Coming into the 2010 season Bills fans and players had no idea who was going to be the number two receiver opposite Lee Evans in Buffalo's offense in season one under head coach Chan Gailey. Roscoe Parrish was largely penciled in as the slot receiver, but beyond him there was a lot of unproven talent at the NFL level. A short four months later the Bills head into an offseason where the wide receiver position could be considered Buffalo's deepest on the roster.
"Before the season we had guys that haven't been playing a lot of snaps, or guys like myself that never played more than 30 snaps a game," said Parrish. "So there were a lot of questions. Can we hold up? Can we establish ourselves at wide receiver? And I think we did a good job."
"I think that says a lot about the guys that we have in that group, just with the amount of uncertainty (we had)," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "We knew some guys were going to get thrown in that didn't have much playing time or no experience at all in the NFL. Between what Stevie (Johnson) did this year and even Roscoe before he got hurt, having the year he was having and David (Nelson) and Donald (Jones) stepping up and doing some really good things. We've got a lot of talent at that position."
Johnson, who had a career season with 82 catches for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, was the only one of the top three wideouts to make it through the entire 16-game slate in 2010. Parrish was lost to a dislocated wrist in Week 9 and Evans joined him on injured reserve five weeks later with an ankle injury.
What it did however, was create a very big void in Buffalo's passing game for rookies David Nelson, Donald Jones and later Naaman Roosevelt to fill. The three rookies did not disappoint combining for 58 catches for 705 yards and four touchdowns.
"All year long we had somebody step up," said Nelson. "Every game if somebody fell down, somebody stepped up. That's how it is in this business, and I think we stepped up to the challenge and I think we did a good job of making plays when our numbers were called. It's a testament to Fitz and our coaching staff to give the trust they have in us. And the guys continued to make plays."
Nelson, who earned the fourth receiver job at the start of the season was the biggest of the rookie contributors becoming the first rookie wideout to record 30 receptions since Evans did it in 2004. He also scored all three of his touchdowns in consecutive weeks, two of which came in narrow victories over Cleveland and Miami in Weeks 14 and 15.
"That just shows you that you never know," said Johnson. "When we came in nobody knew who was going to be the second receiver, now we've got three, four or five receivers that can play."
"I think that was one of the positives of the season," said Fitzpatrick. "I think some real good players and pieces that we found and didn't know we had."
With the emergence of Johnson as a go-to weapon, Evans and Parrish back healthy and the emergence of Nelson, Jones and Roosevelt, Buffalo's passing game could prove to be very explosive come next fall.
"To me that group gives us a quality receiving corps going into next season," said Gailey. "If all those guys stay healthy and all of them do what we expect them to do the advantage is they can't lock in on any one guy. The disadvantage is nobody's going to have any great stats because the ball is going to be spread around. I don't know how its' going to work out next year. I just know it's a much better position we're walking into next year than we were walking into this last year." "With everybody now being in the system for a year and gaining an understanding of what we're trying to get done, and hopefully a full offseason, it's going to be exciting to see what will happen next season," said Fitzpatrick.