Wide Receivers That Fit The Bills’ Archetype

A series of articles that match the Beane-McDermott positional archetype with players who may declare for this year’s draft. 

Which Wide Receivers in the 2018 NFL Draft are the best fits for “The Process”?

The Need: The Bills let Robert Woods walk as the Rams signed him to a 5-year, $39M deal in March. Money still talks with GM Brandon Beane, but so do draft picks. On August 11th, the Bills traded Sammy Watkins (2 foot surgeries) and their 2018 RD6 to the Rams for a RD2 and CB E.J. Gaines, but the Bills weren’t without a WR for long. Beane acquired Jordan Matthews and a 2018 RD3 in exchange for CB Ronald Darby. Matthews, still on a one-year contract, promptly injured his thumb and was supposed to miss a month and have surgery. All of the sudden, the 3-1 Bills’ receiving corps consisted of rookie Zay Jones, Andre Holmes (at age 29.4, the team leader in first downs with 10), Brandon Tate (at age 30.1, the return specialist who was perplexingly inactive for the Jets game), and Kaelin Clay (now with the Panthers). Matthews returned in two weeks for the Bucs game, and helped modestly in the Raiders game. He’s the leading Bills pass-catcher as of now, 105th among WRs and TEs in catches. Anquan Boldin, age 37, announced his retirement, saying ‘My Life’s Purpose Is Bigger Than Football,’ and wouldn’t play for the Bills, joining the Jeremy Maclin and Dri Archer Club.

RD2 pick Zay Jones, the NCAA’s all-time leader in receptions, was supposed to continue his ball-magnet ways under Phil McGeoghan, his coach from ECU, now coaching the WR unit on the Bills. Zay is the Bills’ most-targeted WR (only McCoy has more targets). His catch rate is now 63% over the last 2 games, up from 21.9%  (the worst in NFL history for a WR since 1992). Deonte Thompson, a speed burner who’ll be 29 on Valentine’s Day, was brought back to stretch the field, and his completion percentage has been impressive. He caught 7 of 10 targets for 81 yards and a TD against the Jets, his second game of 80+ yards in 3 starts. Kelvin Benjamin was acquired for a RD3 and RD7 to remind us that Beane will always make the team better. He crammed all weekend for the Saints game, but we all know how well cramming works when the test comes. All of the Bills’ weapons have not been on the field at the same time, so projecting the need at WR in the draft is tricky. To be sure, losing TE Charles Clay had an effect on routes and coverage, and not having enough pass protection for an NFL-longest four-plus seconds certainly plays a role. We can safely say that we have several WRs nearing or over 30, plus a promising rookie, a 25-year-old Matthews on a one-year contract, and a 26-year-old Benjamin, whose arms are 34 7/8 (99th percentile) but runs a 4.61 forty (25th percentile). We might need a WR (or two) who can get separation, a KR-PR guy, and maybe a speed burner.

 

The Archetype:  “When he’s covered, he’s still open,” Beane said of the Bills’ newest receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. “He’ll win the contested balls and he’s a very strong player.” he is going to help those guys show what it means to be a pro’s pro and what it takes on the field, in the meeting rooms, and in the training room.”… among the common denominators are high-quality individuals and leadership. McD said on Jones: “competitive….works extremely, extremely hard.” Whaley was in on the last draft, but we do know that Tre’Davious White, Zay Jones, and Dion Dawkins were all Panthers’ official visits.

 

Some Potential Fits:

James Washington Oklahoma St
6-0, 205, 4.49
The uber-athletic Washington serves as a separation guy and a deep-ball specialist rolled into one, with insane touchdowns of 66 yards, 77 yards, and 86 yards already on his resume. McDermott will adore his experience; in 2015, Washington had a 53/1,087/10 TD stat line, and he bested that performance in 2016, with 71/1,380/10 TD.  Washington can take over a game, as he did in the 2016 Alamo Bowl. He was the Offensive MVP on a 9-catch, 171-yard, 1-touchdown outing. His athleticism makes Washington a McBeane pick, as well; he can 360-jam a basketball, won triple-jump at states, runs a 21.4 in the 100-yd dash, and owns a black belt in TaeKwon-Do. Rico Dennison mentions arm use in every position on offense; Washington’s arm use at the catch point is otherworldly. He has the highest Yards Per Route Run in the entire receiver class. Washington’s light shines without blowing out the candles around him; he’s no diva, so I’m a believer.  Washington (#18 on my board) and his QB, Mason Rudolph (#6), have been scouted by the Bills at 2 games, as of this writing.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A+

Calvin Ridley Alabama
6-1, 188, 4.50
I’ve heard Ridley described as “a faster Amari Cooper”. The speed is only part of it, though. Ridley’s play speed shows you that the 4.5 forty time is irrelevant. He separates and creates elbow room for his catches so well that we’ll need to get Dennison a drool towel. He’s impressive on the Dennison type of routes, including slants, curls, and crossers. Ridley is instinctive, and always seems to be on the same page as his signal-caller. Even in his Freshman year, Ridley has stayed humble, doesn’t showboat, and speaks through his play rather than his mouth. Ridley (#26) and eleven of his teammates have been scouted by the Bills at 1 game, as of this writing. Minkah Fitzpatrick (#8) is the highest-ranked, but, should he declare as a Junior, Ridley is the first within the Bills’ RD1 range, where they’ll have 2 picks.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A+

Christian Kirk Texas A&M
5-11, 200, 4.39
The dazzling and versatile WR/KR/PR may be the fastest WR at this year’s Combine, should he declare (he has one year of eligibility left). McBeane is likely going to want a returner and, statistically, Kirk is the best punt returner, not only in this class, but since ever. Last year, Kirk also led the SEC in receptions (83), showing acumen not only on horizontal-game short-pass plays, but also stretching the field with 14 plays of 30+ yards. Fourteen. A concern with the Bills’ wideouts has been separation, and Kirk can separate with footwork, play speed, quickness, and even power. Kirk will get big points for his mental game, as well. He is the highest-ranked player from A&M on my Big Board (#19), which is certainly within the realm of possibility. Bills scouts have been to 1 of his games.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A+

Deon Cain Clemson
6-1, 210, 4.47
If the Bills need a speed burner with hands (hey, haven’t we had some of them?), then Deon Cain might fit the bill, should he declare. He’s averaged 18.1 ypc over his career, and stepped that up in 2016 (with that Watson feller) to 19.1. He’s the Tigers’ numero uno now, since 220 catches just went to NFL from Clemson. Accordingly, Cain’s receiving the devoted attention of the defenses’ best corners, and his yards per catch have suffered; they’re now 11.9 ypc. I still like Cain’s tracking and my-ball mentality at the catch point, and the speed he uses to get deep, so consider Cain’s speed, hands, and focus still useful at distinguishing him from some track-star burners in this class who can’t catch the ball. The Bills have scouted 1 Clemson game. Cain is the second-highest ranked player on my Big Board from Clemson at #31, which is right where I expect the Chiefs’ traded pick to be. DL Christian Wilkins is ranked #7.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A

Dante Pettis  WR/KR Washington
6-0, 188, 4.49
Who took over the deep burner spot on the Huskies when John Ross went RD1#9 to the Bengals? That would be Dante Pettis. Even when Ross was there, Pettis was already 53/822/15 TD as the #2 WR. As with Deon Cain, Pettis’s average dropped when he took over as number one. Some of the archetypes you hear from McDermott and Beane are often descriptors in the scouting reports coming out: separation, special teams, kick returner, fights for the ball, toughness, open when not open. Add to that the sick plays he makes, and you hope he’ll get some attention at One Bills Drive. Washington games have not been attended by Bills scouts, at least officially. Pettis is #99 on my board for now, but if he was there at our RD2B or RD3, then we’d have the confluence of time and player.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A+

Jester Weah Pittsburgh
6-2, 205, 4.59
“WE-uh” was Peterman’s red-zone fave who reminds me of some Mike Williams catches. Weah is my poor man’s James Washington. He’s a deep threat who connected with Peterman often, to the tune of 24.2 ypc in 2016. He’s “settled down” to 10+ ypc in his last 11 games with DiNucci at the helm. This is only Weah’s 2nd year of production, as he was injured the previous 2 years, so that may be a tick down on the McBeane-o-Meter. Weah’s a quiet leader, a high-effort guy at practices, and a favorite in the locker room (I have no dancing videos, although I’ve heard tales of them). While Pittsburgh hasn’t been scouted this year, scouts from the Bills saw Peterman and Weah (#123) play lots last year.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A-

Allen Lazard Iowa St
6-4, 223, 4.44
Lazard came back for his Senior season after receiving a surprisingly-low draft grade. Before the Bills got Kelvin Benjamin, I would have ranked Lazard higher on their board. Lazard’s leadership and toolkit, and his considerable size and production (170-2,419-16 TD), are now already on the team, unless they decide not to extend Jordan Matthews, and I don’t see that happening. No Iowa State games have been scouted by the Bills thus far, either. While I like Lazard, he wouldn’t be an upgrade or appreciably-different play-style from Benjamin or Matthews. Lazard is #82 on my Big Board.
Potential Fit For The Bills: B-

Caleb Scott Vanderbilt
6-2, 202, 4.48
Caleb Scott makes the list because he was good friends and teammates with Jordan Matthews at Vandy. Injuries derailed most of his spring practices due to recovery from surgery, and he had an earlier hamstring issue, so he’ll be a day 3 player. He’d have value there as a great route-runner who made some “wow” catches and “wow” moves. Scott has DNA as the son of former Vanderbilt All-America TE Chuck Scott. Vanderbilt had no credentialed scout visits, but the connection of Matthews with Scott, a RD6-7 projection, is interesting.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A-

Deontay Burnett USC
6-0, 170, 4.51
One of the most archetypal receivers in the whole class is Deontay Burnett. USC Head Coach Clay Helton calls him his “shut-up-and-work guy”. Burnett’s practice speed and game day play speed are the same, and Helton says it’s been infectious. A dive into Burnett’s stats shows that his training regimen pays off later in games, and that he plays big in big games: Burnett’s stats in the second and third quarter are higher than the first quarter. Moreover, his yards-per-catch stats against AP-ranked teams are higher than his conference game average. Burnett has had the luxury of an accurate QB throwing to him, and a decent distraction in RB Ronald Jones to open up routes. McDermott mentions “consistent”, and Burnett has been steady and reliable over two years, and has played in three. Burnett is #259 on my Big Board, the deepest-ranked player of 7 USC players, who have been scouted 2 times by the Bills.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A-

Austin Proehl  WR/PR North Carolina
5-10, 175, 4.48
Austin’s father, Ricky Proehl, played in 4 Super Bowls and won 2: Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams and Super Bowl XLI with the Colts. More importantly, Ricky worked with then-Panthers’ Director of Football Operations Beane in 2011 as an Offensive Assistant and worked against McDermott’s Panthers defense as Wide Receivers Coach from 2012 to 2016, getting to return as a coach to his fifth Super Bowl. Ricky has retired from coaching to be a Dad to his two WR sons this year, but Ricky’s values of hard work, community work, and attention to detail were passed on to them. Austin’s role as a fast receiver out of the slot is augmented by his punt return skills, and the Bills will be looking. In fact, the Bills saw 2 NC games last year when Trubisky was there, and have returned to watch North Carolina once this year. I have Austin as a Day 3 prospect (#279), and while there’s a choice of burners there, Proehl’s familiarity and fit are obvious.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A++

Quadree Henderson Pittsburgh
5-8, 170, 4.40
Another Day 3 burner who was on the receiving end of many a Nate Peterman pass is Quadree Henderson. Along with Jester Weah, scouts saw him last year at Peterman’s games. Henderson, #286, was one of the nation’s most-dominant players with the ball in his hands a year ago. He also is a great fit because of his kick return abilities. He’d be a deep-ball specialist with some built in chemistry with Peterman, if he’s in the Bills’ future plans.
Potential Fit For The Bills: A

 

 

 

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