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Who fills the void at receiver?

Posted Aug 13, 2011

Bills GM Buddy Nix admitted on Friday that they did move a good player in Lee Evans, who was traded to Baltimore. In the next breath he also said that as he and Bills head coach Chan Gailey see it there is a bounty of talent at the position even with Evans is gone.

“We’ve got six or seven really promising young receivers and we’d like to see those guys develop and we want to give them that opportunity,” Nix said.

By no means can Nix or Gailey guarantee that the suddenly younger and less experienced receiving corps on Buffalo’s roster will deliver the way that Evans did over his seven seasons with Buffalo. But Evans was coming off of back-to-back career low seasons in receptions and receiving yards.

He had 37 receptions for 578 yards and four touchdowns last season. David Nelson, who for half the season was the team’s fourth wideout, finished his rookie season with 31 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Coming in far stronger this season Nelson, now at 220 pounds, figures to take a noticeable step forward in terms of production.

Donald Jones in limited duty late last season also showed promise and at 6’0” 208 pounds is another receiver that can shield defenders from the ball and get yards after initial contact. He has the physical make up to be a full-time outside receiver. 

Naaman Roosevelt was called up to the active roster late last season and appeared in six games. He might not be a big play guy, but he catches everything that’s thrown to him and is a reliable route runner.

All of them are capable NFL receivers with room to grow.

The wild card in terms of truly replacing Evans and the type of receiver he was is the man that’s often forgotten. Marcus Easley.

The 2010 fourth-round pick has a good set of hands, 4.39 speed and has added 14 pounds of lean muscle to his frame as he reported to training camp at 225 pounds.

“Speed’s still there, I feel good running with it,” he said. “I feel like that’s where I’m comfortable.”

His skill set fits that outside role that Evans had manned since 2004. Is he ready to be thrust into such a role right now?

That’s up for debate. Even Buddy Nix can’t be sure that the young talent his scouting staff uncovered last year will produce right away.

“We’ll see,” he said. “You don’t know that and neither do I, but we think they’ve got the potential to do it and some of them have already started doing it so we’ll see where it goes.”

But head coach Chan Gailey confirmed to Buffalobills.com that in terms of physical skill set the two best fits for that outside role are Jones and Easley.

“Yeah they are," Gailey said. "Donald and Marcus are two guys that we are going to try to get them ready to play and see if they can (play out there).”

Jones will get the first crack as he starts opposite Stevie Johnson tonight against the Bears. He's shown more on the field after his promising play last year, particularly against Cincinnati when he had five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Easley has less of a resume thanks to the knee injury that landed him on injured reserve last season. He calls himself a ‘born again rookie,’ but after sitting in the meeting rooms all last year with his teammates while on injured reserve he doesn’t feel like one.

“I’ve come a long way,” he said. “I tried to take this time that I had off as kind of like a redshirt year. It’s like one of those times you’re around, you’re able to participate but you’re just not active on the field. I’m pretty much up to speed with everybody mentally.”  

Easley will see his first action on an NFL field on Saturday night in Chicago. What can be expected is difficult to say. He’s had all of two training camp practices leading up to this preseason game after a hyper-extended knee kept him out for 10 days. But with Evans now gone, Easley must assert himself all the more and show the coaching staff that their belief in his potential will be realized and soon.

“Where I feel like I can definitely help the offense is by using my size and speed to my advantage,” he said. “Hopefully (I’m) a potential deep threat, and just try to make our wide receiver corps a lot stronger.”

Though neither of them can be labeled proven, both have game breaking potential that has to show itself before their head coach will allow himself to get excited.

“Years of experience tell you not to get carried away by how fast a guy runs, how much he bench presses," said Gailey. "You’ve got to go play consistently on the field. I do see potential, but I don’t let myself get excited until I see it on a regular basis.”