Young Receivers Look to Make Impact with Steve Johnson Injured in Buffalo


No matter who is under center for the Buffalo Bills this upcoming season, the chosen one will have to rely on the experience and previous success of one Steve Johnson. Unfortunately for either EJ Manuel or Kevin Kolb, the veteran receiver is likely going to miss the entire preseason with a hamstring strain.

Both quarterbacks are new to the Buffalo Bills organization and haven’t had an extensive opportunity to create an on-field relationship with Johnson, which could be cause for alarm when Buffalo hosts the New England Patriots Week 1.

The good news here is that Buffalo has a whole host of young receivers who are pumped up and ready to prove their worth behind Johnson on the Bills depth chart.

For it’s part, Buffalo has actually invested a great deal on receivers in the last two drafts.

It picked up T.J. Graham in the third round of the ’12 draft. The North Carolina State product was pretty much nothing more than a depth player as a rookie. He recorded 31 receptions for 322 yards and one score in 15 games. Graham did take first-team reps early in training camp and is looking to build off what was a solid offseason program.

Buffalo then went out there and added three receivers from the 2013 NFL draft class.

It picked up former USC standout Robert Woods with the 41st overall selection. Woods was among the most productive receivers in the nation in 2010 and 2011, going for over 2,000 combined yards. Much like most of the Trojans standout players from a season ago, Woods struggled as a junior. He put up just 849 yards on 74 receptions, which were dramatic decreases from the prior season.

Woods was still highly touted heading up to the 2013 draft this past April, and is among the most pro-ready rookie receivers in the NFL. While Woods’ upside is limited to being a Michael Crabtree-like possession receiver, he could make a huge impact in 2013.

According to ESPN, new general manager Doug Whaley  is impressed with what he has seen from Woods in camp thus far.

When he came into OTAs and even out here for trainning camp, he looks like a 10-year veteran. That’s exactly what we thought of him: Polished.

This could be some huge news for fellow rookie EJ Manuel, who appears to have the upper hand in Buffalo’s quarterback competition with veteran free-agent signing Kevin Kolb.

If he can have two solid possession guys to rely on at wide receiver, Manuel should excel in Doug Marrone’s new West Coast offense. With a healthy Johnson and seasoned Woods in the mix, Manuel would have that.

Buffalo also added speedster Marquise Goodwin to the mix in the fourth round of April’s draft. He could add a new dimension over the top with big-play ability; something that the Bills haven’t had in previous seasons.

Though raw when it comes to route-running ability, Goodwin’s pure straight-line speed makes him a threat to take it the distance each time he touches the ball. Buffalo could line him up in the slot to spread the defense thin between the hashes. This would only help Johnson and Woods make plays on the outside.

That being said, Buffalo’s most interesting addition during draft season was former Tennessee and Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers. The embattled young receiver fell completely out of the draft despite possessing as much talent and upside as nearly any receiver in the draft. In fact, I had a first-round grade on the rookie leading up to the annual event at Radio City Music Hall.

Rogers was kicked off Tennessee’s football team prior to enrolling at Tennessee Tech. The off-field issues that forced him out of Knoxsville is what caused him to drop out of the draft, as teams were worried about character issues.

On the field, Rogers is a ridiculous talent.

Head coach Doug Marrone seems to be really impressed with what he has seen from the undrafted rookie thus far during training camp. The first-year head man indicated this past week that Rogers “has really stepped it up.”

According to the Bills official site, Rogers was seen taking first-team reps during the early part of training camp.

Undrafted rookie Da’Rick Rogers had nothing promised to him when he signed with the Bills. But less than a week into training camp Rogers has looked strong, fast and consistent in the opportunities he’s had during the team periods.

Rogers has been rewarded with some snaps with the first unit on offense at times. We’ll see if those opportunities increase in frequency in the coming days.

Unfortunately for those of us expecting big things from Rogers as a rookie, he’s “competing for a roster spot,” according to Marrone. This might seem to indicate more of a long-term view as it relates to production from the youngster.

Overall, Buffalo’s wide receiver situation might not be ideal. It has one stud starting receiver in the form of Johnson and then a bunch of unproven youngsters behind him. That being said, the loss of Johnson for a good portion of the preseason slate could help one of these unproven receivers step up.

My money is on Woods.


Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist at Bleacher Report.

Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director here at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle 8:00-9:30 every Wednesday.