Buffalo Bills: Team growing confident in young receivers

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

It’s safe to say the Kelvin Benjamin experiment did not work out for the Buffalo Bills. Instead, the team has opted to go with a younger group at receiver.

The Buffalo Bills gave up a third and seventh-round draft pick to acquire the 6-foot-5 pass catcher at the tail end of last year’s NFL trade deadline. Since coming to Buffalo, Kelvin Benjamin tallied just 39 catches for 571 yards in 18 games.

The former first-rounder had been phased out of the offense over the last few weeks. Benjamin had been relegated to 57 percent or fewer offensive snaps in three straight games.

Thus, after 18 games as a Buffalo Bill, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott had enough.

The Bills are moving on from two receivers who figured to be among the top pass-catching targets on the roster in training camp, as Andre Holmes was released as well.

After this move, Buffalo has one player left in its receiving corps who took an NFL snap prior to the 2017 season– Deonte Thompson, a player signed 21 days ago. It’s worth mentioning he only has one catch in the two games he has played.

Furthermore, this move says more about the confidence in the emerging young receivers on the roster than it does the disappointment in Benjamin and Holmes. The recent play of Zay Jones, Robert Foster and recently-acquired Isaiah McKenzie allowed for this bold roster decision.

Zay Jones

Jones has been the clearcut top target for the Bills this season. He leads the team with 41 catches for 459 yards and four scores– all team-highs.

The biggest difference for Jones this season is his ability to catch the football. Crazy concept for a receiver, I know. But the Bills second-year wideout only made 27 catches on 74 targets last season. This year, however, he’s improved his catching percentage from 36.5 percent to 59.4 percent. A full 22.9 percent better.

Robert Foster

As for Robert Foster, he has really become a home run threat over the last few weeks.

This play especially shows that he has some good speed and separation skill. Moreso than Jones, Foster’s ability to play on the outside with that over-the-top speed may have pushed Benjamin out the door.

Foster enjoyed a nice coming-out party during the Matt Barkley special in Week 10 against the Jets. He had three catches on four targets for 105 yards.  He followed up this game with a 94-yard effort against the Jags, including that 75-yard score shared above. In his last three games, the rookie wideout has six catches for 226 yards and a score.

Isaiah McKenzie

McKenzie has been a nice diamond in the rough find off the waiver wire for Beane. The second-year wideout was claimed by Buffalo on November 5 and has made the most of his first real chance in the NFL.

Since being plucked off the waiver wire, McKenzie has seven catches on eight targets for 71 yards in three games. He also has five rushing attempts for 40 yards and a score.

The Bills initially valued him for his special teams value but he has become a fixture in Brian Daboll’s offense since the bye week. Among receivers, only Jones has played more offensive snaps than McKenzie over the past two weeks.

Unlike Benjamin and Holmes, McKenzie offers versatility with his speed and Daboll has called some creative plays for the young receiver. We see it on display here on this touchdown run against Jacksonville.

Another notable point to make about this play is that it’s Jones out there blocking on the outside. As for Benjamin, he’s not even on the field. Which is saying something considering the Bills were on the Jags six-yard-line and the team elected to leave its 6-foot-5 red zone target on the bench.

By the looks of things, it seems like Jones, Foster and McKenzie will all see an uptick in responsibility over the remaining four games of the season. The release of Benjamin and Holmes shows the team is looking to get a better look at these younger receivers to make sure they figure into their plans next season.

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So as we turn the chapter on Kelvin Benjamin’s career as a Buffalo Bill, a new chapter begins with a younger, faster and more athletic trio in Jones, Foster and McKenzie. Who knows, maybe even  Ray-Ray McCloud will get a chance to impress down the stretch.