The talk of spring practices seemed to be how impressive 2nd year Wide Receiver Dezmin Lewis has been. He has flashed so much that there has been speculation that he is the current leader for the #3 WR role. Of course just because he looks good in spring practices, that doesn’t mean he is a lock to gain considerable playing time especially considering the lack of regular season reps in 2015.
“(He needs to) do everything he’s done better, even better. More physical, faster, come back to the ball even stronger, catch every ball,” Lal said. “The more we get, the more we want, so we’re never satisfied.” Sanjay Lal WR Coach
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF) Lewis only participated in 9 regular season snaps and they all took place in the Week 16 game versus the Cowboys. In that game Lewis was just a placeholder as he was not targeted once. But if you flash back to the 2015 preseason he did get his fair share of reps. He played in 130 offensive snaps where he was targeted 15 times, caught 7 balls for 87 yards and had one drop.
The Bills brought in receivers to bolster their depth but to also compete this offseason. They added Greg Little, Leonard Hankerson and Jarrett Boykin. The position should be quite the battle in camp.
So what kind of role could Lewis play in this run oriented offense?
That is what is so interesting to examine. Lewis is a huge target as he is 6’4″ 214 pounds and according to Olivia Merril of BuffaloBills.com he has added some lean muscle to his frame.
“Physically, Lewis has gotten stronger and added lean muscle onto his frame. With size lacking at receiver on Buffalo’s roster last year there’s a role Lewis can fill to maximize his playing time this season.”
So of course his height is his biggest asset. An asset that he and the coaching staff want to maximize. Naturally he has been used outside the numbers for most of his career. All reports say that he has exhibited some very good foot speed and has improved on his route running but needs to work on attacking the ball. Which is very important in Roman’s offense that uses the deep comeback routes quite often.
I believe that Bills’ opponents will scheme our passing game differently this coming season so in my opinion Roman should try to use his bigger receivers, especially Lewis in different ways.
I believe that Roman should try to use him in the middle of the field. From the slot and on in breaking routes.
Chris Hogan aligned in the slot 56% of the time last season (32nd highest), Robert Woods only 31.7% of the time (45th highest). Subtract Hogan and insert Greg Salas as a slot contributor on top of Woods and Hankerson and you give Tyrod bigger options. But I would like to see Roman use Lewis there as well.
The Bills were one of the best deep threat teams in the league last year and that was primarily due to the speed on the outside and Tyrod Taylor’s uncanny accuracy on those deep shots. But where he struggled was the middle of the field. Of course there are many reasons for those struggles. Play-calling, play design, lack of patience on TT’s behalf, blocking etc etc.
But let’s try to think about this from a simplistic approach. He may have also struggled because of his size.
He’s only 6’1″ so when he stands in the pocket he could have trouble seeing receivers coming across the middle. Having a Wide Receiver like Lewis working the middle of the field could help Taylor improve upon his apparent middle of the field woes.
Another angle to think about is the trend going on in the league the last couple years. It’s two fold; the first has to do with defensive personnel. More and more teams are using smaller, quicker, former safeties as linebackers in their sub-packages. Yes, those players are quicker and better in space but are they better versus the bigger, stronger, tight ends or receivers of the league? I don’t think that’s a given.
The second trend is that bigger Wide Receivers like Eric Decker, Mohammed Sanu and Jordan Matthews have flourished from the slot as of late. According to PFF, Matthews was #1 in terms of percentage lined up in the slot. He lined up in the slot a whopping 92.7% of the time in 2015. Jordan was targeted 114 times, caught 87 passes for 972 yards and 8 touchdowns all from the slot position. Sanu was #2, lining up 87.6% of the time for the Bengals 6th ranked scoring offense. Former Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey loved using Eric Decker in the slot last season in New York. He was in the slot 68% of the time, targeted 81 times and caught 56 passes and 7 touchdowns (3rd most from slot).
Greg Roman could use Lewis in a similar fashion. It would be a good match because Lewis isn’t the burner that is typical of outside receiving threats in Roman’s vertical attack, so why not use him on crossing and in-breaking routes? He has the size to box out shorter defenders and the accumen to find soft spots in the middle of the field.
There is no doubt that teams will game-plan to shut down the deep passing game of the Bills in 2016. One way of doing that is using more and more two high safety shells. Utilizing two high safeties means one less man in the underneath zones, which opens it up not only for Tight End Charles Clay, but for other Wide receivers like Lewis, Woods and others.
The staff and players have made a concerted effort to improve their productivity over the middle of the field. Using a bigger receiver like Lewis in that quadrant of the field could really pay dividends for the Buffalo Bills in 2016.