How many players will they keep?

With all of the quarterbacks having their individual weaknesses, it might be hard to know what we have out of this group in 2018. The group is definitely full of storylines, though.