We know one thing: Stevie Johnson will start for the Bills at one wide receiver spot in 2012.
As for the rest of the depth chart at wide receiver…who knows?
The Bills have to find a starter to play opposite Johnson, and 3-4 more other receivers will make the roster. Fortunately/unfortunately, Buffalo has about 10 contenders for those roles. Let’s break down the contenders:
David Nelson – I love David Nelson. He’s great in his role – he’s a big target with great hands who works well in the slot. He’s going to be a productive player for a decade. Nelson’s going to make the team for sure.
What he shouldn’t be is the team’s #2 receiver.
Nelson is just not as effective on the outside, where he doesn’t have the speed to really work as a deep threat. If Nelson emerges as the team’s #2 WR…it’s a real problem.
Donald Jones – Jones won the starting job in training camp last year, but proceeded to not impress, making only 23 catches before his season ended due to injury. He’s athletic and the coaches seem to love him, so he’ll get another chance in 2012. There’s a chance he’ll win the job back. There’s also a chance he doesn’t even make the team.
T.J. Graham – Buffalo’s third-round draft pick this year, this rookie is as unpolished and raw as it gets…but the dude can fly. This man is fast. That alone might win him quite a bit of playing time in 2012, as defenses will have to respect him deep, which will open up the field elsewhere. In any case, he’s virtually guaranteed to be on the roster this year.
Marcus Easley – In our poll yesterday, a whopping 53% of you voted that Easley would emerge as the other starting WR this year. I think that’s really optimistic for a guy that hasn’t played a real game of football in three years. Yes, he looked good in last year’s preseason…but it’s not like he was the second coming of Jerry Rice. He had seven catches. Seven. The coaching staff likes Easley and he’ll get a look, but the fact remains he’s missed two years. Chan Gailey himself said that Easley has “an uphill” battle to make the roster.
That all said, Easley has size, speed, and talent. He seems built to play on the outside in the NFL, so it would sure be nice if Easley could win the job.
Ruvell Martin – The veteran somewhat surprisingly made the roster out of camp last year, and stuck for the year. Martin is pretty limited on the offensive side of things, but he’s very good in special teams, which might allow him to steal a roster spot again.
Derek Hagan – I went into some detail about Hagan earlier in the week. Hagan played well while getting a look with the Bills late last season, and he’s got a real chance to stick on this roster. He can threaten defenses deep and has decent hands. Hagan also seems to have some report with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Don’t be shocked if he’s the team’s #4 WR.
Naaman Roosevelt – The local hero has been cut each of the past two training camps, but has made his way back to the main roster both seasons. Not sure if he’ll be so lucky in 2012. Roosevelt can play, but his upside is fairly limited, and the Bills just have so many other options. He’ll probably be a victim of the numbers game.
Kamar Aiken – Aiken was an afterthought before last year, heading into last year’s training camp as an undrafted rookie. He had no chance to make the roster, but he impressed enough to earn a practice squad role. Aiken was promoted to the main roster for the end of the season, but struggled to get activated on game days. He certainly looks the part, but there’s just not room on this roster right now. He might be practice squad bound again.
David Clowney – Clowney is fast. Very fast. But that might be his only real NFL-quality trait. He’ll get a look, but Buffalo’s drafting of Graham probably ended any chance Clowney had to make the roster.
Final Prediction: A lot of names here…but who makes the cut? I’m still concerned there’s not a real #2 among this group. So concerned that it wouldn’t shock me if Nelson gets the nod to begin the season. Ugh. But I’ll be optimistic and say Easley grows into the role. Nelson and Graham are also guaranteed to make the roster. That leaves one or two spots. I’ll say Hagan grabs it. If the team decides to keep six receivers, don’t rule out Martin hanging on due to his special teams ability.