The Buffalo Bills wide receiver group is determined to prove they can make a significant impact for the Bills offense in 2018.
A majority of the team's wide receivers are new to the roster and the entire offense is learning a whole new playbook under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. With that, the competition to earn a job in Buffalo is wide open.
"It's good competition," said veteran free agent signee Jeremy Kerley. "Whether it's slot or outside, wherever it is, this is our opportunity in this offense to do something. Being that they were a playoff team last year they're trying to get somewhere. To hopefully be part of that would be cool."
Here's a breakdown of the wide receiver competition heading into this week's mandatory minicamp:
THE ESTABLISHED VETERAN
Last October, the Bills traded with the Carolina Panthers for one of Cam Newton's biggest and favorite targets – Kelvin Benjamin. After producing 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in his rookie campaign in 2014, Benjamin has battled injuries (torn ACL in 2015) and adjusted to a new team (trade with Buffalo). But heading into 2018, he believes he's finally healthy and ready to make noise in Buffalo.
"I'm feeling great now," said Benjamin. "My ACL, that [was tough] for me. I mean I came back, and I thought I'd be ok in 2016, but it never felt the same. Most doctors told me it really takes two, two-and-a-half years for an ACL to really feel back like it's supposed to, and now I don't have any problems with it. I feel great. I'm out there bending, I'm out there running, I'm coming out with the ball. I mean I'm doing things I definitely couldn't do last year."
Averaging 14.4 yards per receptions with 19 career touchdowns, Benjamin is the team's most dangerous outside threat and now being called upon as a leader in the wide receiver room – which is a new role for him.
"It's different. It is different," said Benjamin. "Even at Carolina I was the number one, but I never really felt like I had to be a leader because I feel like Cam had his own offense, so I kind of just let him lead. But now, McDermott has asked me to lead and wants to see me become more of a leader so, that's definitely a challenge for me because I have to do almost everything right. At the same time, it's a challenge I think I can handle, and I'm taking it."
VETERANS READY FOR A CAREER RENAISSANCE
Joining Benjamin as the other elder statesmen in the wide receiver room include Andre Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, Rod Streater, Kaelin Clay and Quan Bray.
Streater and Kerley are both receivers who have recorded 800-yard seasons in the past, and are looking for a career renaissance in Buffalo.
Streater is entering his second season with the Bills, but an injury to his big toe last preseason kept him off the field all year. It was a tough blow for the veteran after many thought he had earned a spot with stellar play last preseason. Now, he feels ready to regain his 2017 preseason form and make plays for the Bills offense.
"Everything's healed up," said Streater. "I'm just trying to get this new offense down, and get back to my old form. Once I get comfortable, I'll be able to just go out there and make plays. The toe is all good, nothing's been hurting so, I'm just ready to go."
Holmes, who is also known for his significant contributions on special teams, was a valuable presence in the red zone last season producing three touchdowns.
Meanwhile Clay is hoping to use his speed to establish himself as a wideout in addition to producing in the return game. Clay averages 9.4 yards per punt return and has two return touchdowns in his career.
Bray is entering his fourth season in the NFL. After spending his first three seasons in Indianapolis primarily as a returner, Bray is looking to take advantage of this opportunity to establish himself as a playmaker at receiver.**
YOUTH BRINGS OPTIMISM AND COMPETITION
The Bills have seven first or second-year players in the team's wide receiver room.
Zay Jones, Brandon Reilly and Malachi Dupre are all entering their second seasons in the league while the Bills added rookies Austin Proehl, Ray-Ray McCloud III, Cam Phillips and Robert Foster this spring.
Jones, who is recovering from shoulder and knee injuries this offseason, has the potential to rebound with a breakout campaign according to NFL reporter Danny Kelly, from The Ringer. "Jones did flash at times last season," said Kelly. "Before he got hurt later in the year, he showed that he had some playmaking ability that made him that second-round pick."
Earlier this spring, head coach Sean McDermott said he does not expect Jones' injuries to cause him to put his 2018 season in jeopardy.
Last season, Reilly made a name for himself with some big catches in the preseason. He maintained a spot in the Bills organization on the practice squad in 2017. Coming into his second year, Reilly sees an opportunity for himself and all the other younger players.
"We don't have a lot of big name guys besides Kelvin Benjamin – he's a big name. But we all feel confident out there," said Reilly on One Bills Live. "We feel everyone has a role they can contribute to this team. In training camp it's going to come down to the wire on who makes it. I wish all those guys luck, but I hope I'm one of those last guys standing."
Fresh competition is an important part of the game according to Benjamin, and he said it keeps the veterans on the top of their game.
"It's a business," said Benjamin. "And they're always bringing young guys in, and the young guys keep you pushing. You just got to keep pushing keep working and hope the team wants to feature you."