It goes without saying that quarterback has been the main position of discussion, debate, outrage, etc. for the Buffalo Bills for some time now. The revolving door situation at that position has a great deal to do with the league leading playoff drought that the team is in the midst of. It has a trickledown effect beyond just that though. In particular, wide receivers in Buffalo have had a rough go during that same stretch.
Andre Reed is far and away statistically, and by every other convention of measurement as well, the best receiver in Bills history. Not to discount his talent in the least, but it certainly didn’t hurt that he had the best quarterback in team history getting him the ball for the vast majority of his time in Buffalo. Reed more than likely would have succeeded even if this weren’t the case, but the correlation between the careers of he and Jim Kelly can’t be discounted. Taking a look at the top receivers in Bills history behind Reed is an interesting road to travel however.
Eric Moulds is a very distant second on that list, and one could even make the argument that he is one of the more underrated Bills of all time. My theory is that he is largely forgotten due to a lack of success during his stay. The conclusion that could be drawn from this is the relevance of who was throwing Moulds the ball. He came in as Kelly was exiting and therefore found himself on the receiving end of passes from names such as: Todd Collins, Rob Johnson, Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, JP Losman, and Kelly Holcomb.
Despite this instability, Moulds put up fairly consistent year to year numbers, and made 3 Pro Bowls (2 with the Flutie/Johnson combination, and again in Bledsoe’s first year) during his time with the club. The natural question I gleam from this, is how good could he have been given some consistency from a quarterback? Not even a great quarterback necessarily, but just a solid starter who was there for 5 years or more?
Lee Evans ranks third statistically speaking, and his story is quite similar to that of Moulds. Evans never put up huge numbers, but instead was what I would deem consistently average. He had one standout season, but stayed in the 40-60 receptions per year category for most of his time in Buffalo. Again, he had to deal with a carousel at quarterback however. You can tack Trent Edwards on to the last 3 QB’s that Moulds dealt with and see how the picture looks pretty similar. Evans moved on to Baltimore and did a whole lot of nothing for one season before leaving the league, so perhaps his talent was never going to escalate beyond average, but still, one has to wonder “what if” he had a single, solid quarterback for a sustained amount of time?
Why am I rehashing old news you might ask? Well, Sammy Watkins is a guy that the Buffalo Bills were willing to, at least in part, mortgage the future for. He came with a pretty sizeable price tag and had big expectations set upon his shoulders before he ever hit the field. Year one results could be summed up as promising. He put up pretty solid numbers for a rookie and more than once showed flashes of the brilliance expected from him.
He already has something in common with those receivers of yesteryear though. He caught passes from EJ Manuel all preseason and for 4 games and change, then Kyle Orton took the reins for the rest of the season. Watkins enters this year with even more uncertainty as it relates to who is trying to get him the ball. A new coaching staff, a new offensive scheme, and a three headed question mark at quarterback. Manuel remains, but all signs indicate a truly wide open competition between himself, Matt Cassel, and Tyrod Taylor for the starting job.
Those expectations will still weigh heavily on Watkins, as many Bills fans thought the 2015 first round pick was simply too much to give up to obtain him. And with new coaches comes a shorter leash. Production will need to come quickly or there is likely to be a great deal of neigh saying and the inevitable calls for him to be moved on. These are high demands for a guy who once again doesn’t know who passes are going to be coming from. My personal belief is that Watkins has every bit of the skill to come knocking on Eric Moulds door for that second spot on the all time receiving list, but I fear he might never get the chance due to circumstances at least partially beyond his control. The question of whether or not Sammy will get a fair shake most definitely goes hand in hand with the ability of the Buffalo Bills to find some stability at quarterback. In this day and age, time is always short and people are always quick to judge. I for one, hope for Sammy’s sake, that the Bills’ longest running riddle can be solved, and quickly.