41.

That's the number of receptions Donald Jones had last year. It also ranked 104th in the NFL .

443 yards.

Those are #19's yards receiving, which ranked 107th. Those numbers also ranked 2nd on the Bills for most catches and yards by a WR.

That's your #2 WR.

That's not good.

That's why the Bills let Donald Jones and David Nelson go.

The Bills are going the youth route with Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods. It is about time the Bills invested a 2nd round draft pick towards the position. Before last year's draft, the Bills had used only two picks on WRs within the first two rounds since 2003 (Lee Evans, 2003 and James Hardy, 2008). Last year, the Bills were the only NFL team to not have a TE, WR or QB on their roster dedicated to the 1st or 2nd round.

Within a year, they shattered that stat with the drafting of Woods and EJ Manuel. I've written before that this year is all about the development of EJ. After him, the young WRs are next up in terms of desired development.

We know what we will get with Stevie Johnson (80 catches, 1,100 yards, and 8 TDs), but we have zero idea what we are going to get with the kids. On the surface, Graham and Goodwin are going to be burners while Woods seems to have some speed but is better suited as a possession guy who can make the tough grabs in traffic. That's good diversity. You don't want too many 1-trick ponies.

Hopefully, between Graham, Goodwin, and Woods…one of the 3 can become a legit #2 WR option for the Bills. I just don't think we will know until next year at least.

Our Hero
I've used this metaphor before, but fuck it, I'm doing it again. In one of my favorite movies of all time, American Beauty, Kevin Spacey plays a 9-5 businessman who is completely bored with his life. Mix together the repetitiveness of his job and his lackluster marriage, and you have a recipe for apathy and sadness.

However, once Spacey saw a particular high school girl, he was mesmerized. He started seeing the world in color instead of the black and white he had become used to. Welcome to The Land of Oz. Now when you look at the girl he had a crush on (the chick from American Pie who liked that Oz douche bag), she's really nothing special. However, because everything around him was caving in, her good qualities were accentuated.

Stevie Johnson is playing the role of the high school girl, Kevin Spacey is playing your typical Bills fan, and the crashing world around him is reflective of the recent state Bills. Maybe Stevie Johnson isn't as good as most Bills fans want to think, but because of the sadness of the last 13 years, we need to find something to believe in.

Stevie represents the fan in all of us who only wishes they could put on the uniform and get their 15 minutes of fame. He acts like his 15 minutes are ticking away and he just has to savor the moments he gets of being cool with the fans. Arrogance never seeps into his demeanor. There's a humble, down to earth quality to his approach. I could never imagine Stevie turning down an autograph or a photo.

It never gets old for him.

He'll be the same big kid going forward and I have zero issues with giving him a pass when he says something that is considered controversial. He's just a young guy battling The Man who wants him to get off their lawn. In certain elements, he could be viewed as a renegade who doesn't bow down to authority. God knows most NFL fans hate the NFL's tactics for killing the joy of the game. He's just a guy having fun with his friends and telling The Man to stick it.

Stevie the player
All right, now that we got the cool guy stuff out of the way, let's dive into Stevie Johnson the player. Anyone who says he's an average WR (cough* Jerry Sullivan cough*) is an idiot. He's a good WR who, if he's surrounded by a decent QB and an outside target who can at least help him, can become a great WR in the NFL.

Stevie was 9th in the NFL in targets last year with 148 which was over 25% of Fitzpatrick's throws. He also can lay claim to being one of only a handful of guys who played particularly well against Darrelle Revis. Additionally, he became the only Bills player in history to have over 1,000 yards and 75+ catches for three straight years.

Stevie's best attribute is his footwork. He's fricken Michael Jackson with the way he moves. It seems he can break out into a moonwalk or a black swan pirouette any time he plants his foot to make a move. It is about time the Bills moved him into the slot. He should really do wonders there because he'll have more room to run routes. Now, I wouldn't start thinking of him as our slot version Wes Welker, mainly because Welker had Tom Brady and Stevie has God knows what, but he should really fit in.

It will be interesting to see how Johnson handles going over the middle since most of his routes didn't go along those hash marks last year. He only caught four passes last year over the middle. Welker, on the other hand, made 26 grabs over the middle. So look for Stevie's over the middle numbers to take off and for him to take some pounding.

Another thing Stevie has gotten better at is lowering his drops. Last year, he dropped only 4.73% of passes thrown his way which was the 18th fewest of the top 25 WRs in catches. In 2010, that number was a shade under 6%.

Now, Stevie isn't going to get away with being unscathed. I believe Stevie can a bit inconsistent for a #1 WR. Consider that in his last 32 games, Stevie has 17 games of 5 catches or more but also has 7 games of 3 catches or fewer. He can also be a player who doesn't stretch the field enough. He only caught 5 passes last year that traveled through the air farther than 20 yards. Of the top 20 WRs, only Wes Welker caught fewer.

Of course, I can't put all of this on Stevie. His QB couldn't throw deep and the offense was geared around short passes. However, I'm reminded of that game against the Colts last year, however, when Stevie caught a deep ball with no one around him and it looked like he'd waltz in for a TD. Instead, he was caught.

Speed isn't going to be the name of the game with Stevie this year, especially if he's going to be in the slot and he has Graham/Goodwin helping out on the outside, and I wouldn't count on Andre Reed-like breaking of tackles. His 381 YAC ranks 23rd and when you consider how most of his routes put him in position to rake up yards, you'd want him to be a bit more elusive.

Any hoot, I'm just picking on Stevie's negatives. I think he's a decent player. I am curious to see how he will do this year. I've been on record that I think the passing game is going to struggle with Kolb/Manuel and will be less formidable than last year so it wouldn't shock me if this season is a  "Lee Evans would have caught 90 passes if Brady was his QB!" kind of year for Stevie.

Let's hope it doesn't get to that point. 


22 for 298 yards and 17 for 198 yards
Those numbers represent the output of rookie WRs drafted in the 2nd and 3rd round respectively since 2003 (2nd rounders) and 2007 (3rd round). While there were some guys in the group who played well during their rookie years (Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, Brandon Lloyd), none of them had over 1,000 yards receiving. In fact, of the 65 guys I looked up who fit this criteria, 50 of them had 30 catches or fewer.

That doesn't exactly sound like #2 WR material, does it?

Look, this isn't to say Woods, Goodwin or any of the guys I've mentioned won't blow up at some point, but there's been a lot of "The WR corps is soooooooo much better than the last few years" going around and I'm not ready to go there with rookies. Is there more up upside to them because of where they were drafted? Of course. But upside in football is like a maturing stock. It takes time.

Last year at this time, it wasn't out of the question to ask David Nelson and Donald Jones to catch 100 balls between them. Heck, Nelson has a 60-catch year on his resume. I think if the Bills can get that out of Woods, Goodwin, and Graham, I'll be thrilled. However, the numbers suggest that it is going to be a tall task.

Marrone factor
As I wrote in my running back piece, Marrone's time in Syracuse shows that he likes to go with a 50/50 run/pass ratio. When it comes to pass distribution, it seems Cuse called a lot of plays to their WRs. Last year, their top 3 pass catchers were all WRs and they combined for 179 receptions and just over 2,500 yards. That's a hell of a lot better than what we've seen from the top 3 wideouts for the Bills over the last decade. In fact, their leading pass catcher from the running back position only chipped in with 33 catches which was 5th on the team.

In 2011, Cuse's top 2 leading receivers were wideouts with the starting TE rounding out the top 3. Their leading receiver out of the backfield chipped in with only 29 catches. Of course, we could go to Marrone's New Orleans days, where Reggie Bush had over 160 catches in a 2-year span, which would indicate he can get the RBs involved.

Lastly, if there's one thing I hope the Bills do more of, it is taking chances deep. They have two guys in Graham and Goodwin who are supposed to be speedsters. The Bills didn't take a lot of chances last year and it showed, as the Bills were ranked 28th in the NFL in yards per reception with 11.1 yards. As for Cuse? Eh. Their leading YPR receiver was ranked 91st in the country.

In other words, I'm not holding my breath on the team taking more down the field shots.

The Scott Chandler portion of this piece
I say this every year and I'm not going to bother to rephrase it: I an not a big fan of Scott Chandler. I think he's a byproduct of suddenly seeing something out of a position that's usually not noticeable. All of a sudden, "Oh, look. The tight end position. It exists. Hooray! Let's overrate."  In 2011, his 38 catches for 389 yards and six touchdowns ranked 23rd, 27th, and a 5-way tie for 7th in the NFL for tight ends. In 2012, his 43 catches for 571 yard and 6 touchdowns ranked 25th, 14th, and 8th.

I'm just underwhelmed by these numbers. Those numbers in comparison to his peers sound somewhat pedestrian. Dare I say, below average. The TE position has been booming for the last 5 years now. I'm sick and tired of the Bills only having two guys in club history with over 50 catches in a season (Jay Riemersma and Pete Metzelaars). On top of this, he's coming back from an ACL injury and we all know it takes a while to return from this unless your name is Adrian Peterson or you are a freak of an athlete. Chandler + athletic freak doesn't really add up, does it?

As for the Marrone connection, the best a TE has done in his offense at Syracuse was 51 catches in 2011 and 33 catches in 2010.

Training camp battles:
Without going on a diatribe rant about how silly training camp battles for the 5th or 6th WR spot are,  I'll just say that special teams play normally outweighs skill when it comes to the 5th or 6th WR spot. 5th WRs don't get on the field unless an injury takes place. If we are basing the Bills offense from the K-Gun of the 90s, the Bills will look to be a team that will run more 3-WR formations than the 4-WR spread. So, I don't think they will value it as much as Chan did.

Now as it stands, I don't think Brad Smith makes the team, even with a pay cut, because he's just too pricey in comparison to the younger guys and I really don't see the purpose of him being on this team. Also, I don't know where it came from that Smith was this awesome coverage guy. According to Football Outsiders, he wasn't even ranked in the top 30 for special teams tackles. This can be replaced and yes, I hate Brad Smith because he stole money from the team over the last 2 years and was a bust. 

I think with the young safeties the Bills drafted, they could easily play the gunners on this team. Forget the Da'Rick Rogers stuff. He's nothing more than niche underground cult movement that doesn't mean much. He was not drafted for a reason and if you think it is all on behavior, you haven't been reading many police blotters for NFL players. If you can play, you will be drafted even with a record.

It is between Easley and Hogan. To me, Hogan feels more of a slot guy than someone how can play on the outside. Because there's only one slot position that a WR can play at one time on the field, the numbers game will go against him. The Bills could place Chandler or Woods or even Spiller there if Stevie goes down. Easley is more of an outside WR and you just need more outside guys than slot guys. Also, Easley at one point was suppose to be the 2nd WR (2011-Training camp), but he went down with that weird heart aliment. So, he still has that upside that the team at one point believed in. Anyways, if the Bills keep 5WRs, I think it is Easley. I don't see them keeping six. 

Final word:
Outside of Stevie, the WRs are a giant mystery. While the Bills do have some of the best pass-catching RBs in the league, I'd really like for one of these young guys to take the reins. When you look at the Bills over the last 13 years, outside of 2002 with Price/Moulds, they haven't had much of a 1-2 punch with their WRs. It is usually one guy carrying the load with everyone else just riding that guy's coattails.

You guys know by now how I treat 1st and 2nd year guys who aren't drafted in the 1st round. I'm the blogging version of an old school coach who wouldn't even let them wear the Buffalo on their helmet until they prove they belong. I think there will be some growing pains with this crew. The are just too many young guys being counted on to be contributors. Plus we don't have Tom Brady back there. 

Like EJ Manuel, I wouldn't be too quick to judge these guys based on this year. It is going to take 1-2 years for the younger folks to really take the next step.