If you were to look at the Bills roster from last year and compare it to this year, the names and faces seem to be the same. Sure, they added some guys like Andra Davis, Dwan Edwards and the 2010 draft class, but the team really didn’t overhaul their personnel. Unfortunately, if there’s one position that the Bills are going to look a lot more different at, it’s wide receiver.
Gone are veterans Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, who are now replaced by…um…where’s the depth chart at? Well, the depth chart doesn’t look pretty. Look, it’s anyones guess on who the 2nd and 3rd wide receiver will be on this team. Yes, the names aren’t that attractive, but you always have to start your career somewhere. From James Hardy to Marcus Easley, this young receiving core are going to have every opportunity to make something of themselves. However, even with opportunity, you are still going to need talent to get the job done.
Say what you will about Terrell Owens (Drops and lack of focus) and Josh Reed (Mostly a disappointment throughout his tenure), but on paper, those guys are much more proven than what the Bills are going to deal with for this season. Last year, Owens and Reed combined for 82 catches and 1,120 yards, which is nothing to write home about. However, those numbers are almost equivalent to the career stats of Roscoe Parrish, Stevie Johnson and James Hardy (1294 yards and 122 catches).
Again, like the quarterbacking, the only thing that most fans can hang their hope on is that Chan Gailey will get the most out of his players that the previous regime couldn’t.
Last season: 44 catches, 612 yards and 7 touchdowns
Obviously, the biggest debate about the depth chart doesn’t concern where Lee Evans ranks. He’s number one and is arguably the Bills most explosive offensive weapon. However, he is coming off his worst season to date. Frankly though, since Evans signed his 40 million dollar contract extension, he hasn’t come close to producing elite numbers. Sorry, but a guy who makes 10-million a year shouldn’t be ranked 88th in catches. Yes, 88th in catches for 2009!!! You want to know what Fred Davis, Mike Thomas and Devery Henderson all have in common? Yup, you guessed it, they had more catches than Evans had and I’m sure their bank accounts aren’t as big as his.
Now, here’s where most Bills fans and I have differing opinions about Evans. I know that everyone is going to say that Evans production is being affected by circumstances beyond his control. It’s the quarterback, it’s the play calling, it’s the offensive line, it’s the weather. I’ve heard it all to know that I’m not buying it all. Sure, it has something to to do with it. However, he’s getting paid to be an elite wide receiver and elite wideouts should be able to make due, without worrying about the environment.
I can recall a number of wide receivers that have been effective during a season without getting the help from a legit quarterback or coach. Calvin Johnson caught 86 passes on an 0-16 team in 2008. Over the years, it didn’t matter if it were Matt Schaub or Sage Rosenfels throwing the ball to Andre Johnson. Last year, Brandon Marshall caught 101 balls with the immortal Kyle Orton as his quarterback. Look at Eric Moulds 2000 season, the Bills great had 94 receptions with Rob Johnson starting 11 of those games.
Look, I’m not trying to kill off Evans, but it seems like this guy always gets a pass (Unfortunately not on the field) from the fans and media whenever he doesn’t get the ball. I don’t know if it has to do with him being a nice guy to the media or that he’s really the only superstar (Using the term loosely) on this team. How many years can we let go by where we chalk up a disappointing Lee Evans season to outside distractions?
As for this year, it seems that the Bills have found an offensive minded coach to help with the passing game. As for the quarterback? Well, keep fishing. The main thing going for the Gailey/Evans combo is that at the coach’s previous NFL jobs, he has had six different wide receivers go over the 1,000 yard mark for a season. You thought Tyler Thigpen and Mike Tomczak were no names? How about Charles Johnson and Yancey Thigpen? Well, those two guys were part of Gailey’s 1,000 yard club.
Maybe Gailey’s coaching methods will help Evans become a more consistent player. I’d also like to see him evolve into a more well-rounded wide receiver. No, I’m not talking about gaining weight, I’m talking about catching more than his normal 60-yard bombs. Catching balls in traffic or over the middle is something that the receiver never seems to do enough of. I’m not saying that he fears getting his head torn off, but I’d like to have the coaching staff get the guy involved with running those particular routes.
Just like his rookie season in 2007, James Hardy once again inherits the 2nd wide receiver spot on this team. Or does he? There have been some reports that Hardy didn’t look good in minicamps (offseason surgery). Even still, how can you not put your former 2008 2nd round pick on the field? I understand that the Bills have a new regime, but you have to give a high draft pick like that every opportunity to get on the field. Even though Buddy Nix and Gailey are inheriting Hardy, it still counts as a team investment and shouldn’t be considered as a junk bond…at least not yet.
Hardy is entering his 3rd season, which represents a year that most wide receivers tend to blossom. Hardy’s size (6’5, 220lbs) seems to be his biggest attribute, which is something that Evans and Roscoe Parrish lack. Unfortunately, Hardy still hasn’t discovered ways to utilize his size. In the few games that Hardy has started, he has had a difficult time in gaining separation from defensive backs and seems to lack the tough, physical play that you would want from a possession receiver.
Another thing going against Hardy is actually his greatest asset; yup, the aforementioned…size. As crazy as it sounds, Hardy may be just too big for Chan Gailey’s offense. Gailey likes fast wide receivers that can run precise routes. The type of guys that can run after the catch. I don’t think those are Hardy’s attributes. If you look at the guys he had in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Miami and Kansas City, the majority of his wide receivers weren’t big possession type players. Actually, the top 3 wide receivers on each team were shorter than 6’1 and mostly beat you with skill, rather than size. Frankly, they were kind of like water bugs (Gailey’s favorite creatures), and Hardy just doesn’t seem like that type of insect.
Can somebody explain to me why Stevie Johnson has kind of a cult following in Buffalo? Does it have to do with his Twitter page? I mean, the guy only has 12 catches for his career and the only one I can recall him making was his touchdown reception against Denver in 2008. The only reason that I can come up with is that he’s an underdog. Kind of like what made people like Fred Jackson.
As of today, Johnson seems to have the lead for being the #2 option for the Bills.
Like Hardy, he’s got the size at 6’2, 202lbs, but he seems to have the better speed of the two. Like I said before, Gailey likes speed guys. That’s really all I got on Johnson. I mean, what else can I describe about a guy that caught 12 passes for his career?
Last Season: 3 catches, 34 yards and 0 touchdowns
Ugh. I’m sorry, but Roscoe Parrish is like the Bills poor man version of Tim Connolly. All you ever hear about is how this guy has all the talent in the world and if healthy, he’ll be a game breaker. I’m sorry, but I’m sick and tired of hearing that. Parrish is nothing more than our version of “Dante Hall.” He’s not an every down wide receiver and like Hardy, he has problems with getting off the line scrimmage against bump and run.
You also have to wonder if the years of being a punt returner have finally caught up to Parrish. The shelf-life for a returner doesn’t last too long in the NFL, especially if you are the size of Parrish. We already saw signs of his decline last year, when he was benched after a key fumble against the Browns. It’s the same thing that happened to Hall after his 5th season with the Chiefs. Sometimes, Father Time isn’t looking at the calender when he arrives, he just gets there unexpectedly.
Look, I’m not going to try and give you a scouting report on a 4th round pick from the state of Connecticut. From what I read online, Easley has the size and speed to become a nice possession receiver for the Bills. I’ve even read on Twitter and message boards (They are always right), that Easley has a slight chance to become the #2 option for the Bills. Now, I’m all for having the Bills play guys who are young with a lot of upside, but to start a rookie from the 4th round seems a little extreme.
What does it all it mean?
I know a lot of fans/media seem to assume that whoever gets the starting job opposite Evans will become the 2nd most productive wide receiver on the team. However, I really wouldn’t put too much stock in that assumption. If you were to look at some of the wide receiving cores that Gailey has coached, it seems like spreading the ball around is his forte.
As Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator in 1997, the Steelers 2nd and 3rd leading wide receivers had 46 and 47 catches (Charles Johnson and Courtney Hawkins). During his last year in Dallas, Gailey showed even more passing distribution by having three players catch between 30-40 balls (Ernie Mills, Chris Warren and David LaFleur). Those numbers may not seem like a lot by today’s standards, but the league at that time wasn’t like wild west of today’s passing numbers.
As far as predictions for their actual numbers goes, if Chan Gailey can coach Charles Johnson to a 1,000 yard season, then Lee Evans should be able to rebound from a subpar 2009 season. As for the rest of them, look for a bunch of guys to get between 25-40 catches. Also, because of the quarterback situation, I think the Bills will be a predominantly running team.
Now, if you want me to predict what the depth chart will look like, well, here you go:
1) Lee Evans- Duh
2) Stevie Johnson- Just from reading reports online, it seems that Johnson is a more seasoned player than Hardy.
3) Roscoe Parrish- Roscoe’s size makes him the slot receiver.
4) James Hardy- I still think that if Hardy can show any signs of life in training camp, he’ll supplant Johnson on the depth chart.