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Bills Position Preview: Wide receiver

This is the third of a series previewing each position on the Buffalo Bills before the July 26 start of training camp. 

The conversation about who will throw passes for the Buffalo Bills this season doesn't go too far without sparking a second discussion about who will catch them.

The first topic at least offers the hope of rookie Josh Allen becoming the long-awaited answer the Bills desperately need at quarterback. The team and its fans are eager to see what he can do with that ultra-powerful arm and all of the other reasons he warranted the seventh overall pick of the draft.

The second topic, however, doesn't offer nearly as much in the way of encouragement.

Wide receiver is widely seen as the Bills' No. 1 problem area, largely because no one can say with any certainty whether the roster does, in fact, have a legitimate No. 1 target ... or Nos. 2 or 3, for that matter. Kelvin Benjamin, acquired from Carolina last season for a third-round draft pick, is occupying the top spot mainly by default.

Suffice it to say that there was healthy competition at the position during offseason practices.

"The competition level, I think, is very high," coach Sean McDermott told reporters last week. "It’s interesting to watch a different player make a play about every day, so that’s healthy for us."

Returnees: Kelvin Benjamin, Quan Bray, Malachi Dupre, Andre Holmes, Zay Jones, Brandon Reilly and Rod Streater.

Newcomers: Kaelin Clay (free agent who spent part of last season with the Bills), Robert Foster (free agent), Jeremy Kerley (free agent), Ray-Ray McCloud III (draft), Cam Phillips (free agent) and Austin Proehl (draft).

Bills Position Preview

Departures: Brandon Tate (free agent) and Deonte Thompson (free agent).

What the numbers say: The Bills ranked 31st in the NFL last season with 3,006 receiving yards. They were 17th with 16 receiving touchdowns. They didn't have a receiver ranked in the league's top 30 for receptions.

What to expect: Even if Benjamin were to remain in one piece for the entire season, it's hard to see the Bills getting a whole lot of impressive production at the position.

First of all, expecting Benjamin to be a consistently dominant force is probably asking too much, especially as he tries to build chemistry with a new quarterback, whether it's AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman or rookie Josh Allen. That figures to take time.

Secondly, there doesn't seem to be any other receiver on the roster who looks as if he'll make much of an impact.

Jones, last year's second-round pick, is the leading candidate for the No. 2 spot. But he was a disappointment as a rookie and is having a terrible offseason that included an arrest for a bizarre incident in which he was shown naked on a viral video and a shoulder and knee surgery. The fact he wasn't able to participate in any offseason practices to get a feel for the scheme of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll figures to set him back when training camp begins.

Kerley, whose eight years in the NFL make him the Bills' most experienced receiver, has the inside track on the slot role and could very well end up in the No. 2 spot if Jones falters. But Kerley has a challenge of his own, trying to make a comeback from a four-game suspension last year for violating the league's performance-enhancing substances policy.

There are plenty of other bodies at the position – including sixth- and seventh-round draft picks McCloud (Clemson) and Proehl (North Carolina), and the speedy and athletic Foster, an undrafted free agent from Alabama – but it could take some time before anyone distinguishes himself ... if that happens at all.

The onus will clearly be on the coaches to squeeze as much as possible out of what they have.

"I think the leadership at the coach level from (new receivers) coach (Terry) Robiskie, (offensive assistant) Chad Hall, has been phenomenal," McDermott said. "To be able, for our young players, to be able to learn from those two men in terms of Terry Robiskie being around some well-established receivers over the years to Chad playing the position, both outside and in the slot, really bodes well for the future of our position there."

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