The Buffalo Bills have added several wide receivers to their offense via free agency, the draft, and even the undrafted free agent market. New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is overhauling a unit that was once known just for stretching the field. He’s looking to turn the Bills’ passing game into a more efficient, ball control passing game. In order to do that, he needed to add receivers with different traits, traits that would help carry out his scheme, but that would also help get the most out of his quarterback. Undrafted free agent WR Daikiel Shorts is the kind of player that both the offense and Tyrod Taylor need.
Shorts is a QB’s best friend. At West Virginia, he was their version of ‘Mr. Reliable’. Anytime the offense needed a big play, he was their go-to guy. He possesses great hands and mental toughness. On 4th down, the Mountaineers go for it. Shorts manages to find a soft spot in the back of the end zone, corral the high throw, and get a foot down for the touchdown.
Being reliable is one thing, but that isn’t tested in any circumstance more than over the middle, an area in which Shorts excels. As a slot wide receiver in Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense, Shorts lived in that quadrant. His quarterback, Skylar Howard, trusted Shorts over the middle on the most critical downs. It’s 3rd-and-9, and the defense drops into cover 3 buzz. Howard and Shorts are on the same page. Howard anticipates the throw.
He threads it between three defenders for the first down. If Shorts doesn’t catch that, then it’s most likely intercepted by the safety.
Bills fans are probably screaming, “Tyrod Taylor doesn’t make throws like that!”, and they aren’t completely wrong. However, in 2016 there were several reasons he didn’t make those throws. Heck, there were several reasons why they were rarely called. Taylor was cautious with the ball, both by habit and by design. He had the best run game and was typically ahead of the chains, so he didn’t have to take risks like throwing into tight windows. However, the main reason he wasn’t asked to throw into tight windows over the middle was because he didn’t have a guy like Shorts. He didn’t have a reliable target. WVU’s QB Howard in an 11 game sample from ’16, targeted shorts 30/74 plays, 29/74 were from 0-19 yards over the middle (courtesy of Krossover). How did he fare? Shorts put up 379 yards out of 711 total yards over that 11 game sample.
The Bills’ number one target was Charles Clay, who had 81 targets and 57 receptions. Clay had a 10.94 drop rate, having dropped 7 out of 64 catchable targets. That was the second-highest drop rate for tight ends in the league. Ex-Bills wide receiver Robert Woods caught 19 passes over the middle, but also dropped two of his three drops on the season in the very same quadrant. Taylor lacked the rapport, weapons, and most of all, trust in his wideouts. Shorts could help relieve those worries.
Daikiel can run the shallow drags or the 12 yard digs, curls in the middle of the field that the offense needs to beat zone defenses. This is something they see a lot of because of Taylor’s mobility. The short-to-intermediate area is where he makes his money.
The high/low concept paired with the screen action opens the middle up, which is where Shorts sits, catches the ball, and spins away from the defender.
Due to the type of offense that Holgorsen ran at WVU, the offense saw a ton of zone defense. The Air Raid offense depends on its receivers to read coverages and run the appropriate routes, which could be completely different from coverage to coverage. That is especially the case for the slot receiver. As a result, Shorts is well versed on reading coverages and doing what he is supposed to do.
He sees the inverted cover 3, sits in the window, catches it, and gets up field.
He makes reading coverages look easy, and he can do it on the fly. On 3rd-and-4, Shorts is running a crossing pattern. He notices the middle backer staying shallow to protect vs. a checkdown, but notices the opposite field linebacker clearing out with the seam route.
He slightly deepens his route to gain depth from the middle backer, which gives his QB a window to throw to and allows him to gain some yardage after the catch.
Having receivers like Zay Jones and Shorts on the roster should improve the offense in the short-to-intermediate area, but most importantly it will give Taylor peace of mind. Shorts, much like the Edelmans, Welkers, Landrys and Amendolas of the league, are able to sense when a defender is losing leverage in pass coverage. He knows how to sell a crossing route, but then sit, show his numbers, and convert. This ability to uncover in confined spaces is a difficult trait to find in a slot receiver.
Slot wide receiver who is reliable and can find windows in zone coverage… Sounds familiar Daikiel Shorts pic.twitter.com/FOwEu07Ebw
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) May 9, 2017
He does a good job of plucking the ball out of the air and doing what he can.
Many believe that WR Daikiel Shorts may be a long shot to make the roster, but he is a player that I think, if given the reps, can make the squad. He is the perfect blend of intelligence and reliability that the offense and Tyrod Taylor need. He reads defenses as adeptly as anyone in the draft class, and he is a dependable target in the middle of the field. There’s a reason the Bills went out and got a big bodied wide receiver like Andre Holmes and a productive, intelligent slot receiver in Zay Jones in the second round. They needed to reshape the receiving corps. They needed to transform it from a set of guys that depended on just physical talent to separate to one that used intelligence and route running. Shorts is a player that could very well round out the back end of the unit.