Catching up: wide receivers preview '08

With minicamps and OTAs in the rearview, and training camp still a month away, Buffalo Football Report takes the opportunity to offer up a team preview position by position. Kicking off the series will be Buffalo's wide receivers. BFR's J.P. Butler has more on what Bills fans can expect this season...

Wide Receivers 2007 Stats

Lee Evans, 5th year (55 rec, 849 yds, 15.4 ypc, 5 tds)

Josh Reed, 7th year (51 rec, 578 yds, 11.3 ypc, 0 tds)

Roscoe Parrish, 4th year (35 rec, 352 yds, 10.1 ypc, 1 td)

James Hardy, rookie (79 rec, 1,125 yds, 14.2 ypc, 16 tds)*

Justin Jenkins, 2nd year

Steve Johnson, rookie

Jason Jones, rookie

Scott Mayle, 1st year

Felton Huggins, 1st year

*(numbers from junior year at Indiana)

There's no hiding it.

The wide receiver position was one of the least productive, and most injury-riddled, for the Buffalo Bills organization in 2007. What was supposed to be primary target Lee Evans' first Pro Bowl-caliber season was anything but. After setting career highs in catches (82) and yards (1,292) in 2006, his productivity dropped considerably last season, falling to 55 catches for 849 yards and a career low five touchdown grabs.

Part of the reason for such a large discrepancy was the inconsistent play from not one, but two quarterbacks, in J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards. The other is that Evans, with very little help from the No. 2, was constantly double-teamed and effectively denied the home run pattern he'd been accustomed. He never was able to get on the roll everyone had expected and the result was arguably his worst year as a pro.

The former Wisconsin Badger was getting little relief from the second wide receiver spot because, for all intents and purposes, there wasn't one. Wily veteran and one-time Bill, Peerless Price, was signed back to reclaim that post, but suffered a season-ending neck injury after just the fourth game of the season. He was released by Buffalo on February 14. Seventh-year pro Josh Reed was given the job by default, but still hasn't been able to shake the slot-receiver-at-best tag he's had since entering the league in 2002. He's never caught 60 balls in a season, and has never caught more than two touchdown passes in a campaign. The numbers he puts up simply aren't on par with a No. 2 guy, which is why he'll slip back to the slot receiver, or even further down the depth chart, in 2008.

After Evans' five scores, Buffalo wide outs accounted for only one other touchdown catch in 2007. And its other receiving statistics aren't any more dazzling: 31st in the league in yards, 31st in yards per game, 30th in receptions, tied for 29th in receiving touchdowns. On top of that, the Bills were 30th in the league in third down conversions, finishing at just 33.3 percent.

So it would appear there is nowhere to go but up if you're wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert and the Bills receiving corps in 2008. In fact they've made it one of their highest priorities.

The Bills selected ball-hawking wide out James Hardy early in the second round to address their need for a No. 2. At 6-5, he's the tallest receiver in team history, coming off a junior campaign at Indiana in which he caught nearly 80 balls and 16 touchdowns. He could evolve into the over-the-middle threat the Bills have been lacking.

"I watched him play in college and he has tremendous ability," Evans said. "He does a lot of good things and a lot of things well. He uses his hands and he certainly uses his body.

"I think he'll serve as a big compliment. With his height alone he can do things that a lot of shorter players can't. Just innately some of the things he can do will help us out – down in the red zone and jumping up for balls. So some of those things will be an asset for us especially down in the red zone."

With Hardy on board, Evans anticipates a better year, not only for him, but for the offense in general.

"I think it's full circle," he said. "Certainly he'll help our offense out; he'll help our run game where you won't be able to just sit a safety down in the box. In the red zone you'll have to account for him, so he'll help the run game out and it'll certainly help me out on the other side. He gives us more diversity on what we can do down in the red zone."

While Evans certainly seems poised for bounce-back year in 2008, what might this mean for fourth-year vet Roscoe Parrish? The University of Miami product might very well be the X-factor for Tolbert's receivers this year. There's denying Parrish's blazing speed and elusiveness, but the miniscule flanker has never been a huge part of Buffalo's offensive game plan. It's partly because he's been misused, but also because at 5-9, 171 pounds his effectiveness can be severely limited.

If new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert can somehow bring a Roscoe Parrish dynamic – reverses, quick passes and bubble screens – to the offense, especially as a third of fourth wide receiver, the Bills may just have a unit that could break into the league's top half in 2008.

Grade: B-

While the Bills have seemingly improved in this area, a ton of question marks remain. Will Hardy be an effective No. 2 in just his rookie year? Will inconsistent play at quarterback again hamper Buffalo receivers? What can Josh Reed bring to the table in his seventh year? Will Roscoe Parrish ever make a viable offensive impact? Turk Schonert has promised to open up the offense more this season, now it will be on the individual players to execute that game plan.

jpbutler10@gmail.com


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