Post-Draft Roster Analysis: Wide Receiver

Can David Nelson Earn Playing Time in 2011?

Now that the dust of the 2011 Draft has settled, it’s time to analyze the current state of Buffalo’s roster. We’ll be taking a look at one position at a time. Today: WR.

Wide receiver is going to be among the more interesting positions to watch in training camp this season, as Buffalo has a bit of log jam here. The Bills will bring back five guys who caught at least 18 passes last year and add 2010 fourth-round pick Marcus Easley, who missed all of last season with an injury. Three other receivers, including two guys who saw playing time last year, will also fight for a roster spot. How many receivers will the Bills keep? How will the depth chart shake out? Could be a very intriguing battle in the preseason.

Players Under Contract (9): Steve Johnson, Lee Evans, Roscoe Parrish, David Nelson, Donald Jones, Naaman Roosevelt, Paul Hubbard, Marcus Easley, Felton Huggins

Possibly Departing Free Agents: None

1) Steve Johnson

2010 stats: 82 rec, 1073 yards, 10 TD

Johnson entered his third NFL season in 2010 with just 12 career receptions and two touchdowns, but won a starting role out of training camp. He took advantage of the opportunity, quickly becoming Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite target. Johnson’s 82 receptions, 143 targets, and 10 touchdowns easily led the team in all categories. Plus, he was simply a lot of fun to watch. The question in 2011 will be if he can handle the pressure of being Buffalo’s top target. He’ll be the focus of every defense’s scouting report in the upcoming year.

2) Lee Evans

2010 stats: 37 rec, 578 yards, 4 TD

2010 was more or less a disaster for Buffalo’s supposed number one receiver. Evans had one huge game in Baltimore (105 yards, 3 TD), and basically was a non-factor the rest of the season. An ankle injury suffered in Week 14 vs. Cleveland put Evans’s season out of its misery.

Can Evans bounce back in 2011? He’s too talented not to preform at least a little better if he’s healthy. One would think the emergence of Johnson and some of Buffalo’s other young slot/underneath receivers would open up the deep ball for Evans. Hopefully that will help Evans out. At the very least, Evans’s presence on the field makes opponents wary of his big play ability, which does create some space for the shorter passing game to Buffalo’s other receivers.

3) Roscoe Parrish

2010 stats: 33 rec, 400 yards, 2 TD; 3 carries, 23 yards

At the tail end of the Dick Jauron era, it seemed like Parrish wasn’t going to be in Buffalo for much longer. Parrish was barely being used, catching just three balls during the 2009 season. Then Chan Gailey was hired and decided he had something in Parrish and gave him a shot to play. Roscoe responded with a very good start to the 2010 campaign before his season was brought to a premature end via a broken wrist in Week 9.

As the excellent Buffalo Rumblings recently pointed out, this is a HUGE season in Parrish’s career. He’ll enter training camp in 2011 as the #3 receiver. He’ll face stiff competition for that role from David Nelson, Donald Jones, and Marcus Easley. Can he hold onto his role? He’s in the final year of his contract, so you can best believe he’ll be dying to get on the field and show his worth this season.

4) David Nelson

2010 stats: 31 rec, 353 yards, 3 TD

The undrafted rookie from Florida was an extremely pleasant surprise in 2010, carving himself out a role as the #3 receiver in the second half of the season. Not exceptional physically, Nelson found a way to make tough catches over the middle frequently last season, clearly earning the trust of Ryan Fitzpatrick.  He’ll be on the roster in 2011, but he’ll have to fight with Parrish, Jones, and Easley for playing time.

5) Donald Jones

2010 stats:  18 rec, 213 yards, 1 TD

Another undrafted rookie, Jones suddenly became a part of the offense after Parrish’s injury. He didn’t catch a ball until Week 9, but had a few nice games in the second half of the year, including racking up 70 receiving yards and a touchdown in the win over the Bengals.

Even though he was productive in 2010, he’ll have to fight for a roster spot in 2011. His fate may depend on whether Chan Gailey elects to keep five or six receivers on the 53-man roster. In either case, he’ll be an interesting case to watch in training camp.

6) Naaman Roosevelt

2010 stats: 9 rec, 139 yards; 1 carry, 3 yards

ANOTHER undrafted rookie receiver, Roosevelt was cut by the Bills out of training camp but brought back to the practice squad. As wide receiver injuries piled up, Roosevelt was elevated to the main roster in week 12. He accumulated all of his touches in the final three weeks of the season when injuries had completely devastated the Bills’ WR corps. Roosevelt actually made some nice plays down the field in those few weeks.

Roosevelt is a long shot to make the roster out of training camp, but still does have practice squad eligibility left. He’s talented enough though that he could push Jones and Easley for the #5 and #6 receiver spots.

7) Marcus Easley

2010 stats: Did not play (injured)

Easley really had a stroke of bad luck in 2010 with his preseason injury that landed him on injured reserve. With the way the rest of the Bills’ receivers were getting injured, he would have had ample opportunity to earn playing time.

As I’ve said before, I’m very high on Easley’s potential. He’s a big body over the middle with nice hands. If he comes back healthy, I believe he’ll push Parrish for the #3 receiver spot. At the very least, unless he shows absolutely nothing in training camp he’ll make the final roster.

8) Paul Hubbard

2010 stats: 1 catch, 8 yards

Hubbard, a former Browns draft pick, has bounced around the league’s practice squads for a while. He finally got a chance to play in 2010 as Buffalo’s receiver injuries reached critical mass. He picked up his first career reception in the season finale against the Jets.

Hubbard’s very athletic, but he faces a very tough road to make the Buffalo roster in 2011. He could push Jones and Roosevelt for the #6 WR spot if Buffalo elects to keep six receivers, but Jones would have the advantage  in that battle.

9) Felton Huggins

2010 stats: Did not play (injured)

Huggins really was unlucky in 2010. After toiling on Buffalo’s practice squad for two years, Huggins was playing very well in training camp last season, even regularly earning second-team reps. Sadly, Huggins suffered a bad should injury and ended up on injured reserve. Really too bad, as Huggins certainly would have gotten onto the field at some point for the Bills in 2010 if not for his injury.

Can Huggins come back in 2011? It’s going to be very challenging for him to make the roster with all the talent in front of him. If he comes out and plays well though, maybe he can make a run at the final WR spot.

All in all, the WR battle should be excellent in camp. It’s sort of sad that the Bills will have to cut at least one or two NFL-quality guys.

Topics: David Nelson, Donald Jones, Felton Huggins, Lee Evans, Marcus Easley, Naaman Roosevelt, Paul Hubbard, Roscoe Parrish, Steve Johnson

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