The Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver competition may be the primary position to watch as camp opens. General Manager Brandon Beane once again added several weapons to the room in order to boost Josh Allen’s arsenal for the 2020 NFL season.
Late-round pick Isaiah Hodgins was chosen in the draft with the 207th pick and was the second receiver chosen by the Bills in the draft, the other being Gabe Davis. Even though Hodgins is a late-round pick, he has a great chance to land on the game day roster given how well his skills could translate into the Bills’ offense.
It goes without saying that in order to be a successful receiver at the NFL level, you have to be able to catch the ball consistently. Head Coach Sean McDermott echoed that sentiment at the NFL Combine. McDermott believes that the only way a receiver “can be a consistent weapon is being able to catch the football.” First box checked for Hodgins, who only dropped three balls on 179 catchable passes during his entire collegiate career. This is even more incredible given the fact that he only ran a 4.61-second forty-yard dash, so he isn’t a guy that will separate with speed like most of the Bills’ room. He utilizes his big frame and hand-eye coordination and body control to win at the catch point. Being a target that Allen can trust will get the young receiver a lot of looks, especially when the big-armed QB wants to go down the field.
Another very good catch by Hodgins. Holds the redline, reels the pass in and manages to get both feet in. pic.twitter.com/xnFKReVe7J
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 13, 2020
In 2019, of all the quarterbacks that took 50% of the snaps, Allen’s drop percentage courtesy of his receivers was 6.5%, second only to Cowboys QB Dak Prescott. So you can see why McDermott wanted to find guys that can catch the ball.
This is a role Bills fans have been clamoring for, and if they can acclimate Hodgins to the NFL quickly, then I could see him being their big-bodied target that can slide inside and do damage. The 6-foot-4 receiver has the size to mix it up with linebackers and strong safeties, but he needs to bulk up just a tad more to hold his own consistently. But what Hodgins does really well is run some of those tight end-type routes over the middle — but he understands how to find soft spots in zones. He is so good at getting to his landmark within the route concept but then adjusting and becoming QB-friendly. He routinely “runs to green” or locks eyes with his QB to get onto the same page in order to uncover.
Playing this role will be an adjustment because it wasn’t his full-time role at Oregon State. Over the last two years, Hodgins has only been targeted 39 times in the slot, registering 408 yards and five touchdowns to go along with zero drops. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll dabbled with the big slot role with Duke Williams in 2019. Williams was in the slot 44.4% of the time in his limited usage last year, where he was targeted six times, catching three for 18 yards but also dropping a pass.
Double Move Deep Threat
According to Warren Sharp of SharpFootball Stats, the Bills used 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) 81% of the time from weeks 11-16 in 2019, which was the most in the NFL. This correlates with Daboll going into the booth and the Bills speeding up the tempo of their offense — so the Bills began to minimize their personnel groupings. While Hodgins is listed as a wide receiver, he could not only run some of the routes a tight end does from the slot position, but he could actually help Daboll as a down-the-field threat when in there. Having that sort of flexibility in skill-set will allow Daboll to stay in 11 personnel at a higher clip rather than having to switch between 11 and 12 personnel.
This is a dope variation to the spot/snag concept. Watch the move by WR Hodgins.. pic.twitter.com/Qfs4XXbWL5
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) May 6, 2020
Whether in the slot or out wide, one of Hodgins’ strengths is his route running and catching ability down the field, especially when he runs a double move.
Hodgins led the nation in targets on double moves with 11. He reeled in eight catches for 207 yards and four touchdowns, tops in each category besides yards, where he was second.
With Allen’s improvement in the short and intermediate areas and struggles deep, defenses tend to squat on routes. They didn’t respect the deep passing game in 2019, so if the Bills’ offense can utilize double moves more often, then there’s a chance for some big plays. Defenses will jump stuff underneath and allow guys like Hodgins to get deep.
I had one Hodgins gif saved in a folder. In the slot vs a safety. pic.twitter.com/CsVba5riVg
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) May 6, 2020
In 2019, the Bills’ receivers were 28th in targets with five targets on routes where they ran a double move. However, they scored on three of those targets, which was second only behind the Chiefs, who scored four touchdowns off of double moves. The Bills’ receivers also ranked 7th in receiving yards off of double moves with 176. All three touchdowns were thanks to John Brown, and each of these touchdowns was over 20 yards. Individually, Brown’s three touchdowns (five targets) led the NFL, and was fourth in receiving yards on double moves with 125. With Brown still in the fold, Stefon Diggs and rookies Gabe Davis and Hodgins added, the Bills should be able to improve their deep passing game, especially via double moves.
They only ran that route a couple times last year, but you know who runs that route like a boss? https://t.co/RwsbX1e5az
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) June 18, 2020
In 2019, the Bills were 25th in red zone touchdowns with 13, and if Hodgins can help them in any department, it’s these situations. Wide receiver Cole Beasley, one of the smallest players on the team, was the Bills’ leading touchdown-maker in the red zone. He reeled in five touchdowns, and Brown was second with two.
Over the last three years, Hodgins has caught 16 red zone touchdowns, nine of which came in his final season.
His length, body control, tracking, and hands gave him an advantage in the red zone. Hodgins times his subtle push-offs prior to the catch point in order to separate, and he can use his wide catch radius to snag a pass. “Let’s start with a guy who can catch the football,” McDermott stated at the NFL Combine, “I think people look past that sometimes.” I’m sure McDermott and GM Beane didn’t look past Hodgins’ zero drops in the red zone over the course of his career.
Oregon State WR Isaiah Hodgins showing off why he had 9 red zone TDs in 2019. Fantastic body control and high point catch! pic.twitter.com/h2A9zse0Pp
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 13, 2020
Getting Allen a big, possession-type receiver that has reliable hands at all levels of the field was incredibly important this offseason. Hodgins definitely offers a different skill-set than most of the wide receiving corps. If Hodgins can pick up the offense quickly, then his size and skill-set could counteract how defenses are defending Allen. But they could also help Daboll improve the red zone offense and deep passing game by giving Allen another weapon in specific play concepts or situations.