By Chris Losey
Aside from quarterback, the most glaring need the Bills have entering the 2018 season is wide receiver, a position they have not addressed in free agency.
Buffalo’s wideouts were a disappointment in 2017, with none of them catching more than 27 passes. The group was led by off-the-street signee Deonte Thompson, who made 27 grabs for 430 yards and one touchdown in 11 games.
The Bills had traded marquee receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second round draft pick, leaving them with a major hole in their passing attack.
In an attempt to plug in respectability at the position, Buffalo then traded cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third round pick and wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Matthews had been a productive receiver from the same draft class of 2014 as Watkins, having a career year in 2015 when he caught 85 passes for 997 yards and eight touchdowns. However, he was unable to make an impact with the Bills, injuring his sternum in his very first training camp practice, and ultimately being hampered by multiple injuries during the season.
The Bills also had selected wide receiver Zay Jones in the second round of the 2017 draft, but the rookie was plagued with drops and inability to separate, posting a mediocre 316 yards with two touchdowns. His season can be most remembered by a crucial drop near the end zone on the final drive of a 9-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers in week two. Jones was recently arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism on Monday night, according to ESPN. The story initially was reported by TMZ Sports, who released a video of a nude Jones fighting with his brother. Although the Bills made a statement on gathering all information before giving comment about the incident, one could assume his future in Buffalo is unknown.
Buffalo continued its appreciation of Panther players by making an in-season trade for receiver Kelvin Benjamin, another member of the 2014 class. Benjamin was effective when healthy, but is more of a one dimensional red-zone threat than a well-rounded option.
One could put most of the blame on the lack of quality quarterbacking for the Bills, but the receiving corps leave a lot to be desired as it stands today.
With all of this being said, the Bills must address wide receiver in next month’s draft. They have not made any moves regarding the position in free agency, in stark contrast to other positional needs, for which multiple moves had been made.
Buffalo holds six picks in the first three rounds of the draft, and have nine picks overall. While they may package some of these picks to move up and select a much needed franchise-type quarterback, they’ll still be left with draft capital to fill some needs.
If the Bills were to hold off on a trade up, one player they could target with the 12th pick overall is Alabama’s Calvin Ridley. Ridley is considered the top receiver in the draft, and reminds some of Marvin Harrison in terms of playing style and body type. Ridley is six feet tall and weighed in at 189 pounds at the scouting combine in February. He tested well at the combine, running the forty yard dash in an impressive 4.41 seconds, which would be an upgrade over the marginal speed of the Buffalo receivers. Ridley consistently got nice separation on passing plays for the Crimson Tide and has a natural catching ability. The two-time BCS National Champion is the best route-runner in the draft, and could be one of the most dangerous pass catchers in the league if he reaches his full potential. He finished the 2017 season with 63 catches for 967 yards and five touchdowns, largely because of the run-first nature of the Alabama offense. His best statistical season in college was as a freshman in 2015, when he caught 89 passes for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns. If Ridley lands in Buffalo, he will be reunited with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who was the lead playcaller for the Crimson Tide last year.
Another option is the 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the Year, Maryland’s D.J. Moore. Moore is projected to be a late first round to early second round pick, and could fit nicely in the Bills offense. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compares Moore to former Terrapin and current Vikings star Stefon Diggs, citing their quickness, play style, and size similarities. Like Ridley, Moore also stands at six-feet, but has a little more mass to him, weighing in at 210 pounds at the combine. He also tested well, running the forty yard dash in 4.42 seconds, and jumping 132 inches in the broad jump. The athletic wideout caught 80 passes for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017.
Some other options could be SMU’s Courtland Sutton, LSU’s D.J. Chark, Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown, and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk.
I will put together a more comprehensive list of draftable receivers, much like the quarterback rankings I had been doing leading up to the draft.
One thing is for sure, no matter what the Bills decide to do at quarterback next month, they’ll need to pair their young signal caller with a weapon in the passing attack.