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2018 Buffalo Bills All-22 in Review: Wide Receiver

Posted: 2:16 PM, Jan 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-16 12:25:18-05
Robert Foster Bills Lions 2018

(WKBW) — As the sting from the end of the 2018 season starts to lessen for the Buffalo Bills, the reality of the offseason begins for the front office and coaching staff. And in doing so, they're putting together a strategy of how to navigate the offseason -- from free agency to the 2019 NFL Draft.

As the weeks pass by teams, get closer and closer to the annual offseason deadlines. In preparation, 7ABC will take an in-depth look at the current roster while evaluating what happened in 2018, what it could tell us as to the team's plans for 2019, and some author recommendations of how to march forward. The grades attached to each player is the result of an in-depth film study done by 7ABC every week through the 2018 season.

Up next, the position that many Bills fans will want the team to attack in the offseason -- wide receiver:

2018 In Review
*In order of 2018 grade with 200 snaps or more

Robert Foster
2018 Season GPA: 3.06 (Snap Count: 446)
2019 Contract Status: $570,000 cap hit, signed through 2019 season
Age: 24 (5/7/1994)
- After the mass exodus at wide receiver took place through the 2018 season, only two remained as part of the Bills' plans going forward. And after the Bills gave him a wake-up call in the middle of the season, Robert Foster completely turned his rookie season around to earn one of those two 'building block' spots heading into 2019. It was a trying year for Foster, who first struggled with his hands in the summer and then with complacency around mid-October, which led to the Bills releasing the wide receiver and adding him to the practice squad. From that point forward, Foster changed for the better as the Bills started to use more of their young players. Foster made an immediate impact in his first game back on the active roster in Week Ten against the New York Jets, roping in a deep pass from Matt Barkley to stretch the defense and make sure that they accounted for him. As the season went along, Foster's speed was his biggest asset, but then he turned himself into more than just a one-route runner. Cornerbacks began to play off of him at the line of scrimmage to give themselves a cushion, and Foster would use that against them on comebacks, out routes, and the deep over that claimed a lot of yards in chunks as the season progressed. By the end of it, Foster wound up with a whopping 20 yards per catch average on his 27 receptions and has the inside track on a top-four spot on the 2019 depth chart -- if not more. The real test for Foster will be how he responds with a full offseason after he had a lot of success the previous year. Will the complacency sneak back in with the former undrafted player, or will the wake-up call from mid-October stand the test of time? If it's the latter, the Bills have a good role player, with the potential for more, under their control for the next three seasons.

Isaiah McKenzie
2018 Season GPA: 2.80 (Snap Count: 221)
2019 Contract Status: $645,000 cap hit, signed through 2019 season
Age: 23 (4/9/1995)
- As part of the new wave of receivers on the Bills roster, the team claimed McKenzie off waivers from Denver ahead of their Week Ten matchup with the Jets and put him on the field immediately. They used McKenzie as a returner on special teams, along with being more of a gadget type of wide receiver that specialized in quick passes and reverses. As he became more acclimated with the offense, the Bills tried him out in a bit of a bigger role, seeing how he operated both as a slot receiver and even out on the boundary. McKenzie still provided the same unpredictable element for the offense, though as he started to get more touches, ball security issues began to arise -- a problem that plagued him in his time in Denver. For McKenzie to make the roster in 2019, especially with the likelihood that the Bills bring in multiple wide receivers in the offseason, he'll need to show well on special teams and that the drops and fumbles aren't going to be an issue.

Zay Jones
2018 Season GPA: 2.77 (Snap Count: 941)
2019 Contract Status: ~$1.85 million cap hit, signed through 2020 season
Age: 23 (3/30/1995)
- Though his GPA was slightly lower than Isaiah McKenzie's, Zay Jones maintained his above average grade in 720 additional snaps, which showed his consistency over the 16 games season above all else. Following a challenging rookie season in 2017 and then a tumultuous offseason, Jones came back and was the only constant throughout the 2018 season for the Bills. As the whole offense struggled in the first month of the season -- Jones included -- it seemed in garbage time against the Green Bay Packers is when things started to click for Jones finally. From that point forward, Jones was winning on his routes a lot more often and also showed both willingness and ability in run blocking down the field for his teammates. In 2017, drops played a huge role into the story of his rookie season, but those problems were cast aside in his sophomore campaign. The trouble with Jones is that he wasn't as consistent on the stat sheet as he was when you watch him on film -- a trend that the Bills will hope changes as their young quarterback develops. However, unless Jones takes another big leap forward, he looks the part of a complementary second receiver whose best utility is on the outside rather than in the slot. It doesn't appear that he presents teams with an overwhelming matchup problem, lacking both the size and speed to demand their full attention. The way that Jones will likely need to continue winning is with his footwork on his routes. The more deceptive he becomes, the more useful he will be to Josh Allen and company -- even if he doesn't become a top target they might have hoped for when the Bills selected him in the second round. Above all else, Jones took a definitive step forward in 2018, and that was important for all parties involved.

Players with fewer than 200 snaps

Ray-Ray McCloud
2018 Season GPA: 2.57 (Snap Count: 121)
2019 Contract Status: ~$610,000 cap hit, signed through 2021 season
Age: 22 (10/15/1996)
- Surrounded by young receivers all over the roster, the Bills' sixth-round pick Ray-Ray McCloud is the youngest of the bunch as it stands today -- and it also seems as though he has the most to learn, too. McCloud received a lot of snaps early on in the season as the Bills hoped he would give them something as either a returner or as a slot receiver. McCloud merely faded into the background, and by season's end was made inactive behind some of the receivers the team had just signed. With the likelihood that the Bills add multiple receivers in the offseason, McCloud will likely need to battle for his roster spot in training camp.

Deonte Thompson
2018 Season GPA: 2.46 (Snap Count: 80)
2019 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Age: 29 (2/14/1989)
- With an increasingly younger wide receiver room as the season progressed, the Bills brought in Deonte Thompson ahead of their Week 12 matchup to serve as a mentor and to give Josh Allen another target on the field. By the time Week 14 rolled around, Thompson was the oldest receiver on the Bills roster by five years and nearly three months. Thompson didn't make much of an impact for the Bills as a receiver, but as a special teams contributor, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bills re-sign him for a training camp run to see if he can crack the roster.

Cam Phillips
2018 Season GPA: 2.47 (Snap Count: 27)
2019 Contract Status: $570,000 cap hit, signed through 2020 season
Age: 23 (12/16/1995)
- In the three-week stint that the Bills were sending a message to undrafted rookie Robert Foster, the Bills filled his spot on the roster with Cam Phillips. An undrafted rookie as well, Phillips shined in training camp before sustaining an injury that claimed most of his preseason. Even still, the Bills saw enough when healthy, and in his time on the practice squad during 2018, to bring him back for the 2019 season. He'll be on the roster bubble and in a fight to make the roster.

Da'Mari Scott
2018 Season GPA: 2.67 (Snap Count: 3)
2019 Contract Status: $570,000 cap hit, signed through 2020 season
Age: 23 (8/8/1995)
- When the Bills moved on from both Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes in Week 14, the team decided to add Da'Mari Scott to the active roster for the remainder of the season. Although he only received three snaps in 2018, Scott is primarily a slot receiver. Without a true top slot guy on the roster at the moment, a huge opportunity exists for him in the summer to potentially crack the roster outright. Even if they were to sign or draft one, Scott still has practice squad eligibility and with a good camp could become the understudy. Not to mention, in the games he was active, Scott played on 46.34-percent of all special teams reps, so that works in his favor as well.

Victor Bolden, Jr.
2018 Season GPA: 2.67 (Snap Count: 3)
2019 Contract Status: $645,000 cap hit, signed through 2019 season
Age: 23 (4/4/1995)
- Likely to be in a battle with both Isaiah McKenzie and Ray-Ray McCloud, Victor Bolden, Jr.'s best chance to make the Bills 53-man roster in 2019 is as a return man -- which is the opportunity the team gave him when active for the final two weeks of the season. A small and speedy type, he'll be in a firm battle with McCloud, Phillips, Scott, and whoever else the team adds to try and make the squad outright.

*Kelvin Benjamin received 512 snaps before being released in Week 14.
**Andre Holmes received 282 snaps before being released in Week 14.
***Terrelle Pryor received 106 snaps in a two-week stint with the team before being released following the team's win in Week Ten.
****Jeremy Kerley received 44 snaps before being released in Week Two.

Recommendations for 2019

1) Sign a substantial, starting-caliber receiver -- with two options
- The Bills have three wide receivers signed for 2019 that presently factor into the rotation on offense in Zay Jones, Robert Foster, and Isaiah McKenzie. When you add up the cap hits of those three players, it comes out to a little over $3 million -- a shockingly low amount. When compared to the estimated lowest possible cap number for the 2019 season, $187 million, that would mean the top three receivers on the roster account for only 1.6-percent of the cap. If the cap number winds up being higher than that, and when you add the money the team would roll over from 2018, that will reduce that trio's share of the salary cap pie even further. Now, why is this important? It's pretty simple. With an ample amount of cap space, the Bills can go out and sign a free agent receiver to a substantial contract without the fear that they're putting way too much of their money into one position. Especially with a lack of experience in the wide receiver room, I think adding a wide receiver of some sort is a fairly high priority for the Bills -- given how much the team says they value having veteran leadership in each one of their positional rooms. The Bills could stand to bring in two new receivers to factor into their top four rotation for Josh Allen. The first, a boundary receiver with size that can go up and win the ball in the air -- especially with how much Allen will trust his receivers to make a play in a jump ball situation. I don't think a clone of Kelvin Benjamin is necessary here, but getting a 6-foot-3 or taller receiver with somewhat of a speed element will be worth a lot to the Bills. The second option is for the team to identify and sign a true slot receiver that can walk in and be an instant target for Allen over the middle of the field. Zay Jones played it in college, but that's not his best fit in the NFL, and neither Isaiah McKenzie or Ray-Ray McCloud stood out with the opportunity in that role in 2018. With some money available for them to spend at wide receiver, I would expect the Bills to add one of these two types of receivers with a significant player in free agency.

2) Draft a potential contributing receiver for 2019 -- with two options
- With the draft happening well after the time in which the Bills would sign a free agent receiver, they would know which of the two types that they need to add to the team will already be on the roster. Then in the draft, if all goes well in free agency, they'd be able to add the type of player that would be missing from their potential top four. If they're on the lookout for a boundary receiver in the draft, that would likely need to be more of a Day One or Day Two option in the draft with how quickly those players get picked over. Though, if they were to be looking for a slot receiver in the draft, an impact receiver can be found a bit later in the draft process just because of how much the NFL values the size/speed combination. Either way, the Bills have to add two significant pieces to their wide receiver room for what they hope to be optimal results, and drafting one in the first four rounds -- even in addition to signing one -- should be heavily considered by GM Brandon Beane.

3) Sign a receiver with special teams coverage ability
- I briefly alluded to this in the Deonte Thompson write-up, but the Bills don't have a single veteran wide receiver, with more than one year of NFL experience, that helps on special teams coverage units. While Thompson didn't play a high percentage in his time with the team in 2018, he could be a solid fallback option. I would expect that the Bills look to sign that dependable special teams type for a similar amount to Julian Stanford (two-year, $3 million) in free agency last year. Sean McDermott wants special teams to be much better in 2019 in all aspects, and they'll need some new players to make that all happen for the new special teams coordinator.

**All contract information aggregated from the Buffalo Bills media guide and Spotrac.com

Previous 2018 All-22 in Review Breakdowns:
Offensive Tackle
Linebacker
Running Back
Defensive Tackle
Tight End
Safety

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia