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Field goals: Receivers battle down to two spots

August 14, 2012

The Buffalo Bills have assembled a receiving corps worthy of a cameo in Major League. It is a rag-tag group of former misfit toys that have come together to become a rather formidable group.

Looking at their draft status and pedigree, it would be easy to say “They’re shitty” or “Who the hell are these guys?”, but the group led by Stevie Johnson turned out to be one of the most consistent groups for the Bills last year.

However, while most of the cream has risen to the top, there are a few spots open and a number of players vying for the roster spot. The battle to round out the Bills’ receiving corps is as open of a race as you could find at most NFL camps.

Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, T.J. Graham and Donald Jones are all but assured a spot on the opening day roster. The remaining seven players – Kamar Aiken, David Clowney, Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin, Naaman Roosevelt and Derek Session – are all clawing for a precious roster spot.

An assumed roster breakdown would have the Bills keeping six receivers on the 53-man roster, with Brad Smith filling a versatile WR/QB spot.

Both Hagan and Martin were free agent additions last season and are supremely effective on special teams. Between the two veteran depth wideouts, Hagan probably has the inside track after seeing some regular reps at the end of last season.

Clowney should probably be roped in with Hagan and Martin due to his veteran status. However, I don’t see the special teams versatility in Clowney that Hagan and Martin have in addition to the fact that both David Nelson and T.J. Graham offer far more upside than Clowney who has truly only enjoyed one successful season.

Aiken is a player who showed flashes of brilliance in mop-up preseason play last season. However, his ability to use his size to get to the ball translates no matter who he is playing against. Much like Clowney, however, he has quite an uphill battle for a roster spot. Best case scenario would see Aiken on the practice squad with more of a long-term project status.

Session, an undrafted rookie out of Maine, probably won’t be in camp much longer. He is buried on the depth chart and would need to really wow the coaching staff to get a longer look at this point.

As for Roosevelt and Easley, they’re both interesting cases for much different reasons. Roosevelt has managed to battle for, and retain, his spot on the roster for some time. However, he lacks so many traditional traits that are coveted in the NFL. Easley, on the other hand, hasn’t even been able to see the field in a regular season game. He suffered injuries each of the last two seasons and hasn’t even had a fair shake in terms of proving his worth.

Unlike Roosevelt, Easley’s physical attributes and skills make him an ideal wide receiver who could become a legitimate outside passing threat should his game continue to progress.

Slotting out Options

Since Johnson and Jones are currently penciled in as starters on the outside and Nelson and Graham can be expected to fill the slot, it would be safe to assume the two other wide outs who will be kept will need to be capable of filling those roles. However, serving as depth for the outside spots will be more important.

Considering that guys like Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and any one of Buffalo’s tight ends will be flexed to the slot on occasion, the need for outside talent becomes paramount. However, this is where Naaman Roosevelt probably gains some footing. While he isn’t necessarily a perfect fit outside, he is capable of filling both roles and is more at home as a slot receiver.

Take it Easley

While Marcus Easley’s deep speed is tantalizing, his injury history is anything but. He is a good sized receiver who has suffered a disappointing run of injuries that could very well push him off the depth chart.

Easley will need to make his mark on special teams if he wants to lock in a roster spot with the Bills. Although his physical traits would make him a shoo-in for the second spot behind Stevie Johnson, his relatively low impact on special teams makes him anything but. Personally, I like him as a backup to Donald Jones for the time being based on the assumption that he would pass Jones on the depth chart after establishing himself in the passing game. Of course, that would be in a perfect world and Easley’s has been anything but to this point.

Camp Outlook

I have to say that my heart wants Gailey to take a shot with Easley as one of his six receivers. He is an adequate return man but doesn’t seem to offer much else in terms of kick coverage. I like him as a receiver, however, and that is why I think he is a sound option.

However, I won’t be surprised if Derek Hagan and Ruvell Martin end up behind Johnson, Nelson, Jones and Graham at the end of the preseason. Both are superb special team players and aren’t totally useless in the passing game. The only reason I’m against keeping both is that neither represent, to me, a true passing game threat like Easley or even Roosevelt. The verdict will be rendered in a few short weeks and there are three more games for these players to prove their true worth.

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