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2020 All-22 Analysis: Buffalo Bills receiver/returner Brandon Powell

What to expect from the fourth-year player

The Buffalo Bills have enjoyed the luxury of a top return man the last few years. However, the Andre Roberts era of returns are over in Buffalo. From the looks of it, there’ll be some competition to crown the heir. The latest name to be thrown into the ring is former Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons receiver Brandon Powell. Let’s take a look at a few plays to see what Powell will bring to Western New York.


Play 1

Brandon Powell hesitates very briefly but then drives forward and takes what he can get. At 8.94 yards per punt return, he was 1.02 yards less than Andre Roberts was in 2020. That sounds good in that he’s in the ballpark of a former All-Pro except that Roberts was pretty average on punts returns last season.

Play 2

Now punt returns rely significantly on team effort and, in my opinion, the Falcons didn’t do Powell too many favors. One of the gunners here is run out of bounds (up top). Despite that limiting his path to a large degree, he’s still allowed fairly clean toward Powell. On the bottom of the screen Powell’s teammate isn’t even looking where to block and just hopes he’s in the right spot.

Play 3

I only have one kick return as a result of similar woes to the punting game. Guys coming free that early is a recipe for disaster returning kicks. Give some kudos to the Lions too, but Powell isn’t given too many favors by his teammates. That’s not to say he’s a diamond in the rough. That brief hesitation was there more than just Play 1. The bottom line is that I think Powell could do better with support, though I do doubt he’ll find the extra ten yards per return that he was behind Roberts.

It’s not boom or bust either. Powell’s longest return in 2020 was 29 yards. Andre Roberts had a dozen returns of 30 or more yards. Some of the issue could be getting into a rhythm. Powell only saw 34 returns split right down the middle between kickoffs and punts.

Play 4

As a receiver he caught 12 passes on 18 targets, which is a respectable catch rate. He averaged 5.75 yards per reception. Filtering out players who had less than ten targets to their name there were 60 players who had a better rate than Powell.

[checks notes]

Pardon me. That’s 60 running backs with a better yards-per-reception rate. Powell barely edged out Frank Gore. If you add receivers and tight ends into the mix it’s even worse.

Play 5

A primary part of the reason for the low yards per reception is hinted at in both the GIFs. He was targeted in very shorts zones with coverage that left little YAC potential. Some of that is play design and some of that is Powell. There weren’t any traits that jumped off the screen that suggest he’d have a consistent edge as a receiver.


Summary

The addition of Brandon Powell adds competition to the returner battle(s) this year and hopefully helps the end result. At the very least, Powell’s presence could push another player like Isaiah McKenzie to elevate their game. There’s some hope that Atlanta was the bigger part of the problem and Powell wouldn’t be a shock to claim a spot.

On the receiver front, if I was writing this just a few short years ago I’d be pretty excited about Brandon Powell. As it stands today “buried on the depth chart” is an understatement.