This is the third of a series that examines where the Buffalo Bills stand at each position heading into training camp, which begins July 27. Today’s installment looks at wide receiver.
The Buffalo Bills had enough concern about the health of their top wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, to pass on the chance to pick up the fifth-year option in his rookie contract.
It means that this could very well be his final season with the Bills, but it speaks even louder about where the team stands at the position.
If Watkins can't be counted on to consistently contribute at the level of a No. 1 receiver, what are the alternatives?
The Bills have second-round draft pick Zay Jones, but he has yet to take a professional snap and faces a substantial transition from small-school East Carolina to the NFL. They signed a slew of free agents, but all are seen as competing for second, third, and fourth roles and only being used in the top spot in a pinch.
Here's the breakdown at wide receiver:
Returning: Sammy Watkins, Dez Lewis, Brandon Tate and Walt Powell.
Newcomers: Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Jeremy Butler, Rod Streater, Rashad Ross, Daikiel Shorts and Brandon Reilly.
Better, worse or the same?: Worse. Maybe even much worse.
Granted, the Bills ranked near the bottom of the NFL in passing yards last season, so it isn't as if they're in danger of slipping all that far.
But they do have more questions than a year ago -- and they go beyond the uncertainty of whether they have a long-term answer in the guy throwing the ball, Tyrod Taylor.
The biggest question of all is what does the future hold for Watkins? He had his second surgery in January to repair a fractured foot that caused him to miss eight games last season. Watkins missed most of the Bills' offseason workouts and although he showed enough progress to participate in 11-on-11 drills, he did so on a limited basis.
Robert Woods, who had been the No. 2 receiver, joined the Los Angeles Rams in free agency. Marquise Goodwin, who had filled the No. 3 role, followed the free-agent path to the San Francisco 49ers.
Woods was solid, though unspectacular. Still, it's fair to say that he probably gave the Bills a better second receiver than anyone they have on the roster. That could change if Jones' game should evolve quickly. His 399 career catches in college offer encouragement that it will, but he will need to overcome the greatest challenge that all rookie receivers face: getting off the line of scrimmage against bigger, stronger, and more talented defensive backs.
Goodwin's world-class speed made him dangerous, but his inability to stay healthy made him expendable.
The four-game suspension Powell must serve at the start of the season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy makes him a long-shot to stay on the roster past the preseason. Lewis isn't expected to make any sort of impact, and Tate is a special-teams contributor.
The most likely place from where third and fourth receivers emerge is the free-agent group of Holmes, Brown, Butler, Streater, Ross, Shorts and Reilly.
Next: Tight end
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