2024 NFL Draft

Bills Elimination Game: Wide Receiver

Featured Photo Credit: Brian Thomas Jr (11). SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network via Imagn.com, LLC.

The need for another dominant wide receiver became painfully obvious down the stretch. The Bills should be looking for a 1B wideout with elite separation and very good downfield speed –not track speed, but on-field, in pads, pulling away from DBs speed. He must be smart. Everyone remembers how newbies Hodgins and Davis helped the vets in the room learn the playbook. If we take two in this WR-rich gold mine, one should be plug-and-play, with experience against AP-ranked teams and success in games the Bills scouts actually saw.

Whether he’s a slot receiver or out wide doesn’t matter as much (we have Kincaid lining up there a lot). Height doesn’t matter as much (we have two WRs on the practice squad in excess of 6’3″). What matters the most is separation before the catch and Yards After Catch.

I have 97 wide receivers on my draft-eligible sheet, so let’s pare that down by YPC against AP-ranked teams. I’m asking for 12.6 YPC or better –the average of Gabriel Davis’s 14.8 and Khalil Shakir’s 11.5 in his draft year (FWIW, Stefon Digg’s YPC was 7.4). Bold numbers in the “Key” column mean the player made 10 catches or more contributing toward that 2023 average.

CREDIT: Dean Kindig, BuffaloFAMBase.com.

As you can see in the “2023” column, Beane had his scouts busy. Of these 27 receivers, Beane had credentialed scouts at the games of all of them except for Luke McCaffrey (Conference USA) and Phillip Brooks (Big12). This begs my next question: does Beane draft from these conferences? While Beane does draft players from minor conferences (hello, Christian Benford, Villanova), his offense is mainly P4: SEC (10 offense, 10 defense), PAC12 (5 offense, 4 defense), BIG10 (3 defense 5 offense) and ACC (9 defense, 2 offense). The Big12 (6 defense, 1 offense) and ConfUSA (1 offense-Shavers, 1 defense-Siran Neal) don’t usually tip Beane’s balance scales for offense. Let’s look at the WRs that way:

CREDIT: Dean Kindig, BuffaloFAMBase.com.

Note that the BIG12, PAC12, and ConfUSA are somewhat meager in their scout visits this year, with two notable exceptions: Oregon’s Tony Franklin and TCU’s JoJo Earle. I’m eliminating all of the receivers that didn’t play in front of more than 1 Bills scout in 2023. This will eliminate some heavy-hitters who may get 30-visits, including Adonai Mitchell and Xavier Worthy of Texas. Washington’s Rome Odunze (a pet cat of mine) and Ja’Lynn Polk also get the axe, as do the trio of USC receivers, one of whom is the son of the iconic NFL Hall of Famer, Jerry Rice. Finally, it omits big speed merchant Xavier Leggette of South Carolina. I’m keeping the other LSU receiver, Brian Thomas, though. Too many Bills connections: Reid Ferguson, Fournette, Tre White, as well as offensive coaches DJ Mangas and Joe Brady.

CREDIT: Dean Kindig, BuffaloFAMBase.com.

I am eliminating the unattainable Marvin Harrison Jr. and the uber-impressive route runner Malik Nabers. While I covet both of them, it would require a mortgage that Beane won’t want to undertake. I’m also taking Jermaine Burton off the Bills’ list. He’s the one disciplined for hitting a young woman.

Finally, I’m dividing the list in half, with the first WR the Bills target coming in the first 2 rounds, and a possible Day-3 double-dip. Here’s the menu for consideration in RD1 and/or RD2:

CREDIT: Dean Kindig, BuffaloFAMBase.com.

I’m a huge fan of Brian Thomas Jr., as I think he adds a downfield element that the Bills sure needed in the Chiefs game. Despite his deep YPC of these RD1 lads, he also owns the highest catch rate in 2023 — 79%. BillsMafia knows that Reliability is an ability we’ve seen from Khalil Shakir but have not seen from Davis or Diggs, and in Thomas, you also have that LSU connection to the Bills’ coaching staff. Beane also speaks of YAC, and watch Thomas pull away from three FSU defenders in this Xweet.

Keon Coleman is likely gone when the Bills pick at #28, so it would take some draft (and likely player) collateral to get Coleman. He’s exciting, owns a top-3 yards-per-catch average vs AP-ranked teams (min. 10 catches), and has the beef of a physical WR who can thrive working across the middle –exactly what we need. He makes contested catches. In scouted games, Coleman was a TD machine vs Clemson, 5 for 86-(17.2)-2 TD, as he was vs Wake Forest (7 for 66, 9.4, 2 TD). That impresses scouts. So do catches over the middle like this.

After Roman Wilson‘s performance at the Senior Bowl, I think Beane’s hopes for taking him in RD2 have been dashed. The Flyin’ Hawaiian’s Wolverines had the most Bills scouts visits this year, and if Keon Coleman’s gone, I think Roman Wilson is still a consideration at RD1#28.

In RD2, I’m fond of the size-speed combo of Johnny Wilson. Wilson was a transfer in from Arizona State (scouted heavily there by Bills), and Wilson’s scouted game also vs Clemson showed him leading all WRs in that game (5 catches, 94 yards, 18.8 YPC) –including Keon Coleman. His toe-drag swag in the coffin corner is reminiscent of one Gabe Davis, and keep watching –his sideline work is impressive.

Here’s the Day-3 Bills target list:

CREDIT: Dean Kindig, BuffaloFAMBase.com.

Sure looks like we’re taking two, doesn’t it? 

Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint made this catch, just inches under the crossbar for a TD. That’s all anyone has to say. MR-J has the personality, downfield blocking, willing attitude, and hands/feet coordination that will mesh with Stefon and Khalil.

Ainias (“an-EYE-ess”) Smith would be a do-it-all, versatile, speedy, KR, PR guy. He did just that (5-78-15.6 plus KR, PR) in the Bills-scouted 27-10 win at Auburn. Smith is tied for 3rd-fastest player in the draft, and of those, he’s the biggest at 190 lbs.

Dominic Lovett is a difference-maker you could take with one of your three RD6’s and get a reliable slot receiver. Lovett’s 76% is the 3rd-highest catch rate of the top 79 WRs eligible for 2024, and his YPRR against man coverage last season was a whopping 8.09 –I’m banging the drum for his upside.

The other player who’d add speed is Tyler Harrell from Miami, likely the forty time to beat at the Combine (he has a hand-timed 4.19). Sometimes the threat of taking the top off a defense is enough. Harrell only caught 4 of 10 targets this year, but this sure is pretty.

Editor’s babble: Just in time for the Senior Bowl! We are so grateful for all of Dean Kindig’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Dean on Xwitter @TCBILLS_Astro.

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