It’s a tale as old as time. During the preseason and in training camp, the perceived depth of a team, combined with fan optimism, will generate the following phrase:
“This team is going to cut players who can absolutely play on another NFL team.”
We mean it as a sign of respect when we say it. We’re complimenting the talent acquisition of the franchise in question, and we’re outlining the difficult releases to come. But for many, they aren’t prepared to actually confront the reality they themselves outlined in the above statement. If the team cuts a player who can be a rosterable asset in the NFL, it stands to reason that occasionally, that phenomenon will actually occur. Someone your favorite team releases (or moves on from in some other way) may very well show up on another team and contribute to that squad.
Such is the case for former Buffalo Bills sixth-round pick, wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins.
Hodgins was released from the active roster by the Bills on November 1, and was claimed on waivers by the New York Giants the next day. Immediately, the consternation began. Former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is the head coach for the G-Men, after all, and he might just be able to get Hodgins the playing time he hadn’t gotten in bulk during his tenure in Buffalo. Since his first active game with the Giants in Week 10, Hodgins has tallied 29 receptions on 36 targets for 309 yards and three touchdowns. During that same span, Bills No. 2 receiver Gabriel Davis has accumulated 27 catches on 45 targets for 346 yards and three touchdowns. This statistical comparison, and the focus on the former Oregon State receiver since he got to East Rutherford, has caused a bit of hand-wringing amongst some in Bills Mafia who believe it was a mistake to part ways with Hodgins.
I’m not personally ready to criticize the team for it.
Let’s examine the status of the Bills when they made the release. Buffalo traded for safety Dean Marlowe at the trade deadline, and placed cornerback Tre’Davious White on the active roster. To do so, they needed two roster spots. Defensive tackle Brandin Bryant and Hodgins were the two roster terminations that balanced the scales.
Let’s start with Marlowe. Right now you may be thinking that because the Bills don’t even activate Marlowe, keeping Hodgins instead of Marlowe may have been the better call. But Hodgins wasn’t going to be active, either — and hadn’t been up to that point for any meaningful amount of time. He had been active for two games, and received a grand total of six targets, all of which came in the Bills’ blowout victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The safety position had seen Micah Hyde suffer a serious neck injury, while Jordan Poyer was (and still is) dealing with an elbow injury. In the one game where Jaquan Johnson was forced to start, he was one of the main goats in postgame narratives due to his missed tackles and bad angles in the run game.
Pivot over to the receiver room, and the Bills still have their star No. 1 in Stefon Diggs. Davis was weeks removed from the ankle injury that caused him to miss Week 2 and was playing his usual 85-98% of snaps. Isaiah McKenzie was active every game, and at that point in time, was the main returner for the team (running back Nyheim Hines didn’t take that role over until after he was acquired at the trade deadline). People were (and still are) begging for rookie fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir to get more snaps on offense. The team made a call with the Marlowe in, Hodgins out maneuver that they were more comfortable with a Diggs-Davis-McKenzie-Shakir top four receiver group than an injured Poyer-Hamlin-Johnson-Cam Lewis safety group — and I’m inclined to agree.
The second transaction was the release of Bryant. He, like Hodgins, was claimed (this time by the Houston Texans), but was released on December 12, and is now back on the Bills’ practice squad. Bryant has been back and forth multiple times between Buffalo’s active roster and practice squad, and it’s no surprise that he would be an obvious candidate for a release with the hopes of getting him back on the practice squad.
The same logic would also apply to Hodgins. Hodgins had been released at the end of training camp in 2021 and signed to the practice squad. He remained there for any team to scoop up. He again was released in August of 2022, and signed to the practice squad. During both of these transactions, someone in the NFL could have claimed Hodgins. It was only after his former offensive coordinator had a rash of injuries to his new wide receiver group that Hodgins was actually utilized. The Giants and Daboll lost both Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson to torn ACLs during the season, after Collin Johnson went down with a torn Achilles in August. The Shepard injury happened in October, and the Robinson injury happened on November 20 after the Giants had claimed Hodgins on November 2. In the four games that followed, Hodgins had target counts of four, six, six, and four, and snaps counts at 70% or above every game after spending his first two active weeks with the Giants and seven total targets and snap counts of 62% and 59%.
Daboll, who knows Hodgins as well as any non-Bills staff member in the league, needed Johnson and Shepard to go down before he put in a claim on him.
This is not a diminishment of Hodgins, by any means. In fact, when I was evaluating the receiver class of 2020, I actually had a slightly higher grade on Hodgins than I did on Davis. But the release of Hodgins at the end of training camp made sense. The Bills chose Jake Kumerow, who would be active on game day as a special teams player, over Hodgins in that wide receiver room. Then the release in the middle of the season, knowing that there was a good chance the Bills could get Hodgins back onto the practice squad — as they did with Bryant, and as they had done with Hodgins multiple times before — also makes sense, given the trade for Marlowe and the safety room versus the wide receiver room at that point.
While I recognize that Hodgins might go on to have a productive NFL career, I’m not gonna chalk this one up as a harsh “L” for the Brandon Beane-Sean McDermott regime in Buffalo. The Bills needed to have suffered injuries to both of their starting safeties to necessitate the trade for Marlowe — and the team that just so happened to be coached by Hodgins’ old offensive coordinator needed to have multiple injuries at his position, one of which occurred right before Hodgins’ release. Timing is everything in the NFL, and sometimes it doesn’t work for you to keep a player who, due to a multitude of reasons, had bounced back and forth between the active roster and practice squad.
How ironic that Hodgins was a victim of circumstance during his time in Buffalo, and the Bills are a victim of circumstance in not being able to secure him once again to the practice squad in November of 2022.
..and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!