While the Buffalo Bills may have overhauled their receiving corps heading into the 2019 season, general manager Brandon Beane felt there was still work to be done. They made two big free-agent signings, but the depth after those top two players still felt suspect.
That allowed for some intriguing story lines to play out over the course of the season, with one big receiver at the center of arguably the biggest wide receiver story of the year. A fan favorite throughout training camp, the Bills allowed a 26-year-old former CFL star to make his NFL debut, and while he may have been inconsistent, he was able to make some pretty big plays for the team.
In today’s installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile that big wideout.
Name: Duke Williams
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 225 lbs.
Age: 27 (28 on 5/13/2021)
Experience/Draft: 2; signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Rams following the 2016 NFL Draft
Acquired: Signed reserve/future contract on 1/7/19
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Williams enters the final year of the two-year contract he signed last January. That deal is worth a total of $1,080,000 with no guarantees. If Williams makes the 53-man roster this year, he will carry a salary-cap hit of $675,000.
2019 Recap: After a strong preseason that saw Williams catch eight passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 14 targets, many fans thought he’d make the roster and slot in as Buffalo’s fourth wideout. However, Williams did not make the roster out of camp—but he cleared waivers and was added to the team’s practice squad the following day. Williams remained on the practice squad for the first month of the season, but he was made active for Buffalo’s Week 5 game against the Tennessee Titans. In his NFL debut, Williams caught four passes for 29 yards, including what was the game-winning touchdown. Williams’s spot on the roster was solidified the day after the game when Buffalo traded Zay Jones to the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders. In Buffalo’s next game, a Week 7 game against the Miami Dolphins, Williams injured his shoulder while landing awkwardly on a 23-yard reception. He played against the Philadelphia Eagles the following weekend, but was inactive after that for each game until Week 17 and the playoffs. In those final two games, Williams saw 22 targets, catching ten passes for 157 yards. Overall, Williams finished the season (including playoffs) with 16 receptions for 215 yards and one touchdown on 29 targets.
Positional outlook: Williams is one of 11 wideouts fighting for what should be anywhere from five to seven roster spots this year. Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley are roster locks, leaving only two to four “open” spots. Andre Roberts and Isaiah McKenzie return, as do Robert Foster and Ray-Ray McCloud III. Nick Easley spent the duration of the 2019 on Buffalo’s practice squad, and the team added Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins via the NFL Draft this year.
2020 Offseason: Nothing new to report.
2020 Season outlook: Williams is another of those receivers who probably falls somewhere in the 5-9 range on a hypothetical depth chart. Clearly, the coaches had him ahead of McKenzie and Foster by the end of last season, which should give him a leg up there; however, with the addition of two draft picks, it shows that the coaching staff doesn’t want to go into the 2020 season reliant upon Williams to improve. That’s a solid strategy, as Williams showed inconsistent hands during his time in the lineup last season. If, as many have assumed, the Bills are set in their top five wideouts with Diggs, Brown, Beasley, Roberts, and Davis, then Williams is fighting with Hodgins, McKenzie, and Foster for one spot, maybe two, at the back end of the roster. The amazing thing here is that Buffalo has, in just two years, gone from having one of the worst receiving groups I can remember to one that could be considered one of the top units in the NFL. This means that roster-worthy players are going to be released at the beginning of September. Williams could go either way when the decision comes.