Buffalo Bills: Who is currently the number one receiver?
The Buffalo Bills did an excellent job of adding weapons around second-year quarterback Josh Allen this offseason. Of the two top receivers carried over from last season in Zay Jones and Robert Foster, the question is which of the two is WR1.
With OTAs (organized team activities) beginning and the Buffalo Bills roster looking set for the most part until training camp, we will begin to see how the offense will take shape. Wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley were added to help Josh Allen while Tyler Kroft (despite being injured) was signed to be another threat in the passing game.
The team also added the ageless wonder Frank Gore out of the backfield with T.J. Yeldon as a dangerous receiving option. Both will help in pass protection, receiving and in the run game.
Buffalo didn’t stop at free agency to add more talent on offense. Dawson Knox, and to some extent Tommy Sweeney, were drafted to add additional wrinkles in the passing game for a developing Allen. However, the team’s top producers on the outside remain from last season.
Zay Jones and Robert Foster are statistically the top returning wide receivers on the roster from last season and each made their marks on the offense last season.
Despite starting the season with Kelvin Benjamin and Jeremy Kerley by his sides, Jones outlasted both and led the team in receptions (56), touchdowns (7) and yards (652). His two best games of the season came against Miami where he went off for eight receptions, 93 yards and two touchdowns in their first meeting of the season and then came back with six receptions, 93 yards and two touchdowns in the season finale against the Dolphins.
While the receptions totals don’t blow you away, you have to think that this is a receiver who worked with four different quarterbacks, one which was signed out of retirement (Derek Anderson), statistically one of the worst quarterbacks of all time (Nathan Peterman) and a rookie who needed more time to develop (Josh Allen). Zay had his fair share of drops as well, but the quality of quarterback delivering him the ball varied quite a bit as well.
As for Foster, his first season with the team as an undrafted rookie was up and down. After making the roster out of training camp, Foster was released after six games from the active roster with just two receptions and 30 yards. He was then signed to the practice squad for the next several weeks.
The 6-foot-2 speedster made his return to the roster against the Jets in Week 10 and made his presence known with three catches for 105 yards. He totaled three games of over 100 yards receiving, three touchdowns and closed out the season with four consecutive games of at least four catches.
Foster’s emergence late in the season thrusted him into the team’s top wide receiver conversation. With his injection into the lineup following Week 10, the offense began to gain new life and Josh Allen had another weapon in an otherwise lackluster receiving group.
In the final seven games of the season, Jones and Foster were the top two weapons on the outside for Allen. Here is how they compare through the final seven games of 2018:
Jones: 7 games played, 6 games started, 27 receptions, 353 receiving yards, 54 targets, 6 touchdowns
Foster: 7 games played, 2 games started, 25 receptions, 511 receiving yards, 35 targets, 3 touchdowns
I believe that what these stats show is how different the two receivers are. Jones is more of a possession receiver that gets his yardage is shorter amounts, but right now is the bigger red zone threat. On the other hand, Foster is the big-play receiver.
To make the conversation even more interesting, NFL Next Gen stats show that Foster averages 2.7 yards of separation while Jones gets 2.8. Adding that into their final seven games of the season last season, the two players are nearly identical in production.
With all of that being said, I believe Jones is currently considered Buffalo’s number one option. With John Brown added to be the speed receiver and Cole Beasley added to create space, it appears that Foster’s two biggest strengths have been found in two new weapons. As for Jones, he can separate as well as get in the end zone. He is the bigger body, produces in the red zone, and is a more refined route runner.
It appears that Zay is starting to grow into what made Buffalo trade up to the No. 37 pick in the 2017. Receivers typically take a longer time than other positions to develop heading from college into the NFL and it can be especially true with a player like Jones coming from a smaller school like ECU.
As OTAs (organized team activities) go on this offseason, the growth of Josh Allen from year one to year two will help Jones grow as a receiver as Jones’ success depends a great deal on Allen. The clip below from Tuesday’s OTA showcases the growth in the relationship between the two:
This season will be a big year for both players to justify Buffalo trading up for each.
However, the new weapons and running mates throughout the offense should benefit not only Allen and Jones, but Foster, Brown, Beasley and others.