Dec 29, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods (10) hauls in a pass behind New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (25) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Do the Buffalo Bills have the best receiving corps within the division heading into the 2014 season? Rather than looking at the full training camp rosters for each AFC East team, I will be breaking down who I project to be the top 3 receivers and top tight end for each team within the division.
WR1 – Sammy Watkins
WR2 – Robert Woods
WR3 – Mike Williams
TE – Scott Chandler
The Bills will enter the 2014 season with a talented and deep receiving corps, albeit a relatively inexperienced one. After moving up in May’s draft to select the explosive Sammy Watkins, General Manager Doug Whaley traded away the team’s incumbent #1 receiver, Stevie Johnson, to the 49ers. Watkins will be expected to provide instant impact as a rookie, provided his lofty cost on draft day. Quarterback E.J. Manuel developed nice chemistry with fellow rookie Robert Woods in 2013, connecting on a respectable 40 passes for just under 600 yards. Woods should play the slot in three wide sets while newcomer Mike Williams mans the outside opposite of Watkins. Williams provides a legitimate red zone threat for second year quarterback E.J. Manuel. The Bills did nothing to improve their tight end position during the offseason. Returning starter Scott Chandler let the team in receptions last year, and should continue to be a reliable, yet unexplosive, target for Manuel in the middle of the field and red zone.
WR1 – Mike Wallace
WR2 – Brian Hartline
WR3 – Jarvis Landry
TE – Charles Clay
Although painful for me to admit, I truly believe the Dolphins enter 2014 with one of the more underrated receiving groups not only in the AFC East, but the entire NFL. At first glance the names won’t jump off the page, but Mike Wallace projects to see an uptick in production as new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor finds creative ways to get him the ball in space. Even in what many considered a down year in 2013, Wallace was still able to haul in 73 passes – his highest career total ever. While Brian Hartline has never been known for huge touchdown totals, he still proved to be a valuable target for Ryan Tannehill in 2013, recording his second straight 1,000 yard receiving season. Second rounder Jarvis Landry will be afforded a nice opportunity to contribute early during his rookie campaign, as he figures to see plenty of the time in the slot. Tight end Charles Clay had somewhat of a breakout last year, and offers Tannehill a nice option in the middle of the field. Clay also presents another option for Tannehill out of the backfield, both as a runner and a pass catcher.
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New England Patriots:
WR1 – Julian Edelman
WR2 – Danny Amendola
WR3 – Brandon LaFell
TE – Rob Gronkowski
The overall health, or lack thereof, will be one of the key storylines for the Patriots heading into the 2014 season. Last year, Julian Edelman set career highs across the board in receptions, touchdowns, and receiving yards. There is no doubt Edelman will continue to be one of quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite targets in 2014, but there is no doubt that Brady is also praying that Danny Amendola sees much more of the field this season. After limited action in only 12 games a season ago, Amendola has been unable to shake the “injury prone” tag that has plagued him since his days as a Ram. New England also signed free agent Brandon LaFell to bring experience to the #3 receiver competition with second year player Aaron Dobson. The more talented Dobson should eventually see the majority of the snaps as the season progresses; however, LaFell’s experience will not be ignored by the Patriots coaching staff. When healthy, tight end Rob Gronkowski is in the most elite class of tight ends along with Jimmy Graham, but multiple surgeries and missed games over the past two years have cast some doubt as to whether “Gronk” can make it through a full 16 game season. The Patriots are certainly hoping he can in 2014.
New York Jets:
WR1 – Eric Decker
WR2 – Stephen Hill
WR3 – Jeremy Kerley
TE – Jeff Cumberland
The Jets made a big splash this offseason when they signed free agent receiver Eric Decker away from the Broncos. However, behind Decker there are still several questions marks, and what appears to be an overall lack of talent. Entering his 3rd NFL season, it is critical for the Jets that Stephen Hill takes a step forward in his development, eliminating drops and running a more complete route tree. Hill only has 45 career receptions but will be expected to carry the load of a #2 wide receiver while Jeremy Kerley mans the slot in three receiver sets. The Jets drafted tight end Jace Amaro in the second round of this year’s draft but will face a steep learning curve as a rookie. Returning starter Jeff Cumberland should see the field most at the position early in the year while Amaro gets up to speed. Cumberland is the Jets version of Buffalo’s Scott Chandler, and will act as a decent, but lumbering, security blanket for Geno Smith.
All of the aforementioned grades are assuming full health for all players. So in review, my belief is that the Bills have the most talented and best long-term stockpile of youth at the receiver position, but the Patriots are in a class of their own with Rob Gronkowski at tight end. Miami may have the most well-rounded WR/TE group in the entire division, while the Jets are trailing the other three teams at both receiver and tight end in terms of both talent and depth.