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Training Camp Position Battles: Wide Receiver
This is a weekly (or possibly slightly-more-than-weekly) feature that will discuss the status of players within a certain position on the training camp squad. This week, we take a look at where the wide receivers fall into the spectrum of the Bills’ roster.
Stevie Johnson – Every good team needs a seventh round pick to work out every so often. Stevie Johnson has officially ‘worked out’. Okay, he had that drop in overtime against Pittsburgh, a poor start to the season, questioned the power of God via Twitter, had a rap song named after him (okay, good thing), and a handful of other mental lapses. Despite this, he is Buffalo’s number one receiver this year, no matter what Lee Evans or Chan Gailey wants to tell you. He posted his first 1000-yard season last season, breaking out in a way that many (usually first round) wide receivers do. His 137 yards and three touchdowns against Cincinnati were an indicator that the Bills may have backed their way into a franchise receiver. And we are all better off because of it. He is an entertaining playmaker, and at this point may be the (pierced) face of this franchise.
Lee Evans – Evans has been the Bills number one receiver for the past six years, but he’s certainly not someone you would label as a model of consistency. He has posted just two 1000 seasons in seven years. Some fans would (and do) say that he has been riding 1292-yard 2006 season for far too long. Others say that he has fallen victim to playing with (approximately) 85 different starting quarterbacks during his career with the Bills, along with the fact that he faces constant double-teams from opponents. Depending on which of those people you are, you either think we have a solid starting receiver, or an overpaid veteran who is on the verge of being cut. Chan Gailey said that he is running Evans across the middle of the field more in Camp to help him become a more versatile receiver rather than a straight-line burner. As much as Evans’ double-teams have helped other receivers in the past, it is my guess that Bills fans would like to finally see him produce in a consistent manner.
PROBABLY A SAFE BET
Roscoe Parrish – A victim of trade rumors for much of his career (along with being a key draftee of Tom Donahoe’s ill-fated regime), Parrish has bounced back nicely to be a useful member of the Bills. Known strictly as a punt returner in previous years (oddly, one of the league’s most successful in history), Parrish did an admirable job of adapting to Chan Gailey’s offense as a receiver. In eight games last season, Parrish posted 400 yards and two touchdowns before succumbing to season-ending injury (yes, story of the Bills) in Week Nine against Chicago. With a reasonable contract and modest expectations, he seems to have a secure spot on the Bills roster in 2011.
David Nelson – Nelson was the true gem of last year’s undrafted free agent receiver crop. He played in fifteen games and started in three, racking up 353 yards on 31 receptions. Clearly, his most promising attribute is his size, measuring up at 6-5 and 221 pounds. That’s big enough to out jump and out-muscle the nickel and dime cornerbacks that are matched up against him at this point in his career. He fell out of draftable position in 2010, partially because of his pedestrian college stats at Florida, where his production fell victim to a spread offense that relied heavily on even dispersion of the ball along with the golden legs of Jesus Tebow. But in the NFL, he became a very viable 3rd-or-4th receiver, and possibly a starting possession receiver in the near future.
HAVE SOME WORK TO DO
Marcus Easley – Boners filled with optimism have been pointed in the direction of Easley since the early spring this year (arguably since the day that he was drafted last year). He was a player specifically highlighted by his peers following what we are calling ‘Organized Fitz Activities’. Unfortunately, the catch is that the guy just can’t stay on the field. Now I’m not a person who labels athletes with dreaded “injury prone” label in the early parts of their career, but the fact remains that the Bills coaching staff hasn’t had a good look at him. He suffered a season-ending injury just days into his first Training Camp in 2010, and is hobbling from a knee hyperextension that occurred on the first day of Camp this year. Coaches say that the injury isn’t serious, but I’m not sure that his college pedigree is something that can reserve him a spot on the team. He is the definition of a college one-year wonder: in his senior season at UCONN he had 893 receiving yards (including five 100-yard games) and 8 touchdowns in what was essentially nine games. Before that, you ask? Just five receptions.
Donald Jones – Jones has been the ‘odd man out’ in Buffalo since he arrived here in 2010, at least in a figurative sense. When I had talked to fellow fans, I had heard about David Nelson as the Training Camp breakout star, or Naaman Roosevelt as the local hero. In fact, last season there was much chatter about Chad Jackson being a possible 2nd receiver, or James Hardy’s improvement after being a 2nd round bust. Thankfully, we got Donald Jones instead. He made the initial 53-man roster in 2010 and made a solid impact for an undrafted free agent. He caught 18 passes in 2010, but did much of his work on special teams. He was a fixture as a gunner on punt coverage, racking up 10 tackles on special teams. He also served as an occasional kick returner, mostly in relief for other injured players. That’s the sort of versatility that normally makes a roster, especially over players with similar skills on offense.
Naaman Roosevelt – As the local boy, everyone is rooting for Naaman Roosevelt. As the story goes, Roosevelt was a quarterback out of St. Joseph’s, who Turner Gill made his first football recruit as UB’s head coach. He was converted to wide receiver, where he eventually put up eye-popping numbers as a junior, with 104 receptions, 1402 yards and 13 touchdowns. After an injury-slighted senior season where he still posted impressive stats, most fans expected him to be drafted. When he wasn’t, the Olympic-sized silver lining was that he signed with the Bills as an undrafted free agent. Although he did not make the initial 53-man roster, he eventually worked his way from the practice squad to the full roster. With nine receptions and 139 yards in six games in 2010, he is by no means a lock for the roster. However, he showed flashes of being NFL-ready, including some tough catches late in the season. Plus, he lived in the dorm room next to mine freshman year (although I GUARANTEE he has no recollection of this).
NEED A MIRACLE
Felton Huggins – Felton Huggins is the kind of guy that you want to make the team. First off, he has an awesome name. Have you ever met someone named Felton? Has there ever been a better way to punctuate a first name like Felton than Huggins? He consistently has good training camps. He has good height for the position. He makes an occasional fantastic grab in Camp that makes you wonder why he doesn’t make teams. And he has an awesome Twitter handle (@TeezyFbaby12 … follow him). But unfortunately for Mr. Huggins, he’s 28 and has significant prospects ahead of him. It’s hard to imagine that if a few injuries don’t occur, he’s going to be on the outside looking in (especially with no remaining practice squad eligibility).
Kamar Aiken – Aiken is an undrafted rookie out of Central Florida who will have a tough time making the team with the aforementioned wide receiver logjam at the end of Buffalo’s roster. He had unspectacular stats while playing in Conference USA (although he scored 9 touchdowns in 2009), but is a decent prospect in terms of size and speed. Several scouts believed that he was a draftable player after he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and measured in at 6’1”. He might be a decent guy to stash on the practice squad after Camp, but I wouldn’t expect him to make the roster this year. However, not too many people would’ve predicted that David Nelson, Donald Jones, and Naaman Roosevelt would all play roles in last year’s team.
Paul Hubbard – Bro, don’t get a DWI and hit a cop in the process. Especially a week before training camp starts. That’s like Rule #1 in the ‘How to Not Make a Team When You’re a Marginal Player’ handbook.
Bills Rookie WR Marcus Easley