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Bills wide receiver position has roles to fill

Posted Feb 11, 2013


It’s not uncommon at this point in an offseason, but Buffalo’s wide receiver position has a lot of roles that must be ironed out. Beyond top wideout Stevie Johnson and last year’s third-round pick T.J. Graham there isn’t much certainty as to what the contingent will look like. Buffalobills.com tries to map out where the position currently stands and the avenues the Bills could pursue to address it.

Current receivers under contract
Marcus Easley
After a troublesome two years marred by injury and a medical condition, Easley spent most of the 2012 season on the team’s practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster in Week 10 and did not post any offensive statistics seeing most of his action on special teams.

“I just tried to take advantage of the opportunities I was given, whether it was on offense or special teams,” he said. “I just try to make plays.”

Outlook: Easley was miscast in the previous offense, which demanded quick separation from its receivers. The big receiver is more of a build-up speed target. Whether the new offensive system can take advantage of his skill set is something to watch in the spring workouts.   

Kevin ElliottA virtual unknown to Bills fans, Elliott was signed to the club’s practice squad on Dec. 18th  and 10 days later was elevated to the active roster. He never appeared in a game for Buffalo as he was inactive for the season finale last year. Buffalo quietly signed him to a multi-year contract.

Outlook: Elliott was an undrafted rookie that appeared in 13 games for Jacksonville before he was released and subsequently signed by the Bills. Buffalo’s front office must see a player that they believe has the potential to develop. At 6’3” and 215 pounds, Elliott has NFL size. What the new offensive staff thinks of him however, is all that matters.

T.J. Graham – Buffalo’s third-round pick a year ago, Graham was eager to learn, but found the now former offensive system difficult to execute at times. He showed flashes of ability and finished the season with 31 catches for 322 yards and a touchdown.

“From rookie minicamp to OTAs I was just trying to figure out the plays and trying to even make it on the field at some point in the season,” Graham said. “You just want to make plays and help us win and I got a chance to do that. I would’ve loved to have done a lot better, but I had an okay, not a great season.”

Outlook: The good news for Graham is even though he’ll be learning a whole new offense it’s one he has some familiarity with having played in a similar system in college at N.C. State.

Chris Hogan - Hogan, a 6-1, 220-pound Monmouth (N.J.) product, was signed to Buffalo's practice squad Nov. 6th last season. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco in 2011. He spent a portion of 2011 on the practice squads of the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins.

Outlook: Much like Elliott, Hogan will have a chance to earn a roster spot beginning in the spring camps under the new coaching staff.

Stevie Johnson – Coming off his third straight 1,000-yard season Johnson is committed to a strict offseason regimen in an effort to improve on his already solid production.

“First and foremost Stevie is a dynamic player,” said Bills new receivers coach Ike Hilliard. “We’ll have to find ways to get him the ball. He has a game that’s unique. He’s had a lot of success with it. We have a system in place where we’re going to implement and we’re all going to learn at the same time, and he’s going to be able to have the freedom to play his game within the system.”

Outlook: Bills GM Buddy Nix has stated in an ideal world the team would be able to add a big receiver to line up outside allowing the offensive staff to move Johnson inside to the slot where Nix believes Johnson could be an even greater asset to the passing game.

Brad Smith - Smith has had a variety of roles in his time with the Bills, but under the previous regime he wound up spending more time at receiver than anywhere else. He showed an ability to make difficult catches, but was never used extensively unless due to injury.

Outlook: It's hard to know just what the new staff is thinking with respect to his role on the club and if receiver is even a consideration on their part as they assess Smith's multi-dimensional talents. 

Players not under contract
Bills GM Buddy Nix has already publicly stated that restricted free agent Donald Jones will not be tendered a qualifying offer by the organization thereby making him unrestricted and free to seek employment elsewhere. Buffalo has some other free agents at wideout to consider as well.

Ruvell MartinThe veteran wideout has signed one-year deals with the Bills each of the past two seasons and served mainly as a gunner on special teams for Buffalo. Martin’s 6’4” frame was seen as an asset by the previous coaching staff. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Outlook: Martin was a depth receiver on Buffalo’s roster. Whether he’ll be seen as something similar to the new offensive staff will play out in the near future. One plus is he has a working knowledge of West Coast systems having been in versions of them in Green Bay and Seattle.

David NelsonA restricted free agent, Nelson also had an ill-timed ACL injury that required surgery forcing him to miss almost all of the 2012 season. In 2011 he was the team’s second-leading receiver with 61 receptions.

Outlook: Nelson was a very good fit for Buffalo’s previous offensive system with frequent four-wide sets. The Bills moved away from that formation offensively after he went on injured reserve. Whether his skill set fits what Buffalo’s offensive staff wants to do now will factor in heavily to his future with the club.

Options
The Bills have already made it clear that they intend to add a receiver to the roster via the NFL draft. Buddy Nix is looking to add some size and bulk at the position on the perimeter.

“We need a big time outside receiver and T.J. gives us a lot of that, but you still need to get another bigger guy that can line up out there and catch the ball even when he’s covered,” said Nix.

Nix believes the receiver draft class this year is a good one with a lot of talent expected to come off the board in the first two days.

“It’s a good group,” Nix told Buffalobills.com. “In the draft there are a lot of good players. The receivers were a strength down at the Senior Bowl on both teams.”

Free agency is also an option for Buffalo, and knowing the majority of their current receiving corps under contract is largely unproven it could prompt the club to add a veteran with a resume of production.

Among the more notable names expected to be on the free agent market are Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace and New England’s Wes Welker.

Buffalo has a premier playmaker in C.J. Spiller. Nix has said he wants to land a quarterback of the future and a big time outside receiver is the other part of the equation.

“I think you’ve got to have a guy that’s like Andre Reed was when he was here and Jim Kelly and Andre Reed and Thurman produced a lot,” said Nix. “You need those three guys and we’re aware of that and we’re certainly looking at wide receiver.”