The players are set to start the preparation to the 2020 season and our Buffalo Bills roster preview continues with the Lofton Exercise. After looking at the quarterback group, it’s time to move on to the guys catching passes from them, the wide receivers.
That’s the group that has suffered the biggest overhaul from the last time we did this exercise, after the 2018 season. So, without further ado, here’s how the WRs are ranked in our latest exercise:
Can Win Games for You
The former Viking is the Bills’ “1st round pick” in 2020, as described by GM Brandon Beane. After the previous efforts to give Josh Allen a true number one receiver failed (I’m looking at you, Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin), the GM didn’t want to risk it again with an unproven rookie and struck a deal to bring the star pass catcher from Minnesota.
Biggest impact last year was as a deep threat. But he will also boost Allen's short game.
0-9 yards – 212 rec, 11 TDs, 1,740 yds, 80 1st downs
10-19 – 69 receptions, 7 TDs, 1,157 yds, 52 1st downs
20+ – 41 recs, 12 TDs (5 last yr), 1,476 yds (624 last yr), 35 1st downs
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 10, 2020
The move gives Josh Allen a true number one receiver for the first time in his NFL career. Diggs is a complete wide receiver who excels with deceptive route running skills and winning contested-catch situations. He threatens opposing defenses downfield but can be very efficient on short and intermediate areas, too, creating separation with ease against press-man coverages, one of the issues for Allen and the Bills’ offense last season.
3rd & short vs press man, you need a guy that can win one on one and make a contested catch, Diggs is that dude. Watch him win the arm fight pic.twitter.com/IdfKW9nuWj
— Stathi Papadopoulos (@WistfulPapadoc) May 30, 2020
He’s coming off of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and scored at least six TDs in each of the last three years. His presence should allow Allen and the team’s offense to continue their development, from poor in 2018 to average in 2019, to at least above average in 2020. On paper, Beane is making sure that everything goes right. Now it’s on the coaches and players to keep producing. No doubt about one thing: Diggs surely can win some games for the Bills.
The process to help Allen started last season, when Beane added Brown and Cole Beasley to the team’s wide receiver room. The former Cardinal and Raven never had been trusted to hold down a #1 role, until last season, and he made the most of his opportunity.
John Brown took Gilmore to receiver school. pic.twitter.com/7Nj0cXpeS6
— Football Unwrapped (@FootballUSN) December 22, 2019
As the most dangerous outside threat on the team, “Smoke” faced opposing teams’ best corners week-in and week-out, and he more than held his own. In fact, Brown produced like a good WR1, putting up career-best numbers in receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,060), and scored six TDs.
More unstoppable route running from John Brown. This time he runs a post-out combo. Watch him at the top of his route, when he's going to cut outside he doesn't simply just plant his foot, he almost sells a go route to get the corner turned around completely. Love the subtlety pic.twitter.com/JjC2OhpJpQ
— Stathi Papadopoulos (@WistfulPapadoc) July 22, 2020
Brown quickly established himself as Allen’s favorite target, with his speed and separation skills becoming a nightmare even for the most capable corners in the league. He consistently exceeded on 3rd-and-long situations, where the Bills’ signal caller always looked for #15 to get a new set of downs.
Josh Allen played well on 3rd & long in 2019. Here were his top targets.
Brown – 15 tgts (#2 behind James White), 8 recs (#13), 154 yds (#7)
Beasley – 13 tgts (#10), 9 recs (#5), 121 yds (#15), 2 TDs (t#2)
Add Diggs to the mix
11 tgts (#17), 7 recs (#20), 193 yds (#2), 1 TD
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 14, 2020
With Diggs in the mix, Brown should be even more dangerous. Opponents will need to pick their poison and Smoke should have even more room to produce.
Another veteran who came in and instantly helped Josh Allen’s development, Beasley is another WR who can win games for you. He isn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but oh boy, you line him up in the slot and you know he’s going to get open. His suddenness in his route running skills makes him un-guardable in this role.
In the past 2 years Cole Beasley has been open on 77.1% of his targets best rate in the NFL#BillsMafia #Bills #GoBills pic.twitter.com/weGnWsU6jX
— PFF BUF Bills (@PFF_Bills) July 22, 2020
Just like Brown, B-Easy enjoyed a great first year in Buffalo. He became Allen’s go-to guy in the red zone, scoring a career-high six TDs, and added 67 receptions for 778 yards, both ranked 2nd in his career. He will continue to be a key cog in the offense in 2020.
Stop sleeping on Cole Beasley's route running 😤 @Bease11 @BuffaloBills pic.twitter.com/Pd3WHzH4Js
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) February 18, 2020
Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Andre Roberts, Ray-Ray McCloud, Nick Easley
I think Foster, McKenzie, and Duke are all near the “can win with” status, but they’re not there yet. Foster’s 2019 was a step back from 2018, McKenzie is more of a gadget guy, and Duke got the first true playing time of his career with mixed results.
Maybe. But Foster has a lot more specs reps than Mckenzie. We shall see. Foster pic 1, Mckenzie pic 2 pic.twitter.com/FXndDeTHfU
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) June 21, 2020
The last three guys clearly aren’t good enough. Roberts surely is in the top tier as a returner, but he’s far from it as a receiver. McCloud and Easley are unproven and need to show more.
The Bills selected Davis in the 4th round of this year’s draft. He comes in as another potential deep threat for Josh Allen with his speed and size.
The #Bills selected UCF WR Gabriel Davis with their 4th round pick in the #NFLDraft. Take a look at an overview of the Bills' newest receiver from @FernandoSchmude#GoBills #BillsMafia https://t.co/qfkCZYSk1s pic.twitter.com/f9aR7kPyZa
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 25, 2020
At 6’2″ and 210 pounds, and with a 35″ vertical and 4.5 speed, he offers a combination that isn’t really abundant on the team’s roster. He’s expected to fight for the WR4 role and be able to contribute early, on a limited basis.
I have a good feeling about this 6th-round pick. It wouldn’t be fair to tab a Stevie Johnson kind of feeling on the guy, but I definitely can see him becoming a ‘rich man’s David Nelson’ for Buffalo.
Does WR Isaiah Hodgins have a pathway onto the #Bills final roster? @ErikJTurner breaks down why Hodgins' game will elevate Josh Allen in 2020.#GoBills #BillsMafia https://t.co/WPAtH3M42C
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 18, 2020
He’s big and lanky (6’4″ and 210 pounds) and possesses some of the best hands in this year’s WR class. He isn’t a guy who can separate with ease, but given his different skill set and reliable hands, I can see him sticking on the roster and maybe even contributing early on.
What a difference a year and a half makes. Buffalo will be trotting out one of the top wide receiver trios in the league in 2020, with three guys who are among the best in their roles and definitely can win games for the team. In the first version of our Lofton exercise, in 2018, they didn’t have a single one.
Still looking at this year’s ranking, the lack of tier two guys, players who you can win with, could lead you to believe the Bills have a lack of depth. However, there are intriguing options in the ‘need better’ group who are almost there. With the rookie arrivals and the competition between them, I’m confident that the tier two guys will emerge naturally.
- Can Win with Him: 2 (Foster and Zay Jones)
- Need Better: 3 (McKenzie, McCloud, Deonte Thompson)
- Can Win Games for You: 3 (Diggs, Brown, Beasley)
- Need Better: 6 (Foster, McKenzie, Williams, Roberts, McCloud, Easley)
- Rookies: 2 (Davis, Hodgins)