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Pro Football Focus analyst breaks down Bills' 'captivating' battle at wide receiver

Pro Football Focus Senior Analyst Billy Moy will be contributing to BNblitz.com all season long. Here is his first piece looking at the status of the Bills' situation at wide receiver beyond Kelvin Benjamin. 

We’re two weeks through the preseason, which means many NFL teams are in the midst of position-battle season. Most teams have at least a couple – if not a handful – of positions where multiple players are competing for the last few remaining spots.

For the Bills, one of the more captivating battles is at wide receiver. Last year's midseason trade acquisition, Kelvin Benjamin, is entrenched as Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver, but who fills out the depth chart behind him is up in the air. Last Friday's preseason game against Cleveland gave some additional indications, but here we check in with the candidates and how they’ve progressed so far this preseason.

Zay Jones

2017 Overall Grade (Rank): 55.0 (104th)
2018 Preseason Grade: 55.5 (T-211th)

Jones, a second-round pick from 2017 who started last season, has been playing with the first team in practice and started Buffalo’s second preseason game after being cleared following offseason knee surgery. A small sample and limited production sets Jones' very low overall grade, He was on the field for just 12 snaps in last week’s preseason game. He split his time between the slot (five snaps) and out wide (seven snaps) and caught one pass, a 5-yard hitch on a third-and-long. A strong performance to close out the preseason could go a long way towards easing some minds after his struggles a year ago as a rookie.

Corey Coleman

2017 Overall Grade: 60.3 (83rd)
2018 Preseason Grade: 59.6 (170th)

Coleman is in a similar position as Jones: former high-round pick (in Coleman’s case, he was the 15th overall pick in 2016) who’s coming off a disappointing season. After being acquired from the Browns, Coleman played 19 snaps with a Josh Allen-led second unit against the Browns. Coleman played mostly from the outside (15 snaps compared to four in the slot; 13 of his snaps came from the left receiver position), and he hauled in his only target, a 7-yard hitch on a second-and-long.

One would figure that Coleman – who has dealt with injuries and a less-than-ideal situation at quarterback in Cleveland for his first two seasons – is a relatively safe bet to make the roster. Te next two weeks though could tell us a lot about what role we should expect from him to open the season.

Andre Holmes

2017 Overall Grade: 63.2 (73rd)
2018 Preseason Grade: 65.3 (126th)

Holmes got the start in Buffalo’s first preseason game and then worked primarily with the second team last week. He’s been on the field for 29 total offensive snaps, splitting time both out wide (22 snaps, seven on the left side vs. 15 on the right) and various slot positions (seven snaps). Holmes has caught both of his targets this preseason, the first being a quick hitch on a first-and-10 that went for a first down against Carolina and the second was a 7-yard out route on a third-and-2 that also resulted in a first down.

Jeremy Kerley

2017 Overall Grade: 66.4 (N/A)
2018 Preseason Grade: 63.1 (144th)

Kerley has had 23 snaps across Buffalo’s first two preseason games. He’s seen most of his preseason action with the starting unit and all but two of his snaps have come from the slot. He’s hauled in one of two targets, a deep hitch from AJ McCarron against Carolina that picked up 16 yards on third-and-7. Kerley averaged 1.32 yards per route run out of the slot last season for the New York Jets. The Bills’ leader in yards per route run from the slot a year ago was Jordan Matthews, with an average of 0.77 YPRR. Should be no surprise that Kerley has handled first-team slot duties to start the preseason.

Ray-Ray McCloud 

2017 Overall Grade: Rookie
2018 Preseason Grade: 72.9 (66th)

He’s worked entirely with the reserve unit thus far, but McCloud has seen 39 offensive snaps (he’s also seen time on both the kick- and punt-return units) and the Bills have split his time between the slot (15 snaps) and out wide (17 snaps). McCloud has caught four of his five targets and all four have either resulted in a first down or touchdown. He’s caught two passes out of the slot and two lined up from the right wide receiver position, and he’s demonstrated the capability to produce at all levels of the field: His first catch came on a deep crossing route out of the slot early in the fourth quarter against Carolina that he caught 19 yards down field. His next catch came on a 6-yard hitch from the outside that he turned into an 11-yard gain and then he followed that up a minute later with a 14-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone. He also made a catch on a shallow crossing route for 11 yards after the catch against the Browns, his only catch of the night.

The rest of the group

  • Veteran receiver Rod Streater has gotten a good chunk of preseason work (29 offensive snaps), playing mostly with the second unit but saw some work early against the Panthers. Three of Streater’s four catches in the first two weeks resulted in either a first down or touchdown. He did not register a regular season snap in 2017.
  • Second-year receiver Malachi Dupre has been on the field plenty (38 offensive snaps) but has been targeted just once and doesn’t have a reception.
  • Seventh-round pick Austin Proehl (28 snaps) has worked exclusively with the reserves in the first two preseason games with all but one of his snaps coming from the slot. He’s caught just two of five targets with one of his incompletions being a drop.
  • Undrafted rookie Robert Foster leads Bills receivers with 58 offensive snaps this preseason, all with either the second or reserve units. Foster has been targeted six times but is yet to bring in a catch, with one of those incompletions being a drop.

[Grades and ranks above are among qualifying NFL wide receivers who have played at least 10 snaps so far this preseason.]

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