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2023 NFL Combine positional review: WR targets for the Buffalo Bills

This one should be fun!

NFL Combine Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

We’re halfway through our Buffalo Rumblings 2023 NFL Scouting Combine positional review series, which means it’s time to switch gears to the offensive side of the ball. We’ll start our offensive campaign off with a bang by reviewing the tantalizing position of wide receiver. Remember, if you missed any of the previous articles in this series you can find them here:

I fully believe the Buffalo Bills need to add play makers on offense for Josh Allen to further advance his game. This year's wide receiver class offers a variety of styles and skill sets that Buffalo can choose from, but whatever they do, I think it would be wise for the team to add a WR somewhere in the draft. Preferably, that would be in the form of a Day 1 or Day 2 pick, but even if they wait until Day 3, there are some late-round sleepers who have some high ceilings.

We all know the Bills’ receiver room pretty well, so I won’t spend too much time on it. Stefon Diggs = Beast. Beyond that Gabe Davis enters the final year of his rookie deal, and hopefully he can continue to develop. Kahlil Shakir showed some flashes as a rookie in 2022, but he must show consistency if he wants a real shot at the starting slot position. Isaiah McKenzie didn’t have a great year and is a potential cut candidate. Dezmon Patmon, KeeSean Johnson, and Isaiah Coulter are all practice-squad contributors.

I’m confident the Bills will add depth and competition to the receiver room via free agency, but they should also add to it through the draft. On that note, let’s take a peek at who I think the Buffalo Bills should consider on each day of the 2023 NFL Draft.

For reference:

  • Day 1 = Round 1
  • Day 2 = Rounds 2 & 3
  • Day 3 = Rounds 4-7

Day 1 Considerations

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR (Ohio State)

I’ve already punched my ticket to climb aboard the “go get JSN” train and I’ll blare that train horn all the way until draft day. It’s unlikely that Smith-Njigba will fall to Buffalo at the 27th pick in the first round. If he somehow does, I will run to Union Station, Kansas City (location of the 2023 NFL Draft) myself to deliver the card to the podium with his name on it. I’m not sure if the Bills will have the desire to trade up for JSN, but if he’s still on the board in the late teens, I would be making phone calls if I was general manager Brandon Beane. If he hits the 20’s you will likely find me somewhere in front of a TV pounding a table for the Bills to make a move up to draft him.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba set the college football world on fire when he posted a stat line of 15 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the 2021 Rose Bowl. That same season he recorded 95 receptions for 1,606 yards while on the same team with two WRs who were first-round draft picks in 2022 — Chris Olave (no. 10 overall) and Garrett Wilson (no. 11 overall and NFL offensive rookie of the year). Wilson has also gone on record saying JSN was the best WR out of the trio. JSN had high expectations for the 2022 season, but in the season opener, he suffered a hamstring injury that only allowed him to participate in three total games in 2022. This is likely the reason why he did everything but the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. We can expect to see him run the 40 at his pro day on March 22. Here are the rest of his combine stats:

  • Vertical jump = 35”
  • Broad jump = 10’5”
  • 3-Cone drill = 6.57 seconds
  • 20-yard shuttle = 3.93 seconds

Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle times are off the charts. Both of those times were the fastest out of any player who participated at this year’s combine. JSN sees most of his production out of the slot, but is perfectly capable of lining up on the outside. Standing 6’1” and weighing 196 pounds, he provides adequate size for the position. Smith-Njigba is about as smooth as they come — he has elite agility, lateral quickness, vertical burst, and is a creative route runner who’s fun to watch go to work. His separation ability is next-level at any level of the field, inside or outside. He has reliable hands and is dependable over the middle. JSN has some wiggle after the catch and can rack up the yards after catch (YAC). He also provides a physical element to his game where he can get off of press coverage and also break some tackles. If JSN played a full season in 2022 and produced like he did the year before, I have no doubt he would be a top-10 pick. The knocks against him will likely be that he doesn’t have “burner” speed and that he missed most of last year with an injury. Those things don’t deter me in the slightest. His speed is good enough and he can get separation vertically with ease — plus, he has fantastic ability to deep-track the football. One can hope his injury issue was just a one-off and that he will be ready to take the NFL by storm come 2023. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the number-one wide receiver on my board, and it isn’t even close. He would provide the Bills with another dynamic weapon and the type of offensive firepower that would be tough to top in the NFL. Go get him Buffalo.

Jordan Addison, WR (USC)

Insert Brandon Beane's “I hope he runs slow” comment here. Jordan Addison ran an underwhelming 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, posting a time of 4.49 seconds. In all honestly, 4.49 isn’t slow. It would just be nice to see a WR who is 5’11” and only 173 pounds run faster. But as we all know, combine numbers don’t mean everything — check out Skarekrow’s article for further proof. Addison has plenty of rock-solid game film to prove he should be in consideration for Round 1. In 2021 Addison starred at Pitt, winning the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top WR, posting 100 receptions for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns. In 2022 he transferred to USC and posted 59 receptions for 875 yards and eight touchdowns, missing three games due to injury.

Addison comes with the versatility to play inside or outside as a receiver, and he can get open in all levels of the field at either position. He is an advanced route runner who understands how to use stems, hesitation/acceleration, and leverage to get open. Addison is super efficient at getting in and out of breaks, and after he catches the ball he’s a slippery runner to take down. His slight build makes him susceptible to bigger corners in press coverage, but he has a plethora of releases to dip into as a counterattack. Addison doesn’t offer much in terms of catch radius, which becomes a problem when a throw is off target. Overall I see him fitting in as a slot receiver for the Bills. With Buffalo, he’d offer great route running and awareness, and a healthy dose of juice after the catch. I’m sure Brandon Beane didn’t mind that Addison only ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, because it might have pushed him down to pick number 27.

Zay Flowers, WR (Boston College)

Flowers is another smaller receiver, measuring in at 5’9” and weighing 182 pounds. But make no mistake, for he plays bigger than his size. Flowers has an aggressive mindset on contested catches, which results in ball skills that are exceptional for someone his height. Even though he does come down with some nice catches, Flowers does have concentration drop issues that might deter some teams. His 40-yard dash time was a quick 4.42 seconds, and matches up with the burst that he shows on film. Flowers’ speed shows up consistently throughout the duration of his route, making it difficult for defenders to read what route he’s running. The best part of Flowers’ game is that he offers big potential for playmaking after the catch. Once he gets the ball in his hands he can be electric. It’s this play-making ability that pushes him into the Day 1 tier for me. Given his stature and ability to make plays after the catch, it’s difficult not to compare him to legendary Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. Sure, that player comparison is a moon shot, but Flowers certainly shows the traits to be similar as a pro. If the Bills drafted Flowers, he would add a whole new dimension to Buffalo’s offense — which hasn’t really had a true “game breaker” in the slot since Josh Allen lined up behind center.

Day 2 Considerations

Josh Downs, WR (North Carolina)

Josh Downs is yet another smaller slot receiver (5’9” 171 pounds) who had great college production, with back-to-back 1000-yard receiving seasons in 2021 and 2022. He also provides some value as a punt returner. I doubt Downs will fall to pick number 59 in the second round so the Bills would have to trade up in the second round to get him or trade back out of the first round to land in an area where Downs is projected to come off the board (early second round).

Downs is a fun route runner to watch out of the slot. He reminds me of Cole Beasley with his ability to suddenly start and stop, use body control, route stems, and string together multiple moves to gain an advantage over the defender. He also has a great understanding of defensive concepts and how to run routes effectively to exploit what is presented to him. Downs has reliable hands and can win more than his fair share of contested catches despite his size. He can run routes all day long out of the slot, but lining Downs up on the outside isn’t ideal. If the Bills fail to sign someone significant in free agency (a thin group to begin with) and miss out on a WR on Day one of the NFL Draft, I think it would be wise for Buffalo to consider trading up in the second round for someone like Josh Downs. The Bills have already shown interest in Downs, as they met with him at this year’s combine.

Rashee Rice, WR (SMU)

Rice is a bigger receiver at 6’1” and 204 pounds with great length (32 3/4” arm length). He has a prototypical blend of size/strength/speed for the WR position. He ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which is plenty fast enough for his size. He also showed some lower body explosion, jumping 41” in the vertical jump and 10’8” in the broad jump.

His athleticism transfers to the field but showed up a little inconsistently in 2022. It’s been recently noted that he was dealing with a toe injury last season, and hopefully was part of the reason he had trouble separating on routes in 2022. He looked more explosive in 2021, which would make sense if the toe was really bothering him in 2022. Hopefully, that toe is healed up; I’m certain this is something NFL teams checked on during physicals at the combine. Rice is more suited as an outside receiver and would slide in to compete at Buffalo’s WR2 position. His route running is pretty basic, which is likely a result of the college offense he was in, but he will have to expand that aspect of his game in the NFL. Rice’s ball skills are above average and his length provides him with a large catch radius for off-target throws. Rice has the traits to develop into a WR1 in the NFL if he refines some of the more detailed nuances of his position.

Tyler Scott, WR (Cincinnati)

Scott doesn’t seem to be getting the “buzz” or “hype” like some other WRs in this draft class, but I like what he has to offer. He is a shifty route runner who can get open with his natural athletic ability. He is a bona fide deep threat who also adds play-making talent after the catch. He ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the combine and has the ability to find a second gear when tracking deep balls. He is undersized at 5’10” and 177 pounds, but the NFL keeps getting smaller and faster. Scott should fit right in with some of the smaller types of NFL receivers who dominate today's game. His slight frame leads to some questions about Scott’s physicality and how that will effect his game against bigger corners in the NFL. Overall, I think Scott can develop into a dynamic offensive weapon in the NFL and it would be fun to see him used in Buffalo’s offense.

Honorable mentions for Day 2:

Tank Dell, WR (Houston)

I love Dell’s explosive traits and creative route running. His 4.49-second 40-yard dash was surprising, because he looks faster on tape. His slight frame is cause for concern (5’10”, 165 pounds), but he looked to be playing at a different speed than everyone else at the Senior Bowl.

Jayden Reed, WR (Michigan State)

The Bills met with Reed (6’, 185 pounds) at the combine. He offers positional versatility and added value as a punt returner (three career returns for TD). He can rack up the YAC and consistently plays at top speed (4.45-second 40-yard dash). His separation ability isn’t elite, but I like the idea of using him in multiple positions in Buffalo’s offense.

Day 3 Considerations

Jonathan Mingo, WR (Ole Miss)

Mingo is a fringe Day 2/Day 3 prospect who’s generated some buzz as of late. He ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, which was outstanding for his large frame (6’2” and 220 pounds). He is a tough possession receiver who proves to be a challenge to bring down after the catch. His solid 40 time at the combine was a bit of a surprise, and likely improved his draft stock. Mingo is also an above-average blocker who has the tenacity to compete on every play. He isn’t the twitchiest player and struggles with separation, but he provides a large frame to catch balls when contested. Mingo has plays when he dominates and other points when he disappears. If he can become more consistent he has the potential to be a diamond in the rough in the later rounds.

Trey Palmer, WR (Nebraska)

Trey Palmer was the fastest wide receiver at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combing. Standing 6’0” and weighing 192 pounds, the senior Cornhusker ran a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, IN. This deep-threat extraordinaire has easy speed and eats soft cushions from defensive backs for lunch. Palmer is quick to get his defender’s hips to turn and knows how to use route stems to his advantage. He is a natural at tracking the deep ball, but will need to improve on “stacking” defenders in his route to become a truly elite deep threat against NFL corners. Palmer is adequate at finding soft spots in zones but he needs to do it more consistently. His game-breaking speed can be utilized on jet sweeps and quick screens. Palmer doesn’t possess craftiness with his route running, but he shows some potential to develop those skills. His speed is nearly unmatched, and even though he’s raw I think Palmer might be my favorite late-round sleeper in this draft. It would be fun to watch him track down a 60-yard moon ball from Josh Allen.

Matt Landers, WR (Arkansas)

I’m including a late-round flyer on Landers simply because these types of numbers don’t grow on trees. Landers is 6’4”, weighing 200 pounds — and he ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. Unbelievable. His long strides require some build-up time, but he can clearly turn on the burners. I’m interested to see how teams value his very unique set of traits. Someone has to give him a chance to see what he can do in the NFL.

In summary

This year’s wide receiver class doesn’t seem to be as good on paper as some prior NFL Draft classes, but I think there’s still plenty of talent to go around. There isn’t a “surefire” number-one wide receiver in this class (everyone comes with some sort of question mark) but I think teams will have the ability to draft a variety of skill sets. As for me, I’m team JSN.

We keep the train rolling on this positional series by featuring tight ends. My thoughts next on who the Bills should consider!