Continuing with the off-season coverage of Buffalo Bills position review, today’s post reviews the WR position. As other posts have shown, no position is immune from injury and lots of analysis continues. A total of 7 wide receivers suited up at the position for the team this season with a variety of outcomes this season. First up is WR Kaelin Clay who came over from the Carolina Panthers in a trade during training camp. Clay did not stay long as he saw 4 targets for 1 reception totaling 28 yards. He was shortly released afterward and reclaimed by Carolina. During his time in Buffalo, he did suffer a foot and back injury which possibly contributed to his lack of productivity but did not cause him to miss time. As he returned to Carolina, finding his way back to Buffalo unlikely anytime soon.
WR Brandon Tate saw most of his playing time during special teams in the return game. Tate’s limited playing time at the position saw him targeted 14 times for 6 receptions totaling 81 yards and 1 TD. Thankfully, Tate did not suffer any injuries this season. The 9th year pro’s value remains at the special team position and with his lack of recent injury history remains an appealing target to bring back with his versatility.
WR Andre Holmes became a steady player after coming from the Raiders last season. While he has career low as a regular player totaling 13 receptions for 120 yards and 3 TD’s, he was still a key depth player, appearing in 14 games. Holmes was limited around Thanksgiving with an ankle injury that he was able to play through. Unfortunately, the 7th year veteran suffered a neck injury which sent him to injured reserve. It is undetermined what type of neck injury Holmes dealt with. Neck injuries are a hot button in Buffalo at the moment with C Eric Wood forced to end his playing career and former S Aaron Williams announcing his retirement shortly after. My educated guess is that Holmes strained several muscles in his neck and wasn’t responding well to treatment, forcing the team shut him down. He still has 2 years left on a 3 year contract at an affordable rate which allows the Bills to bring him back for depth. Pending his neck injury, he should find his way onto New Era Field next season.
Next up is WR Deonte Thompson. The 8th year pro was quite productive after coming over to the Bills after being cut by Chicago earlier in the season. Playing in 11 games, he was able to snag 27 receptions for 430 yards and 1 TD. While none of these numbers are eye popping, the receivers as a whole were down due to QB Tyrod Taylor’s limited passing abilities. Thompson suffered several injuries throughout the season including an ankle injury sustained during the Chargers loss in which he attempted to catch a ball while going out of bounds. Towards the end of the season Thompson suffered a nondescript back injury during the first Patriots game. He then suffered a shoulder injury that was either identified later in the week or injured in practice which placed him on the injury report but did not cause any time missed. As Thompson is getting older and a unrestricted free agent, roster turnover will determine if he returns. As he earned the veteran minimum for his experience, he may command more money in free agency but an affordable option to bring back for next season.
Assessing the receivers who have some injury questions for next season include WR Jordan Matthews. The 5th year pro suffered a series of injuries that eventually landed him on IR for the end of the season. Starting off, Matthews sustained a chip fracture during the first practice after he was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. The chip fracture limited his ability to participate during the preseason but he was able to return to start the season. After getting used to the offense, Matthews sustained a thumb fracture during the crucial win over the Falcons. Matthews only missed one week and was able to return far faster than anyone had expected. This is another injury that will not cause any issues next season.
However, Matthews’ knee landed him on IR and while there is not one particular injury that landed him there, it may have been a recurrence of knee tendonitis he was dealing with during the early parts of training camp when he was still with the Eagles. This knee injury may determine how much he can command on the open market. His stats for the season included 27 receptions for 282 yards and 1 TD may limit his bargaining power considering he is in the same class as former Bill Sammy Watkins, along with Odell Beckham Jr., & Mike Evans. Considering his contemporaries, he could command more money than what the Bills are willing to pay and I expect the front office to move on from Matthews.
WR Zay Jones suffered an up and down rookie season which is not uncommon for a new player to the NFL. Unfortunately, expectations may have been set too high as he came out of college as the all time leader in receptions which did not initially translate well to the NFL. Jones’ stats were similar to other receivers on the team with 27 receptions for 316 yards and 2 TD’s. A slow start to the season along with several now known injuries were contributing factors to his lackluster season. Jones suffered an low ankle sprain which had appeared to be a severe knee injury during the Jets game. Thankfully, his knee hyperextended and his ankle absorbed the brunt of the force causing the sprain. This did not force him to miss additional games outside of some plays in an ugly loss to the Jets.
The unknown injury that came out after the season in an interview with Zay’s father revealed a torn labrum in what was possibly his left shoulder. He did appear on the injury report during the last week of October but this did not force him to miss anytime. My article on his injury appears here, please take the time to read. He has since had successful surgery to fix the tear and should be back in time for the regular season. He will continue to be an integral piece of the offense and production should increase if the QB position improves.
Finally, WR Kelvin Benjamin was the biggest acquisition by the Bills this season of unexpected trades. Upon arriving to Buffalo, Benjamin never really took off, injuring his knee in his 2nd game against the Chargers which resulted in a partially torn meniscus. Missing 2 games to rehab and recover, he was able to return against the Colts and play through the injury for the rest of the season. His production, 16 receptions for 217 yards for 1 TD, was limited as expected but playing through the injury did not cause further injury. He has since had successful knee surgery to shave down the partial tear and will be able to return in time for OTA’s. As for injury risk next year, his previous ACL tear is more of a long term concern to re-injure than the meniscus tear. Benjamin will be back next year and pending salary cap ramifications, I hope the Bills find a way to keep him long term.
The Bills WR corps will look different next year with the exception of Jones, Holmes, and Benjamin. There is the possibility of Thompson coming back along with futures contracts of WR Malachi Dupre, WR Quan Bray, and preseason favorites WR Brandon Reilly and WR Rod Streater. In addition, the Bills also had WR Jeremy Butler on injured reserve due to a concussion during the preseason. The Bills are building something to create more stability in the offense and give either QB Tyrod Taylor or whoever the new Bills QB will be more weapons to energize the offense and build off the anemic passing offense of 2017.
Continue to check back with me regarding injury updates and news coming out of One Bills Drive. Thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!