(James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)
By Chris Losey
The roles of each Bills wideout became much more defined on Sunday, when veteran Anquan Boldin called it quits after spending less than two weeks in Buffalo.
Boldin, who was entering year 15 in the NFL, signed with the Bills on August 7, and looked to be one of the Bills top red zone options in 2017.
This comes as quite a shock, as the Bills had just traded star receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams a little over a week ago.
Needless to say, his retirement makes a muddy receiver situation a little clearer for offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
Let’s take a look at each of the pass catchers that are most likely to be affected by Boldin’s retirement.
5. Philly Brown
Brown hasn’t exactly wowed in training camp and two preseason matchups, but his status as a possible roster bubble player probably gets lifted. In his two exhibition appearances this year with Buffalo, Brown has posted 4 receptions for 40 yards, mostly working with the second team offense on the outside. He’ll be a nice depth guy going forward, and will get more looks as a result of Boldin’s exit, but don’t anticipate a resurgence of Brown. He’ll be the fifth option in Buffalo’s passing attack, and that’s not factoring in running back LeSean McCoy.
4. Andre Holmes
The tall, lanky Holmes was signed to a three-year, $6.5 million deal, which made up the expectation that he’d be one of the Bills’ top options out wide. However, the 6’4, 210 pound former Raider has been one of camp’s biggest disappointments. Holmes has been plagued by drops this entire preseason, which is a pretty bad sign if your job is catching passes. Even so, Holmes possesses good size, and still figures to be one of Tyrod Taylor’s top red zone threats, especially with Boldin out of the picture. Holmes needs to show a lot of improvement before week one before anybody can get excited, but I’d say his role as a slot receiver/big target down the middle of the field has been reinstated.
3. Zay Jones
The rookie Jones possesses great hands, and has been steady throughout the preseason. While he was expected to be a nice option for Taylor, the addition of Boldin made his role quite unclear. Were the Bills going to put him outside? Would he compete with Boldin for a slot-like role? With Boldin gone, Jones again becomes solidified as the number two receiver behind newcomer Jordan Matthews, and is in line to record many receptions this year. Jones is still an unknown due to him being a rookie, but he has shown he has all the tools and ability to be a quality receiver in Dennison’s offense.
2. Jordan Matthews
Matthews was acquired in a trade last week that sent cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles, presumably to fill the hole that Watkins left when he was dealt to the Rams. Matthews is a steady option, recording at least 67 catches and 804 yards in each of his three seasons in the NFL. He has also scored 19 touchdowns in his short career on less-than-stellar offensive attacks in Philadelphia. Still, he is more of a possession receiver than anything, hardly the deep threat that Watkins was for Buffalo. Matthews also possesses slightly below average hands, finishing in the top 10 in drops last year with six. He figures to be the Bills top wideout, and although he is recovering from a cracked sternum he received in his first Bills practice last week, Matthews should be ready in time for week one.
1. Charles Clay
Clay will probably be the biggest beneficiary from Boldin’s departure. The seventh-year tight end led the Bills in targets and receptions last season, and could repeat in both categories. As the only reliable threat over the middle of the field as of today, Clay could serve as the quarterback’s security blanket and red zone threat. With Boldin and Watkins still on the team, it was an unknown on what role Clay could play in this offense. But with those two out of Buffalo, Clay once again becomes a great option for Taylor, even if he’s not one of the league’s elites at his position. Look for him to be active early and often as the Bills look to replace Boldin’s abilities as a short range, mid-field option and red zone threat.