We've heard the mantra for how Buffalo's offense must improve in 2020 from its general manager and head coach more than once this offseason. Josh Allen and company must score more points on a more consistent basis than they did in 2019.
A primary offseason maneuver to accomplish that was the acquisition of WR Stefon Diggs, whose 23 touchdowns the last three seasons is tied for fifth-most in the league over that span. And his presence in the lineup figures to create more scoring opportunities for the likes of Cole Beasley (6 TDs in 2019), John Brown (6 TDs in 2019) and Devin Singletary (4 TDs in 2019).
But point scoring will need to come from more than just those four sources. The Bills will need to develop other means of additional scoring punch, and it might need to come in part from their draft class.
Although scoring touchdowns in college is different from reaching the end zone in the NFL, rookies Zack Moss, Gabe Davis and Isaiah Hodgins were all proven point producers during their college careers.
Davis led the UCF Knights offense in scoring with 12 touchdowns in 2019. Hodgins had 13 touchdown receptions in 2019 to lead Oregon State's offense in scoring, and Zack Moss led Utah's offense in scoring last fall with 17 total touchdowns for 102 points.
"For the Buffalo Bills I feel like we have receivers that can do anything," said Davis of the vets already on the roster. "We are very versatile. But for me I feel like being a bigger body receiver, I can go downfield and make those big plays, those 50-50 balls and things like that. I feel like I'll be able to execute that pretty well and bring it to the game."
Davis had 23 touchdown receptions in three seasons. His draft classmate Isaiah Hodgins had 20 touchdowns in three seasons with most of them coming in the red zone.
"When we got in the red zone we used him on a lot of double moves and stutter moves because he was so good at changing direction and freezing guys and winning," said Oregon State receivers coach Kefense Hynson of Hodgins. "But we used him in a lot of ways in the pass game as far as double moves, vertical moves, quick game throws, isolation throws. If we needed six yards we knew we could get it just throwing him a stop route. He had over 80 catches, more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns last year so we utilized him."
"I just try to use my size to my advantage," said the 6-4 Hodgins, who has a wingspan of more than 80 inches. "I can use it on fade balls and track balls when they put it up. Some guys when they automatically think fade that's when I use my technique and route running and break to the post or run a slant and just give them a shake at the top. It's just having a lot of illusion to my game and using head fakes and shoulder movements to try to make the most of my body and my size and take advantage of it."
Moss meanwhile had an eye-popping 41 scores in four years at Utah. Many of his scoring runs were also in the red zone. That production is a strong indication that Moss' ability to put points on the board should translate to the NFL.
"Zack has a nose for the end zone, a nose for the goal line. When we're down close he runs it in," said Utah running backs coach Kiel McDonald. "He has a propensity to will himself into the end zone. You don't have to have a play perfectly blocked. If you leave one for him he's going to win against that defender more often than not in some way, shape or form. He is a proven point producer."
The scoring ability of the three skill position players Buffalo drafted is both admirable and encouraging, but what really matters is how Buffalo's offensive staff and head coach believe they can contribute.
It's evident that McDermott believes Davis, Hodgins and Moss all have the ability to help sooner rather than later.
"They're good football players," he said. "Sometimes people get enamored with 40 times, flashiness and all those types of things, but what do you want receivers to do? You want receivers to be able to catch the football and score touchdowns, right? You want a running back that's had a history of production, year after year, carrying the football, breaking tackles.
"You spend time watching them on film and it doesn't take long to be impressed by the receivers, the way they catch the ball in contested areas and then with Zack (Moss), what he's been able to do year after year. They're right for the Buffalo Bills and a fit for us."
Buffalo's GM appears to be on the same page as McDermott. They recognized a deficiency in their passing game last season and Beane made sure to address it.
"We missed some size (in our receiving corps) when we were down in the red zone and some short yardage plays where it's hard to uncover," Beane said. "You can't use your speed and continue to run out of the back of the end zone. Speed only helps you so much down there when the field condenses. So it's nice to have the basketball play, throw it up above the rim and let a guy go up and get it. We've got some vertical stretch stuff that we can do with Stefon and John Brown. Cole can work the middle of the field and now this adds some size guys for when we get in some condensed field conditions."
Beane and McDermott felt offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was limited in the kinds of plays he could turn to in the red zone last season because they lacked physical mismatches outside.
Davis and Hodgins are unlikely to be among the top three on the receiver depth chart as rookies, but that doesn't mean they won't be part of the team's red zone plans.
"I feel like I'm pretty good in the red zone, but I have to be better," Davis said. "Again, being this big receiver they expect a lot out of you especially when it comes down to those types of situations. So, I excel in that. Also catching balls in traffic, I feel like I do a pretty good job of that as well. But I'll work on everything and be as versatile as I can be."
Naturally the young wideouts will have to master the Bills playbook and the other nuances of the offensive scheme, but Davis and Hodgins weren't drafted only for their scoring ability.
"He was a smart player who played three positions for us in terms of the receiver spots," said Hynson of Hodgins. "The NFL playbook is obviously bigger and there's more in that, but I think he'll be fine because he thinks about football conceptually. He understands concepts and spacing so I could see him being a better pro than a college player and he was a great college player. I just think pro football would be right up his alley just in terms of the volume of football."
A shortened offseason with fewer reps and less time to develop chemistry in the passing game with Josh Allen could compromise the ability of Davis and Hodgins to contribute early, but they along with Moss could provide valuable diversity to the way in which Buffalo's offense can put points on the board.
"Downfield both of these (rookie receivers) can go up and high-point the ball even when they're covered," said Beane. "Sometimes those big guys if they're going against a smaller defender Josh can just put it up and they can go make a play.
"Zack Moss is a young physical bruiser with some competitive speed and can catch the ball. So, I like what we've added. Hopefully these players will prove that I know what I'm doing."