Bills receiving corps could see major change in 2017

Posted Jan 11, 2017

Buffalo's wide receiving corps could look a lot different this fall with four Bills wideouts set to become unrestricted free agents.

The receiving corps was never able to develop much rhythm during the regular season because of injuries. In the offseason, it may be a different type of enemy that affects Buffalo’s offense.

Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Marquise Goodwin and Brandon Tate are all unrestricted free agents entering the offseason, leaving Doug Whaley with plenty of decisions to make at that position for 2017.  

The four free agents accounted for 1,350 of Buffalo’s 3,250 passing yards and eight of the 17 passing touchdowns this season.

Each of the four players played a different, but important, role on the Bills roster in 2016.

Hunter was one of the only consistent red zone threats Tyrod Taylor had in 2016. The 6-foot-4 target was claimed off of waivers by the Bills in late-September and made his impact felt almost immediately. Four of his 10 catches on the season went for touchdowns, tied with Charles Clay for the most on the team.

In limited playing time, Hunter also illustrated his ability to use his size to win battles down the field. He caught a 30-yard touchdown and then hauled in a 64-yard reception in Week 17. The Bills are Hunter’s third team since he entered the NFL as a second-round pick in 2013, but this will be the first time he’s hit the open market.

“I’ve never been in free agency so I’m really interested to see what teams are going to offer and everything (after the production this season).”

Hunter, like his three fellow free agents, said that whether interim coach Anthony Lynn is retained on a full-time basis will play a role in his decision because of the relationship they have developed.

Tate only caught eight passes for 115 yards, but was one of the most reliable return men in the NFL. He ranked in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt return averages. His contributions on special teams led to him being selected as a second alternate at the 2017 Pro Bowl.

Tate was asked to step up with the Bills thin at receiver in the middle of the season. In games 7-10, he had at least 20 offensive snaps, and in Week 11 against the Bengals—his former team—he led the Bills with 48 receiving yards.

The seven-year veteran’s career season will guarantee Tate a spot on an NFL roster next season, but he’s keeping his fingers crossed that he can remain with Buffalo.

“Me personally, I just want to play football,” Tate said. “It doesn’t really matter where, I just want to play football. Hopefully here though, because I love it here, but we’ll see.”

Goodwin was another Bills weapon who had a career year in 2016. The flashy target caught 49 passes for 431 yards and three touchdowns in his fourth season. Goodwin started nine games for the Bills, and had his first healthy season since his rookie year. After catching just three passes over the past two seasons, Goodwin was happy to be able to showcase what he can do when he can actually be on the field.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but wherever I go I know they’ll have a hard worker who is willing to do the things that some people aren’t,” Goodwin said. “So I’m looking forward to it.”

Goodwin, who has represented the United States in various world events for track and field, may have his role compromised by another track star. The Bills drafted Kolby Listenbee in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but the TCU product missed the entire season after recovering from various surgeries. He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash among wide receivers at last year’s scouting combine, and has a three-inch height advantage over Goodwin.

Goodwin said that he is trying not to worry about the process, but hopes that if he is back the offense can build off of the tight-knit relationship the receiving corps of the Bills had this year.


“We built chemistry this year, a different bond that we have, different from what we’ve had in past years,” Goodwin said. “It seems like we grew closer this year for some reason.

“This process can be tough and tricky. I try not to worry about it. You can’t until March really anyways. I’ll take time with the family and see where it goes.”

Besides Listenbee and Sammy Watkins, the only other receivers signed through next season are Marcus Easley and Walt Powell.

The biggest name on the free agent list is Woods. Despite missing three games with injuries, Woods led the Bills with 613 receiving yards.

After being productive in all four of his NFL seasons, Woods will come with a heavy price tag for 2017. He said that he is curious to see what is out there on the market for him.

“I’ve got to weigh all my options,” Woods said. “I’ve got to see how it plays out and what comes. There’s so much that goes into it. Team, money, quarterback. Everything plays into it.”

Woods has caught passes from six different quarterbacks in his four years with the Bills. He admits that what the Bills do at that position, along with the coaching search, will impact his decision.

“I feel like I have to take that (QB decision) into consideration,” Woods said. “Him being my quarterback two years and all we’ve put in the work and already have some timing down, and now being healthy I should be able to take off from where we were and do a lot more than we did.”

For now, the receivers are playing the waiting game and reflecting on what could have been in 2016. The mood of the group seems to be that they want to try it all over again with a fully healthy unit—and that starts with the guy throwing them the football.

“Going into the offseason having that many free agents is definitely not a good thing,” Tyrod Taylor said. “Did a lot of great things this year as a team but we weren’t able to get to where we wanted to get to. Bunch of big plays and we still had a lot of guys out for a majority of the season. I think definitely having guys out on the field and healthy definitely shows the offense we can be. It’s just about keeping those guys around and going out there and making plays. Continue to keep doing this unit, this offense, and this can be a bright spot for this team.”                                    

The Bills only had Taylor, Woods, Watkins LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay together for five games this season.

Watkins, one of the only targets under contract for next season, knows that his fellow receivers may have to take pay cuts, but he wants them back lined up next to him.

“Hopefully we get to keep those guys like Robert and Marquise,” Watkins said. “It’s up to them. It’s up to Rob if he’s going to take less money or however the contract is. Marquise the same thing. It’s about the money. I think they’ll be here if you asked me. If it weighs out in our favor I think they should be here and keep us together.”

Woods has gone through a lot with guys like Watkins, and wants to enjoy success with them as well.

“I don’t see us taking any steps backwards,” Woods said. “I know we’ve had our ups and downs with our coaches. In this room with the players on this team we’ve bought in and given everything to try to find ways to win. When I look at these guys I know they are committed to this team and I know I want to be a part of winning with them.”