The receiving corps of the Buffalo Bills in the 2008 season were, in a word, mediocre. The disparity between the No. 1 wideout Lee Evans and the rest of the receivers is the primary reason why the unit was not one of the best in the division or in the conference.
Going into the year, the potential of this group was sky high. From top to bottom, the speed, sure-handedness, and route running was there. In theory.
Second-round draft pick James Hardy (6-foot-6) looked like he was going to be the boogie man of the redzone. Seventh-round draft pick Steve Johnson had an impressive individual training camp. Veterans Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish looked to continue the success they have had throughout the past couple seasons.
However, what hurt the Bills the most is the fact that there is only one serious threat (the aforementioned Evans) with nobody else really at a level equitable to his. Defenses throughout the year took this into account, and by mid-season, had figured out the air attack of the Bills.
Lee Evans absorbed double- and triple-teams at a Michael Jordan-rate.
In the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, Evans lit it up with 102 yards. Tight End Robert Royal had 52 yards. Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish were the only other designated wideouts who caught a pass that day, combining for six catches and 43 yards.
Throughout the first seven games in which the Bills went 5-2, Lee Evans was a offensive juggernaut. He averaged 91 yards per game with a 20.5 yards per catch average and three touchdowns.
In those same seven games, second leading receiver Josh Reed averaged 41 yards per game with zero touchdowns. By Week 10, opposing teams had figured out the offensive equation of the Bills. Stop Lee Evans, stop the air game. Injuries to Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish during the year exacerbated an already one-dimensional pass attack.
During their midseason four-game losing streak, the wide receiver box score was a smorgasbord of ineffectiveness. Aside from Evans' 116-yard game in Week 8 against the Miami Dolphins, no other Bills receiver gained more than 51 yards. And Evans was held to a total of 63 yards in the other three losses.
Perhaps the most stagnant unit of the entire Buffalo Bills were the tight ends. Unlike the wideouts, there was little to no skill-potential. No. 1 tight end Robert Royal was an above-average run blocker, but an absolutely poor receiver. Royal ended the year with 33 catches and one touchdown, good for 25th and 32nd among NFL tight ends. On the flip side, Royal had two lost fumbles, one in the loss to Arizona and the other in the first loss to Miami. Both of which were in the fourth quarter and absolutely lethal.
The LSU product's play was a royal flush to the Bills' offense. Buffalo could not open up the middle of the field without a viable pass-catching tight end. At the forefront, Royal was once again just an average receiving option. Nothing more.
Backups Derek Fine and Derek Schouman had a good game here and there, but were not consistent enough to write home about. The Bills lacked a consistent tight end all season, which often Trent Edwards helpless on intermediate routes.
In the ever-changing NFL, a pass-catching tight end is a necessity for a young quarterback. The Bills need to look into the free agent market or the early rounds of the NFL draft to diversify their pass attack with a solid run-blocking, above-average pass catching tight end. Missouri's Chase Coffman would be a great pick if he slipped to Buffalo in the second round.
The core of the Bills receivers are young and has the potential to grow. There shouldn't be a need to get rid of any wide receiver. Tight end is a different story, though.
The Bills are a No. 2 wide receiver and pass-catching tight end away from augmenting their pass attack. Edwards is probably begging Buffalo's front office to look into these two positions.
Ian Smith is an analyst for the Buffalo Football Report.