On the Roster: Stevie Johnson (FA), David Nelson, Donald Jones, Derek Hagan, Marcus Easley, Ruvell Martin, Roscoe Parrish (FA), Naaman Roosevelt.
What We Know: It’s almost unfathomable to think that Johnson became the first receiver in team history to have back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons with the rich history of receivers like Brooks, Reed, Lofton, and Moulds but it’s true. Johnson isn’t a game-breaking talent and his end zone antics and key drops are well documented, but he may be the best route-running receiver in the game. Even with a key drop that likely would’ve won the Bills the game in the Meadowlands, Johnson undressed the most dominant cornerback in recent history when he went up against Darrelle Revis in week 12. He knows how to get open and is a solid threat in the red zone.
Behind Johnson you have a slew of late round draft picks, undrafted free agents and castoffs that formed a pretty decent unit in 2011-2012. Nelson is built like a tight end and catches just about everything that’s thrown in his direction. Unfortunately he also runs like a tight end and sometimes has trouble creating separation. Nevertheless he’s a great possession receiver and a guy every team needs. Brad Smith saw a lot of time at receiver after Parrish and Jones went down and had a couple solid games in the process. Hagan turned out to be somewhat of a nice surprise, showing some separation and deep speed ability as the season wore on. Jones showed some ability getting deep during the season including an impressive performance in a week three win against the Patriots but he’s way too injury prone and drops far too many passes. Easley is still an anomaly. He showed some promise in the preseason but didn’t play a down in the regular season after it was found that he had a heart condition. He’s since been cleared by doctors but his window to prove he can be a contributor is closing fast.
Prognosis: Besides Nelson and Johnson (depending on his free agent status) no receiver should be considered a lock to make the opening day roster. Parrish won’t be back, Martin likely won’t be back and the rest depends on free agency and the draft. The team lacks a true deep threat and the majority of the receivers on the roster are nothing more than possession receivers. The corps depends heavily on Johnson’s production and he’s the only player that opposing teams have to gameplan for. Nelson is a key contributor on third downs and may have the most reliable hands on the roster. Beyond that the list is interchangeable and serious upgrades are needed in order to keep pace with the new demands of a pass-happy NFL.
Offseason Solution: RE-SIGN OR FRANCHISE STEVE JOHNSON!!!
For those of you out there who want to debate this point by saying “he drops the ball,” “he has character issues,” “his end zone celebrations hurt the team,” you need to have your head examined. Johnson has ZERO off the field issues, he mocked a man that shot himself in the fucking leg and was sent to prison for it, and his drops were down significantly in his second full season as a starter. To delve further into these so-called “character issues”, how about you ask Mark Armstrong from Clarence what kind of character Johnson has? Two weeks ago Johnson held a contest for his twitter followers with the ultimate prize being two tickets to Super Bowl XLVI. Johnson ended the contest one day early after he heard Armstrong’s story. Armstrong, a high school junior at Clarence, lost his father three days before the contest was over and once Johnson heard the story he immediately called the teen and gave the tickets to him. How’s that for morale fiber?
In addition to bringing Johnson back Nix and the Bills front office need to find a legitimate number two receiver to pair with him. The free agent market is loaded with names like Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, Wes Welker and Desean Jackson, none of which will likely target Buffalo as a landing spot. The second tier of receivers isn’t too shabby either however, with the likes of Robert Maecham, Pierre Garcon and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham likely to hit the market. With the NFL becoming a passing-dominant league the Bills can’t afford to lose their number one receiver and need to add at least one more piece besides him as well. Look for the team to target one of the aforementioned deep threats to create a more consistent vertical passing game.
On the Roster: Scott Chandler (FA), Lee Smith, Mike Caussin
What We Know: Chandler had the most productive season of any Bills tight end since Jay Riemersma in the late ‘90s. He was a legitimate threat in the red zone and tied a record for receiving touchdowns by a Bills tight end. At 6’7”, 263 he is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties and uses his frame to his advantage. He did have a costly fumble against the Titans in December and is by no means a game breaker in between the 20s.
Prognosis: Beyond Chandler, Smith and Caussin are both solid blockers but neither has much to offer in terms of receiving. Chandler pretty much fell into the Bills laps at the end of the 2010 season and he hasn’t disappointed. In a league that has seen a renaissance at the tight end position over the last couple years it’s imperative to have a big-bodied, somewhat athletic threat to stretch the field and provide a big target in the red zone. I don’t see either Caussin or Smith stepping into that role anytime soon.
Offseason Solution: Re-sign Chandler and sign another tight end in free agency or pick one up in the draft.
Chandler’s impending free agency is a great cause for concern for a team with very few options behind him. Losing him would create another large hole for the Bills. In free agency a couple of big names in Jermichael Finley and Fred Davis may hit the market although it is highly unlikely. A more suitable solution would be taking a chance on a Jacob Tamme or John Carlson if they are unable to bring back Chandler. A name to keep an eye even if Nix is able to lure back Chandler is Martellus Bennett from Dallas. Bennett had superstar potential coming out Texas A&M a few years back but has never been given much of an opportunity to produce behind stalwart Jason Witten. Chandler was stuck behind Witten in Dallas as well and Bennett is much more athletic than his former teammate. He’s also only 25 years old and has plenty left to prove. A combination of Chandler and Bennett could produce serious matchup problems for opposing defenses.