The Buffalo Bills roll into their Week 6 bye week with an impressive 4-1 record and are backed by one of the NFL’s best defensive units. Bills' opponents are averaging only 14 points per game behind a 77.6 overall team defensive grade, seventh in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
However, before we can assume Buffalo will land a playoff spot, all eyes will be on improved play from quarterback Josh Allen and the offense.
The unexpected, but not surprising, trade of wide receiver Zay Jones to Oakland for a 2021 fifth-round pick sparked PFF’s interest to take a deep dive into the Bills' receiving unit, using our premium stats derived from our play-by-play grading of every player on every play of every game.
Through five weeks, the receiving group in Buffalo as a whole has generated a 65.5 grade, ranking 25th in the NFL.
However, the play at the quarterback position might not be setting them up for optimal success. Josh Allen has produced a 60.3 passing grade – 28th among quarterbacks – with 10 plays deemed turnover-worthy, which is top five among quarterbacks. Though Allen has generated a high adjusted completion percentage thus far (77.6%), that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s been accurate. Only 17 of his 163 passing attempts this season have been deemed as 100% on the mark.
Wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley have been Allen’s top choices with 77 combined targets of 158 total targeted passes, representing 48.7% of the target share to Buffalo’s pass catchers. The duo has also combined for 36 first downs, 11 more than the rest of the Bills’ pass catchers combined.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Bills’ key pass catchers have performed individually in terms of advanced PFF grading and statistics.
Brown has served as the Bills’ WR1 thus with 39 targets. The speedster has turned those opportunities into 28 receptions for 390 yards with one score and a 90.3 passer rating when targeted, generating a 72.1 overall grade, top 30 among the NFL receivers. Known for taking the top off the defense with his deep speed, Brown has only produced three receptions for 93 yards on his nine targets traveling more than 20 yards.
Where Brown has been able to let his hands and feet do the talking has been across in-breaking routes. He’s been targeted 21 times on routes in which he cuts toward the football, hauling in 16 passes for 198 yards and 14 first downs, which leads the league.
Beasley has provided Allen and the Bills offense with a consistent receiving option to start the season. Overall, he’s produced a 68.2 overall grade while catching 27 balls on 38 targets for 267 yards through Week 5. As expected, Beasley has done most of his damage out of the slot, hauling in 21 receptions for 181 yards when lined up inside.
Among receivers with 50 or more snaps from the slot, Beasley ranks 11th with a 21.8% slot target rate. He’s become a viable target on out-breaking routes, catching eight passes on routes breaking away from the football, five of which moved the chains for first downs.
In limited opportunities, McKenzie has generated the highest overall grade among Bills pass catchers at 84.8 . He’s caught all five of his targets for 101 yards and a touchdowns with 97 of those yards coming after the catch. McKenzie’s explosive playmaking ability could garner him more playing time as the season moves along.
The emergence of Duke Williams quickly made Jones expendable and he’ll be a key factor in the offense going forward. There's a lot to like Williams’ game from a physical standpoint. During his NFL debut against the Titans, he turned four targets into four receptions for 29 yards and a score while moving the chains on two of his catches.
Perhaps an underutilized aspect of Allen’s game can be used with Williams as he remains the only player on the roster who has hauled in a vertical lead pass from Allen, targeting him vertically down the field as opposed to horizontally from sideline to sideline on his touchdown catch.
Knox, a rookie tight end, has generated a 60.3 overall grade, hauling in 10 receptions on 18 targets for 156 yards and a touchdown. As it stands, most of his yardage production came in the Week 3 matchup against the Bengals in which he put together a three-catch, 75-yard afternoon that included an impressive catch-and-run late in the game to put the Bills in position for the win.
Frank Gore, Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon.
The ageless Frank Gore has handled the bulk of the carries thus far, while T.J. Yeldon has earned the most targets (11) in the passing game. As a trio, the backs have only been targeted 24 times with 21 receptions for 165 yards. Those numbers are uninspiring when compared to the NFL’s leading receiver out of the backfield, the Chargers' Austin Ekeler (39 receptions for 356 yards and three scores). Expect Singletary to be a major dual-threat option out of the backfield once he returns fully from his hamstring injury.
Mike Johnson of Pro Football Focus will be contributing to BNblitz.com all season long.