BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
The Buffalo Bills made a concerted effort to improve their wide receiver corps last year by drafting two players at the position in the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. In their rookie seasons, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin both showed diverse, NFL-ready skill sets as pass-catchers and route runners.
Goodwin is a deep threat who also shows the ability to create in the open field and work underneath. Woods is a pure possession receiver who has great hands and knows how to get open. Despite their relative success, however, the Bills still do not have a wideout who provides the physicality and large target emblematic of a true No. 1 receiver.
The Bills could go a long way towards remedying the struggles they had offensively this season if they can land a safety valve and reliable red zone target for quarterback EJ Manuel. The following receivers could bring the size and physicality the Buffalo offense needs.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson (6’1″, 205 pounds)
The premier wide receiver in this year’s class, many people (especially those who only watched his bowl game) assume that Watkins is simply a speed receiver. All his plays off bubble screens displayed his shifty, stop-and-start ability that makes him so dangerous in the open field. However, Watkins is also capable of making tough catches in traffic. He has great ball skills and is a dangerous weapon in the red zone. A phenomenal big-play receiver with speed, athleticism and strong hands, Watkins can make defenses pay in many ways.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M (6’5″, 225 pounds)
Evans has the height, weight, and speed to be a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. His route running is not perfect, but catching passes from an improviser like Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M showed his ability to keep plays alive and find and catch the ball, regardless of ball placement.
He is a fluid athlete with superior body control. His most impressive attribute might be his catch radius, which could also get larger as he becomes more polished and adds more bulk to his frame. He is incredibly strong at high-pointing catches, which can help bail his quarterback out of bad situations. He is not likely to be a top-10 draft pick, and similarly unlikely to fall out of the first round, but he might be the ideal receiver for what the Bills need.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (6’5″, 235 pounds)
Benjamin reminds some people of Alshon Jeffery with his big frame, long stride and ability to catch passes at the highest point. He hasn’t been as productive as Jeffery was at the collegiate level, but he is a large, athletic target who positions himself well when going over the middle. His long arms give him an impressive catch radius, and his strong build makes him very hard to take down in the open field.
This year’s BCS National Championship Game, in which he caught the game-winning touchdown for Florida State, showed just how hard he is to cover in the red zone. As an added bonus to the Bills, Benjamin already has familiarity with quarterback EJ Manuel from playing with him last year. If Benjamin can become more consistent, he could be more than just a dangerous red zone threat. He should be a real option for the Bills if he were to slip out of the first round.
Allen Robinson, Penn State (6’3″, 210 pounds)
Though he is a possible first-round pick, Robinson might be the most likely option for the Bills at the top of the second round. An impressively fluid athlete for his size, Robinson also has room to get stronger and bigger. For a bigger receiver, he accelerates very well off the line and high change-of-direction ability.
Robinson’s physicality makes him tough to take down after the catch. He positions his body well when coming back for catches, making it hard for cornerbacks to break up passes. He can make tough catches in traffic with his hands, and is another potential first-round target with an impressive catch radius. He uses his hands well to fight through jams. However, Robinson does not have great speed, so his route running needs to improve for him to consistently gain separation.
Day 2 Possibilities
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (6’3″, 209 pounds)
An indication of Matthews’ preparation and dedication came prior to the Senior Bowl when according to Phil Savage, the game’s executive director, he asked for film of the cornerbacks he was going to face in Mobile. Matthews lacks top-notch speed, but he has enough athleticism and intelligence to make up for it.
Matthews’ balance enables him to cut and change directions quickly. Despite some past issues with letting passes into his body, he has good hands and can make catches away from his body. A big target who is not afraid to go over the middle, Matthews might never be a game-breaker, but he is a smart and physical receiver who could have an Anquan Boldin-like career for the team that drafts him, likely in the second round.
Davante Adams, Fresno State (6’2″, 215 pounds)
Adams is an explosively athletic receiver with solid leaping ability. He has strong hands, catches the ball away from his body and despite mediocre route running, is able to use his body to create separation and block off corners. He is a solid red zone target who likes to play physical and has no fear when going over the middle. He is also a strong blocker.
Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss (6’2″, 225 pounds)
An underrated SEC player, Moncrief has the type of size and speed that scouts love. Playing against top-notch, physical defenses, Moncrief has learned to use his body to shield off blockers and use his strength to beat press coverages. With above-average route running ability and good body control, he can create separation.
Moncrief can go up and make plays on the ball in the air, and he can hold onto the ball in traffic. With a history of durability and consistent production, Moncrief could be a solid selection in the middle rounds. He is a physical player whose game has plenty of room to grow.
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (6’1″, 189 pounds)
Abbrederis is often stereotyped as a pure possession receiver, but he can do a lot more. He lacks elite deep speed, but still possesses the ability to get behind defenders while he is elusive in the open field.
As a receiver, Abbrederis is also a strong route runner who knows where to find the holes in the defense. He has also been utilized as a kickoff and punt returner at Wisconsin. If not as athletic as the top receivers in the class, he makes up for it by doing the little things right. He is not one of the biggest receivers in this draft class, but he still as a late Day 2 draft pick as he is likely to be a reliable pass-catcher for many years.
See page 2 for a look at eight more wide receivers who might be later-round values, but who can also bring big, physical targets to an offense like the Bills.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Allen Robinson, Brandon Coleman, Cody Hoffman, Cody Latimer, Davante Adams, Devin Street, Donte Moncrief, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Jordan Matthews, Kelvin Benjamin, Kevin Norwood, L'Damian Washington, Martavis Bryant, Mike Evans, Potential Bills, Sammy Watkins, Wide Receivers