To win in the NFL, a team has to be able to pass successfully. The Bills' offense last season was anemic, and the passing game was the antithesis of successful, finishing 30th or below in nearly every relevant passing statistic.
The Bills made a concerted effort to improve the passing game this offseason, with an emphasis on personnel changes in the receiving corps.
Players Who Have Said Their Goodbyes
Sam Aiken—New England
Peerless Price—Free Agent
James Hardy—6'5" 215 pounds
Hardy, the tallest receiver in team history, was the Bills' second round draft pick, from Big Ten punching bag Indiana.
Hardy is expected to be an impact player immediately. Despite his character flaws, he is the receiver the team most coveted from this draft class due to his size, strength, fluidity, hands, and productivity.
He will be lining up immediately as the new No. 2 receiver opposite Lee Evans, and he is expected to open up the red zone, scare opponents, shift coverage away from Evans, turn former third down non-conversions into first downs, and turn former field goal situations into touchdowns.
The season would be considered a failure for the offense and the Bills if Hardy doesn't produce, at a bare minimum, 40 receptions, six touchdowns, and 500 yards.
Hardy's presence is also expected to cause Evans' numbers to drastically improve, and also to improve Josh Reed's and Roscoe Parrish's slightly.
Potential New Faces
Steve Johnson—6'2" 202 pounds
Johnson, one of the Bills' seventh round picks and a good friend of Marshawn Lynch, is already a fan favorite for the open fifth receiver spot.
However, he may not make the team unless he shows both a willingness and an affinity for special teams, or unless he is truly a diamond in the rough.
Johnson is the prototypical underdog—he attended Kentucky out of Chabot Community College (Cal.) and exploded as a senior, bypassing the much-hyped Keenan Burton (drafted in the fourth round by the Rams) in both yards and TDs.
Johnson seems to have a very high ceiling and the Bills might be taking a risk putting him on the practice squad, as another team might quickly scoop him up if he shows any inkling of talent.
Jason Jones—6'1" 182 pounds
Jones is an undrafted rookie free agent from Arkansas Pine-Bluff, and is another intriguing prospect.
Coming from I-AA at Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Jones ran track and also played basketball. He broke school receiving yardage and touchdown records in only three seasons with the team.
An elementary education major, who is married with two children, he started 26 of 32 career games and is one of five Division 1-AA receivers to catch at least 100 passes and average 20 yards per catch during his career.
The Bills would be wise to ensure he ends up on the practice squad, as he is another player with incredible athleticism and a very high ceiling.
Still in Buffalo
Lee Evans—5'10" 197 pounds
Evans has quietly built himself a nice little niche in Buffalo as a clear-cut No. 1 receiver.
He is in his contract season and should put up huge numbers with Trent Edwards getting more comfortable in his second year.
Assuming the Bills reward him with a new contract like they should, in another six or seven productive seasons he should break nearly every Bills record currently held by either Eric Moulds or Andre Reed.
Josh Reed—5'10" 210 pounds
Reed was seen as a steal for the Bills when he was drafted and he had himself a fine rookie season.
He then regressed with a terrible sophomore season, which gave him a brutal reputation in Buffalo. He has slowly rebuilt himself into a poor man's Hines Ward—a solid possession receiver, a thinker on the field, a great run after the catch player, and a vicious run blocker.
Reed was over-utilized last season as a No. 2 receiver. He would be better utilized as a slot receiver or a No. 3 outside receiver who can run block in certain packages.
New offensive coordinator Turk Schonert has discussed using Reed in these fashions with the addition of draft pick James Hardy as the team's new second receiver.
Roscoe Parrish—5'9" 170 pounds
Parrish, like Reed, was over-utilized last season due to the Bills' shortage of talented receivers.
Parrish’s best role is as a Devin Hester clone, as his vicious speed, field vision, and willingness to be a daredevil is what makes him so dangerous.
Parrish should see time this season returning punts and splitting time with Josh Reed in the slot to create mismatch problems with linebackers or safeties. He could also split outside and go deep, which he managed to do successfully a few times last season.
On the Bubble
Justin Jenkins—6'0" 207 pounds
Jenkins was signed to the team from the practice squad last season when special teams ace Sam Aiken went down with an injury. Jenkins took over Aiken's spot on the unit and never looked back.
If the Bills plan to keep only five receivers, Jenkins has the inside edge of the remaining five due to his outstanding special teams ability and his experience. He is credited with an outstanding play on a Brian Moorman punt, saving it from entering the end zone against the Dolphins—a play that subsequently led to a Bills safety in the next series.
Scott Mayle—6'1" 175 pounds
Mayle is an athletic fringe player the Bills like because of his intelligence and hands. He was called up late last season as an extra healthy body for the final game against Philadelphia.
Mayle has plenty of practice squad eligibility left and should end up back on the practice squad after camp is over unless another team falls in love with him for some reason.
There won’t be much he can do to win a spot on the roster this season.
Felton Huggins—6'2" 186 pounds
Huggins, a lot like Mayle, is an NFL Europa product that the Bills like because of his athletic ability, size, and sure hands. He still has practice squad eligibility and could potentially land back there depending on the situation, but is an extremely long shot to make the team.
If the Bills keep five receivers, look for the battle between Justin Jenkins and Steve Johnson to be tight and down to the wire. If they keep six, look for both to make it.
I think they will keep six (with both Johnson and Jenkins making it, showing Bobby April still has some sway) and place Jones and possibly Mayle on the practice squad.
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