Depth Perceptions: Buffalo Bills’ Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
This is a special double-dip edition of Depth Perceptions and how better to capitalize on the Dallas Cowboys shake up from yesterday, than to look at how the arrival of Terrell Owens will affect the Buffalo Bills in 2009.
This Buffalo Bills team is a difficult one to figure out. With head coach Dick Jauron firmly on the hot seat entering the 2008 season, they stampeded out to a 5-1 record, earning him an unexpected contract extension, only to collapse by losing eight of their last ten games before the ink was dry. In possession of Pro-Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch and up-and-coming quarterback Trent Edwards, the offense has building blocks in place that they feel will carry them to the next level. However, the inability to protect the football by not turning it over and the defense’s failure to stop opposing rushing attacks were the downfall of the Bills last season.
In an effort to speed up the learning curve for Edwards and just flat out pick up some yards through the air, the Bills made an impactful signing that very few insiders expected. Of all the cities that T.O was rumored to land in, Buffalo never seemed likely yet here we are in July and he will be running routes and catching passes in upstate New York. It’s a long way from Big D but maybe that’s just what the doctor ordered. He is a major addition to a highly underrated receiving corps and is possibly the final piece that can push a borderline playoff team into a meaningful January game. Let’s take a look at how this unit shapes up in 2009.
Terrell Owens – Well, T.O.’s soap opera ended in Dallas and opens up a new chapter in Buffalo. Clearly, this was not where he expected to continue his career but for all the negatives that come with his diva behavior, the guy can ball. Last season was his eighth 1,000-yard season out of the last nine and his 10 TDs signify his continued assault on the end zone. Third-year QB Trent Edwards already had a talented corps to work with and now he has a bona fide hall of famer to try and get the Bills to the next level. Since Buffalo does a pretty good job running the ball, T.O. may not have the inflated numbers he has had in the past but he is sure to assume the No. 1 receiver role and get plenty of looks in the red zone.
Lee Evans – Can Evans handle no longer being the first option? It will be a very important question as the season progresses and the receiving unit adapts to its new structure. Evans notched his second 1,000-yard receiving season in 2008 and will be in an interesting situation in 2009. He essentially loses the cachet of being the first option on the team but is likely helped dramatically by the addition of T.O. The Bills will have a very talented 1-2 punch and will probably look to open it up more providing Evans with more single coverage opportunities when he is lining up opposite Owens. The irony is that Evans may see his numbers jump back up to the level we saw in his best season in 2006 (82 rec, 1,292 yds, 8 TDs).
Josh Reed – Reed basically loses his starting job but may not be impacted much statistically as we would expect the Bills to line up three-wide fairly often. The former second round pick now enters his eighth season in Buffalo and his experience will be an asset as the roles being to shift and the offense picks up some pace. He is a reliable possession receiver whose numbers have increased consistently in the NFL and is a perfect complement to T.O. and Evans.
James Hardy – Hardy is entering his second season after being a high second-round draft pick in 2008. His production in his rookie season was, um, modest to say the least with only nine catches for 87 yards. His height (6’6”) was used for a couple of TDs in 2008 so expect that to continue in 2009. His growth is as much a focus for the Bills as their outlook on Edwards; it is a tandem that they hope will be around for many years to come. Hardy will push for the third or fourth receiver spot this season.
Roscoe Parrish – An explosive player when he gets his hands on the ball, Parrish’s biggest contributions have been as a special teamer throughout his career. He may see more touches in 2009 but his production has been relatively modest on the offensive end. Parrish will also be seeing plenty of competition as Hardy continues to develop in his second season.
Derek Fine – Fine was a fourth round pick in the 2008 draft and was used sparingly as a pass catcher in his first season with the Bills. It is unlikely that we will see too much more production out of him as a receiver as that is not currently a focus of Buffalo’s offense
Derek Schouman – Schouman was slightly more productive than Fine in 2008 in his second season with the team. Frankly, both players are primarily blockers and neither player will see a ton of passes except as an occasional red-zone option.
One thing that can be said about the Bills is that they have ABSOLUTELY addressed their needs at wide receiver over the years. Evans (first round), Reed (second), Parrish (second) and now Hardy (second) were all high draft picks. This leaves them with an extremely physically talented group as well as experience that can’t really be matched by most other teams in the league.
The addition of T.O. seems good on paper but every Bills fan on the planet will be holding their breath and hoping the other show does not drop during this season. It is likely to be a one-year run for him in Buffalo and is probably worth the risk, but the fortunes of this team will rely on the arm of Trent Edwards, not just the amount of talent on the outside.
I expect this unit to flourish but it is a gamble based on how I expect Edwards to develop in his third year, not just the addition of everyone’s (least) favorite NFL drama queen.