After the 2013 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills received national attention for their decision to E.J. Manuel in the first round, but it was their choices later in the draft that could have the greatest impact this year.
While Manuel gets all of the hype about being the future face of the franchise, the Bills have a backup plan set in place in case he’s not ready to start. The Bills signed two veteran quarterbacks in Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson.
Whether any of the three candidates for the starting job can turn into an elite quarterback remains a mystery, but the bigger unknown is which players will be on the receiving end of their passes.
The Bills know they have a number one receiver in Stevie Johnson, but after him, the rest of the depth chart at wide receiver remains unclear.
Over the past two years the Bills have deployed three wide receiver sets featuring Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson and T.J. Graham as their starters.
However, the Bills lost Jones and Nelson to free agency. Jones signed with the New England Patriots and Nelson signed with the Cleveland Browns.
As a result, the Bills made addressing the wide receiver position their top priority after selecting Manuel. The Bills selected Robert Woods (USC) with the 41st overall pick in the second-round and Marquise Goodwin (Texas) with the 78th overall pick in the third-round, before signing undrafted free agent Da’Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech).
Each player brings an interesting skill set to the Bills, but the questions remains how much of an impact these players will have in their first season. Wide receiver is one of the hardest positions for a college player to transition to the pros.
The early favorite to start opposite Johnson is likely to be Graham or Woods, since both players appear to be the most ‘NFL-ready’.
Graham is entering his second year, after hauling in 31 receptions for 322 yards and a touchdown as a rookie. He played on 68.6 percent of the offensive snaps, but most of the plays designed for him emphasized being a straight-line speedster and the Bills didn’t attempt many downfield throws.
Woods started 38 games in a pro-style offense at USC and was considered to be the most ‘NFL-ready’ in this year’s draft. He’s a possession-type receiver with great route-running skills and ran a 4.51 forty time at the Scouting Combine. He had 76 receptions for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012.
Goodwin is currently projected to be a slot receiver after running a 4.27 forty time. He was a two-sport athlete at Texas, who also ran track and as a result didn’t have the opportunity to fully develop his skills. He was used in end-arounds and screens as a game-changer.
Rogers might have gone undrafted because of three failed drug tests for smoking marijuana, but he had first-round talent. He ran 4.48 forty and had a 39” vertical, but will have to prove to the Bills that he has matured just to make the roster.
Aside from the Graham and the rookies, the Bills will also have to make a decision on Brad Smith and Marcus Easley.
Smith could be a salary cap casualty if the Bills decide to eliminate the wildcat and Easley, who was projected to be a potential starter years ago, has been plagued by injuries the past two years.
The Bills are heading into training camp, installing an up-tempo offense. In order for it to succeed, the Bills need to figure out their starters at quarterback and wide receiver. Running back is already taken care of with C.J. Spiller as the starter and Fred Jackson as his backup.