The Buffalo Bills finished last season second in the NFL in points-per-game at 28.4, and yards-per-game at 397.6. The analytics community loved them with Football Outsiders’ also ranking them second in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) with a 19% score.
The passing game was also dynamite, Buffalo exploded for 258.1 yards per game, seventh overall. The Bills’ fireworks continued in the endzone with 35 passing touchdowns, that too was second overall. Buffalo was also seventh in yards-per-attempt with 7.5 per pass.
All that said, Bills Mafia would almost undoubtedly agree that wide receiver Gabe Davis was the top disappointment a season ago. The last memory from 2021 was his four-touchdown playoff performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. That was the catalyst for unrealistic expectations heading into 2022.
“Though Gabe Davis was fine in 2022, he didn’t take the jump most hoped. For the sake of his wallet and the Bills’ offense, he needs to take a step up,” @SportsRoc2
Those unrealized expectations coupled with knowing Davis has the ability to thrive in the Bills’ offense is why he placed eighth in our Cover 1 rankings. The pass catcher earned 19 of a possible 60 points with @SportsRoc2 ranking him the highest at No. 3.
“Gabriel Davis certainly wasn’t bad in the 2022 season – most teams would be happy with 48 receptions for 836 yards out of their WR2 – but some fans simply wanted more. These fans aren’t necessarily wrong in their criticism – a lack of offensive weapons was one of the biggest issues Buffalo’s offense faced last year, with Davis, though statistically adequate, often leaving just a bit to be desired (this perhaps due to a nagging high ankle sprain). Regardless of reasoning, Davis will need to find more consistency this season in order to help Buffalo’s offense avoid the lulls that plagued it throughout the 2022 campaign. He’s entering a contract year, so the odds of him doing so seem favorable,” – @KyleSilagyi.
As Kyle said, Davis was not “bad” in 2022. In fact, by many measures, he was one of the best WR2s in the NFL a season ago. Looking at his box score stats through the lens that there are 32 “number one WRs” and #2 WRs should rank between 33 and 64, here is where Davis’ stats stack up.
Davis dominates in scoring, you know, the objective of every drive. His seven touchdowns tied for 12th despite being the team’s second receiving option. Davis (55.7) was 29th in yards per game for guys to play at least 10 games. Davis tied for 52nd in receptions and 36th in targets.
I have long admitted I am a bit of a Davis apologist, but the drops are concerning. His seven drops were the seventh-most in 2022. However, here are a couple of the names with more drops than him: Stefon Diggs and Jaylen Waddle. Good receivers drop passes. The more problematic issue is the drop rate. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Davis dropped 11.1% of his targets last year. That number vaults to fourth worst behind Darius Slayton, Tyquan Thornton, and Nelson Agholor. Even I can’t excuse away all the drops, and worse yet, the timing of some of those butter fingers.
“Gabe Davis is the Bills WR2 for good reason, but that doesn’t mean he can’t improve. In fact, the Bills will need Davis to improve and cut down on the drops that plagued him in 2022. Davis will be integral to the Bills’ success as a field stretcher this season but if he can find more consistency in the intermediate the Bills’ offense could reach new heights,” – @UberHansen.
We can start looking at the nerd numbers right where Uber left off. No qualified WR (20% or routes) had a higher aDot (average depth of target) than Davis’ 16.8. He is the Bills’ lone deep threat most of the time. In fact, the next highest aDot for Buffalo was Diggs at 12.6 then it plummets to Isaiah McKenzie with a 7.9. Using PFF’s grades for overall offense and receiving, Davis ranked 36th and 36th among WRs earning a 50% route share.
Flipping over to Football Outsiders, Davis ranked 27th in their DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). In their DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), Davis ranks 28th. To add a little more context to those numbers (as you can see in the chart below from Football Outsiders), Davis finished right ahead of Keenan Allen, Christian Watson, and Cooper Kupp. Those are two possible Hall-of-Famers and Aaron Rodgers’ WR2.
When it comes to where Gabe Davis lines up on the field, that is never going to change. The UCF product is a split-out wide guy through and through. Last season he played 1,055 total snaps (regular season + playoffs), 885 were out wide. He played 135 from the slot, 21 inline, and nine in the backfield. As far as lining up left or right, that was almost a 50/50 split. Davis went right 413 times and left 472 times. I would bet my mortgage, barring injury, that these numbers look very similar in 2023.
To go extremely big-brained, here are Davis’ route tree and route percentages from Reception Perception. If you’d like to view the entire article Gabe Davis 2022 Player Profile | Reception Perception.
I’m still firmly in the camp that Davis can, and is, a top-flight WR2 in the NFL. He is the main WIDE option for Buffalo and despite his drops, a pass catcher that Josh Allen trusts. I have tweeted numerous times “screw it! Gabe is out there somewhere” on plays where Allen seems to just heave it up in the direction of his deep threat. With the addition of Dalton Kincaid and the steady dominance of Diggs, Davis keeping the defense and secondary honest will go a long way in helping the Bills hoist their first Lombardi.