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Buffalo Bills 2022 NFL Draft positional primer: Offensive weapon

Receivers (and a running back) the Bills could draft in round one

The Buffalo Bills, for the last two seasons, have been one of the best offenses in the league. Josh Allen is the biggest part of that, but the weapons surrounding him have also been a major factor. Stefon Diggs is locked in for the long term as the top receiver, and Gabriel Davis enters year three as a starter with substantial upside. Dawson Knox and Devin Singletary both progressed in 2021, but are entering contract years, and the team just released Cole Beasley, replacing him with Jamison Crowder on a one year deal.

Looking at the landscape of the roster, the Bills absolutely have room to reinforce their skill positions. A high-upside receiver who could play in the slot would be a useful addition. The team would welcome another tight end, although this year’s class lacks the high-end talent at the position. With Singletary a potential free agent and Zack Moss not showing much in his first two years, the team could even consider a running back. In the first round, here are the important names to know if the Bills are picking up an offensive weapon.

Trade-up targets

There’s no bona fide star offensive weapon in this year’s draft, just a top tier of very promising names. Paired below are two players likely to land in the top 15 picks.

Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)

Wilson, a 6’0” 183-lb former five-star recruit, was one of the stars of the Buckeyes in 2021. He had 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 TDs in 11 games. A smooth athlete with a 4.38 40-yard dash, he has dangerous separation speed and run-after-catch ability. His catching technique isn’t perfect, but he’s one of the top “big play” receivers in the draft.

Drake London (USC)

London has a unique profile in this class as a 6’4” 219-lb basketball-style receiver. He was in the middle of a dominant year, averaging 11 catches, 135 yards, and a TD per game, before a broken ankle ended his 2021 season. His catch radius, ability to box out smaller defenders, and football IQ are all plus traits. As you’d suspect, the biggest concern with London is whether he has enough speed and explosiveness to be a number-one receiver in the league.

The WR class comes down to team preferences, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of these players was a top-ten selection, or if he was still available at the midpoint of the first round.

25th pick contenders

Chris Olave (Ohio State)

The other top draft-eligible receiver from Ohio State, Olave has been a dangerous target for three seasons. In that stretch of 31 games, he has 163 catches, 2,505 receiving yards, and 32 TDs. The 6’0” 189-lb receiver ran a 4.39 40-yard dash.

Where Wilson’s strength is in breaking open major gains from short catches, Olave slices and dices through defenses with refined releases and technical craftsmanship. He’s reminiscent of Stefon Diggs or Chad Johnson in the way he naturally separates from defenders with creative moves.

Could Olave and Wilson be swapped in this ranking? Yes. As I said above, who’s picked early and who falls to 25 is largely a circumstance of team preference.

Jameson Williams (Alabama)

We’re not done talking about Ohio State. The receiving depth was so tremendous there that it forced Williams to transfer to Alabama, where (freed from the friction of the depth chart) he had one of the best 2021 seasons in college football: 79 catches, 1,572 yards, 15 TDs.

Williams has a lot of similarity to last year’s Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle. He’s a track star and maybe the most explosive player in the draft class. Like Waddle and Tyreek Hill, he forces teams to play off coverage or else he’ll run right by them. Williams also has good vision for open spaces and he’s obviously a weapon after the catch. He was also an impact player on special teams.

The main concerns with Williams are that he only had one year of production in college, and that he’s coming off a torn ACL. If you accept those risks, you might be landing a star at a discount.

Jahan Dotson (Penn State)

Dotson, who measured in at 5’11” and 184 lbs, was a multi-sport athlete and top recruit in Pennsylvania who landed with Penn State. A speedster with intelligence and nuance to his route running, Dotson can separate at multiple levels of route depth, and he’s experienced lining up at split end, flanker, and in the slot.

Dotson’s lack of size makes him susceptible to physical defense, and he has struggled with routes run in the middle of the field. His catching technique is inconsistent, although he plays well on difficult, acrobatic catch attempts. He also brings upside as a punt returner.

Treylon Burks (Arkansas)

A 6’3” 225-lb receiver, Burks will bring the classic traits of a receiver with his size: catch radius, physical play at the catch point, and great vision for tracking the ball in the air. He adds an impressive degree of versatility, having lined up in the slot and the backfield in addition to his primary role as an X receiver. He’s a real challenge to bring down in the open field, with a strong stiff arm, and the ability to build up speed and force like a locomotive. Burks led his team in receiving in 2019, 2020, and 2021, increasing his payload in each successive season. In his spare time, he likes to hunt feral hogs with only a knife and a hunting dog.

His weak points, as you’d imagine, are that as a bulky receiver, he’s not as fluid or fast as the other players in the class. A 4.55 40-yard dash and 33” vertical leap were poor results, as was his 7.28 three-cone drill. If he can’t separate in the NFL, he might go the way of Laquon Treadwell.

Fringe first rounders

Christian Watson (North Dakota State)

The most athletic receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson, apparently. Watson, all 6’4” 208 lbs of him, turned in a 4.36 40-yard dash and an 11’4” broad jump at the NFL Combine. His size suggests a possession receiver, but NDSU used him more like Cordarelle Patterson at times—both as a dangerous kick returner and as a running threat.

He played against (and dominated) FCS competition, but a plus in his favor is that he was in a pro-style offense. His catching technique needs improvement, and that’s obviously the most important thing about being a receiver, but Watson has many other enticing factors that might make him worth the investment.

Skyy Moore (Western Michigan)

Recruited as a QB and defensive back, Moore switched to receiver when he started at Western Michigan. He’s been playing the position for three years. That makes his 2,482 career receiving yards all the more impressive. A 5’10” 195-lb receiver with the speed to be a vertical threat and the intuition to find windows in man and zone coverage, Moore could play in the slot or outside. He’s also a willing blocker with good pop for his size. He needs to keep developing his route running and catch technique to grow beyond a WR3/4 into a legitimate starter.

George Pickens (Georgia)

A five-star recruit, Pickens led the Bulldogs in receiving as a freshman with a 49/727/8 receiving slash. Playing eight games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he still led the team in TDs, catching 36 passes for 513 yards and six TDs. In the spring of 2021, Pickens tore his ACL. He showed a lot of resiliency rehabbing during the season, and managed to return to action for four games as the Bulldogs ran through to the championship.

An excellent athlete with a 6’3” 195-lb frame, Pickens plays with a chip on his shoulder and has great hand-eye coordination. He’s a project player, given his missed time and the lack of refinement in his route running. In the worst case, he could develop like Denzel Mims or Josh Doctson, a finesse player who doesn’t turn into an every-down starter. At best, you’re hoping he hits the highs of Calvin Ridley or Justin Jefferson, who make the hardest plays look effortless.

Breece Hall (Iowa State)

Not a wide receiver, but still able to immediately impact Buffalo’s offense in a similar fashion. Hall might be the top running back in this year’s class. The Bills have already met with three top RBs (at least) in the pre-draft process, so this is definitely on their radar even with Devin Singletary around.

6’1” and 220 lbs, with a 4.39 40-yard dash and a 40” vertical, Hall is a combo of excellent size and explosiveness the Bills haven’t featured at RB since... C.J. Spiller? In the last two seasons, he’s played in 24 games, rushed for 3,044 yards (at 5.7 yards per carry), added 59 catches for 482 yards, and scored 46 touchdowns.

Suited for a zone scheme because of his ability to press the playside gap and cut with speed to the backside gap, Hall has the ideal speed and burst to break a play open from ten yards to 60 yards gained. He has the build to break tackles, but needs to lower his pad level to give himself a stronger foundation to work with.

Hall’s other weakness is an inconsistent pace to his game. Sometimes he’s indecisive picking a lane to run. Sometimes he slows or stops his feet waiting for a block to finish. Sometimes he has lapses with ball carrying or tackle breaking that make you think he could’ve had a better result. If those issues went away in the NFL, Hall has the talent to be a top-ten running back in the league.

Pick from out of nowhere

Calvin Austin III (Memphis)

When you think about first-round receivers, speed is absolutely a top criteria for NFL teams. Think of Henry Ruggs III being the first receiver in his class, John Ross being a top-ten pick. Jalen Reagor, Breshad Perriman, Will Fuller, Phillip Dorsett. If I’m thinking of a surprise first-round pick, that’s where I start.

And Austin absolutely meets that criteria. With a 4.32 40-yard dash, 6.65 three-cone drill, and an 11’3” broad jump, he’s a 5’8” 190-lb F-16 fighter jet.

Austin could give the Bills an upgraded threat at Isaiah McKenzie’s role: he’s a dangerous punt returner, has 69- and 83-yard touchdown runs in his college career, and in the past two years, caught 137 passes for 2,202 yards and 19 TDs.

Lacking size and physicality, Austin would work best as a slot receiver or with manufactured touches. But he’d be a major speed boost for the Bills’ offense.