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NFL draft preview: Bills stocked at wide receiver, but great year for depth

NFL draft preview: Bills stocked at wide receiver, but great year for depth

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DeVonta Smith #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs for a 42- yard touchdown during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Hard Rock Stadium on Jan. 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

DeVonta Smith of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs for a 42-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Hard Rock Stadium on Jan. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

This is the third in a series previewing each position in the April 29-May 1 NFL draft. Today’s installment looks at wide receiver.

This year’s crop of wide receivers is so deep and talented, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith is rated as the third-best prospect at his position by the analytics website Pro Football Focus.

Smith, the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since 1991, is ranked behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and fellow Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle because of concerns about his slight frame (6-foot-1, 170 pounds), which could hinder his ability to fend off stronger, longer and faster cornerbacks at the NFL level.

As many as five receivers could be drafted in the first round and up to 13 in the first two rounds, according to projections by WalterFootball.com.

The website rates Chase, Smith and Waddle as its top three wide receivers and cites Florida’s Kadarius Toney and LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. as possible first-round selections.

The 2022 draft class isn’t nearly as impressive at wide receiver, according to PFF.

The depth this season could increase the likelihood that the Bills draft a wide receiver, should a player they like slip into the third or fourth round and they adhere to the philosophy of taking the best player available. But it’s not a necessity.

Josh Allen has a strong receiving corps in Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis and Isaiah McKenzie.

Any addition to the receiving room would be with an eye toward the long-term future, considering Beasley and Sanders are on the wrong side of 30 and Sanders signed a one-year contract.

Overall position ranking: 8 of 10.

Bills view: A few years ago, wide receiver was one of the weakest position groups on the team. Now, it’s among the strongest. Barring injury, the Bills’ top four wide receivers are carved in stone.

Diggs led the NFL in catches and receiving yards last season and was named first-team All-Pro. Beasley, who set career highs in catches and receiving yards, is considered among the top slot receivers in the league and was named second-team All-Pro. Sanders provides another veteran target and excellent route-runner to replace John Brown. And Davis, the 2020 fourth-round pick, is expected to continue to improve after catching seven touchdown passes as a rookie.

Buffalo also has Isaiah Hodgins, a 2020 sixth-round pick who missed last season with a shoulder injury, and signed former Falcons receiver Brandon Powell, who could replace Andre Roberts as the team’s primary kick and punt returner. Also under contract: Duke Williams, Jake Kumerow and Tanner Gentry.

Bills need ranking: 2 of 10.

The best: Smith (6-1, 175) dominated college football and would be a lock to be drafted in the top five had he weighed 20 pounds heavier. He did not work out at Alabama’s pro day. But there are no doubts about his college production after he racked up more than 3,000 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He dropped just five of 189 catchable passes in that span.

Chase (6-0, 201) is widely viewed as the top wide receiver in the draft, despite his decision to opt out of the 2020 season because of concerns about Covid-19. The LSU product toyed with his SEC competition as a 19-year-old in 2019, when he recorded 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Waddle (5-10, 182) has drawn comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill based on his 4.45 speed, ability to change direction and an average yards per reception of 21.11 in 2020. But he was limited to just six games because of a broken ankle. Waddle has excelled making contested catches, despite his size, and could have an immediate impact as a dangerous return man on special teams, in addition to providing an offensive jolt.

Names to know: Trevon Grimes, Florida. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Grimes would provide the Bills with an excellent red zone threat and could be available on the second or third day of the draft. He was overshadowed last season while playing alongside Toney and tight end Kyle Pitts, but showed off his 4.4 speed in the SEC title game, when he beat Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II for a 50-yard touchdown. He had 34 catches for 511 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games.

Nico Collins, Michigan. He cuts a similar profile, at 6-4 and 215 pounds. Collins has the size to be a mismatch in the red zone and flashed big-play ability as a junior, when he averaged nearly 20 yards per catch. He opted out of the 2020 season because of Covid-19 and could be available with a Day 3 pick.

Warren Stewart, Colorado State. The enormous receiver is listed at 6-6 and 206 pounds. He opted out of last season, but had 77 catches for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019.

Rare production: Alabama’s Smith is the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991 and the first non-quarterback or running back to win the award since cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997. The three-year starter set SEC career records with 3,965 receiving yards and 46 touchdown catches.

Thirteen receivers: NFL teams set a record by drafting 13 wide receivers in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft. This year’s group could rival that volume.

Top 10 chart

Player School Ht. Wt.

1. Ja’Marr Chase* LSU 6-0 201

2. DeVonta Smith Alabama 6-1 170

3. Jaylen Waddle* Alabama 5-10 182

4. Kadarius Toney Florida 5-11 193

5. Terrace Marshall Jr.* LSU 6-3 205

6. Rashod Bateman* Minnesota 6-0 190

7. Elijah Moore Ole Miss 5-9 178

8. Rondale Moore* Purdue 5-7 180

9. Tutu Atwell* Louisville 5-9 165

10. Marques Stevenson Houston 5-10 182

* Underclassman

[BN] Blitz Daily Updates

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