If the Buffalo Bills are serious about finding someone to challenge Robert Woods for the No. 2 wide receiver spot, the NFL draft could provide some intriguing possibilities.
This isn’t to say that Woods, who ranked third in the Bills last season with 47 catches for 552 yards and three touchdowns, won’t hang on to the position he has held for the last three seasons.
Yet, given Woods’ limited contribution last year and the narrative coming from the Bills’ football decision-makers that they’re looking for an upgrade opposite Sammy Watkins, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the team use one of its early draft picks on a receiver. Some prognosticators have the Bills selecting one in the first round, 19th overall, while others can see it happening in the second or third rounds.
The college ranks don’t appear to offer much in the way of top-level receiving talent. You probably won’t find a whole lot of dynamic talent such as Sammy Watkins or Odell Beckham Jr. or Mike Evans in this group.
But you can find role players. You can find a complement to Watkins in the No. 2 or No. 3 spot, which was vacated last week when restricted free agent Chris Hogan signed with the New England Patriots.
“If you think about the wide-receiver corps as a basketball team, it now has become a unit where role specificity has been huge,” said NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks, a former Bills wide receiver and scout in the league.
“In this draft, I don’t know if there are many pure No. 1s that are dynamic,” Brooks added. “But there are a lot of complementary players, meaning if you have an established guy to do the bulk of the dirty work, this guy can come in and be your vertical threat or he can be your guy that is your red-zone weapon or your big-play threat.
“There are a lot of intriguing options in the draft. You just have to know exactly what you’re looking for and exactly what you want.”
Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell and Baylor’s Corey Coleman are widely viewed as the cream of the collegiate receiver crop. They’re seen as having the wide range of skills – speed, athleticism, power – commensurate with a No. 1 man at the position.
After that, there appear to be plenty of specialists.
You want speed? How about Will Fuller of Notre Dame? He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine. Among the many qualities NFL scouts like about him is his ability to find a higher gear that allows him to gain separation deep in his route.
On Wednesday, the Bills visited with former New York Jets speed receiver Jeremy Kerley, so he could be that answer. And there’s always the chance the Bills could re-sign the highly versatile Percy Harvin, who had an injury shortened 2015 season before the team decided to void the final two years of his three-year contract.
You want a larger, possession-style receiver who has more power than speed, who does the gritty work between the harsh marks? How about 6-foot-1, 197-pound Tyler Boyd from Pittsburgh or 6-3, 212-pound Michael Thomas from Ohio State?
Boyd feels the advantage he has over other receivers in the draft is versatility, which could make him the ultimate complementary part.
“I’m a leaner and taller guy – inside or outside, my routes are crisp,” Boyd said. “I know how to work both positions, so I feel like I have an edge over the guy that is going be challenging me in the slot, because I’d be taller and a little more physical. I believe that is where I can create most of my mismatches.”
You want a “jump-ball” specialist? How about 6-2, 202-pound Josh Doctson from TCU?
“What helped me the most I think was playing basketball out of high school,” Doctson said. “Alley hoops helped me with timing of jumping, and catching the ball. And then finding the rim definitely took a lot of hand-eye coordination. That helped correlate over very well for me, timing in football, knowing when to time my jump to where I could get the best catch.
“Naturally, my body knows when to jump.”
Then, there’s one of the more interesting players, at any position, in the entire draft: Buckeyes quarterback-turned-receiver Braxton Miller, who is capable of making an impact catching, running, and throwing.
“Someone’s going to be fascinated with Braxton Miller,” Brooks said. “Where does Braxton Miller fit into the equation (for the Bills)? Is Braxton what you wanted Percy Harvin to be? The guy that can do everything to kind of give you the gimmick, gadget type stuff?”