The Buffalo Bills entered the 2022 season exploding with expectations. Wide receiver Gabe Davis was no exception to this. After torching the Kansas City Chiefs for a playoff record four touchdowns and 201 yards, the idea was that he would carry over his break-out game into an entire third-year breakout season for the Bills.
This did not happen as we would have liked. While he did flash brilliance, against the Pittsburgh Steelers for example, (6-171-2) these performances were few and far between. His stat line wasn’t terrible — 48 receptions for 836 yards and seven touchdowns sounds like a decent season, but his inconsistency was the downfall of his game. Adding in untimely drops and the inability to make plays down the stretch, opposing defenses could focus on wide receiver Stefon Diggs, essentially taking him out of the game while stifling the entire offense, when it mattered most.
Buffalo needs another weapon who can take the attention of an opponent’s defense. With the 2023 NFL Draft weeks away and trade rumors swirling, nothing is certain. But if the offense does roll out Diggs-Davis as their one two punch, will Davis be better than this past year? Or will will he continue leaving us wanting more?
I wanted to look league wide to see if there’s a precedent, to know how often we see wide receivers make big statical improvements going into their fourth year. Using total yards and touchdowns, I looked at 20 wide receivers from past draft classes starting in 2019 and went backward, examining their development.
NFL wide receiver drafted in 2019
NFL wide receiver drafted in 2018
NFL wide receiver drafted in 2017
NFL wide receiver drafted in 2016
That is a lot of data to look at, so I tried to simplify it by putting players into tiers.
- Tier 1: Rookies who produced right away. (1,000+ yards receiving)
- Tier 2: Players who saw a second-year leap in production. (300+ yards more than rookie season)
- Tier 3: Players who broke out in their third year (300+ yards more than rookie season)
- Tier 4: Players who broke out in their fourth year (300+ yards more than rookie season)
- Tier 5: Players who plateaued, regressed, or busted out of the league by their fourth season.
These were the groupings:
Tier 1: A.J. Brown, Michael Thomas
Tier 2: Robbie Anderson, Zay Jones, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Shuster, Kenny Golladay, Courtland Sutton, Michael Gallup
Tier 3: Tyler Boyd, Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel, Deonte Thompson, Marquise Brown, Gabe Davis
Tier 4: Christian Kirk
Tier 5: Anthony Miller, Sterling Shepard, Will Fuller, (Kenny Golladay — again, if you want to count him having busted out of the league)
To answer my question above, how many receivers break out in year four? Only one. Christian Kirk, and he is an interesting comparison. Going into contract years, behind established number-one receivers, Davis and Kirk have similarities. When looking at Davis, he did have a break-out season, but not to the extent we expected. Should we expect 1,000 yards from him? Maybe. Maybe not. Christian Kirk only broke 1,000 yards as the number-one receiver on his team after signing with Jacksonville.
Buffalo could see growth from Davis next season. The other receivers in Davis’ tier continued to develop past their third year, finding themselves stars in the league. It leaves us with hope Davis can find another gear on the field. He could flirt with 1,000 yards if he can stop dropping the ball (seven drops in 2022) and improve on his catch-rate percentage.
Davis also could just be a solid third or fourth option on a team. As the number-two guy, he only hauled in 48 of 93 targets. According to Player Profiler, Davis ranked 96th in true catch rate and 85th in contested catch percentage. A number-two receiver should score between 33-65th.
These numbers make me waiver on how good Davis can be. He fit great within a system being on the field with guys like John Brown, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders and Stefon Diggs. With Brown, Beasley, and Sanders gone, Davis felt the extra pressure when good defenses were able to dictate the game. Duplicating these numbers again would show Davis should not be expected to be a number-two wide receiver in the NFL.
What does this mean for the Bills
Buffalo added some wide receiver talent this offseason. Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield have lots to prove this coming season. If they can establish themselves to be a threat to opposing defenses, it will make life easier on Diggs and Davis, allowing both more space on the field. This would lead to some natural progression from Davis, potentially inflating his numbers.
While it could be adequate, I don’t think it’s the best option and wouldn’t have the same effect on the Bills’ offense as adding a true number one, someone like DeAndre Hopkins opposite of Diggs. Hopkins would instantly spread the defense out, allowing Davis to match up with the third- or fourth-best cornerback on the other team. Davis probably doesn’t hit the 1,000 yard threshold if Hopkins comes to town, but his job would surely be easier and with that hopefully he’d show more efficiency and consistency within his game.
The final option is drafting a receiver. The last bits of data I have on that chart are for rookie receivers. Two guys were instant different makers when they were drafted, Michael Thomas and A.J. Brown. Others were affective, but not stars right out of the gate. The average production of those 20 receivers was 674 yards receiving and 4.5 TDs. Not great production but production the Bills could have desperately used throughout stretches of last season.
Gabe Davis is a good player, but he shouldn’t be thought of as a high-end number-two receiver. The Buffalo Bills have to capitalize on their championship window with Josh Allen at quarterback and surround him with as much talent as possible. Settling for Davis as WR2 again next year will feel like a failure to me. I think it’s imperative the Bills don’t just rely on their free-agency signings and developmental jumps from their current roster as the only moves this offseason. Don’t get me wrong — I want DeAndre Hopkins badly, but the money aspect is daunting to me.
Drafting a weapon early — in the first or second round, and giving him playing time is my favorite move. This supports the Sherfield, Harty signings, and injects young cheap talent into an aging receiver core. If the pick hits, it will extend this window the Bills are in even longer, having cost-controlled high-end talent. It could even soften the blow if Davis leaves, by following Christian Kirk’s footsteps and potentially signing a massive free-agent deal elsewhere. Everyone will have a role and if Dorsey utilizes all parties correctly, the offense could do even better than their second-place overall finish in 2022.
What do you think Gabe Davis’ ceiling is? Should the Bills be content with him as their WR2 going into next year or should the team make a trade or draft a guy instead?