Bills 2020 Training Camp Injury Preview: Wide Receiver

Some concerns going into 2020.

This is Part 3 of the Buffalo Bills training camp preview revisiting injuries from 2019 & the impact it may have on their performance and availability in 2020. Part 3 consists of the wide receiver room.

Not Returning

WR Zay Jones

5 games, 2 starts, 18 targets, 7 receptions, 69 yards

Jones had an uneventful 2019 season with Buffalo, quickly losing his place as the top receiver from 2018. Unfortunately, 7 receptions for 69 yards in 5 games won’t cut it on most teams in the NFL. He was quickly traded to Oakland for a 2021 5th round pick to salvage his career. Injury wise, Jones battled several injuries this past season with a hamstring that kept him out of minicamp followed by some back soreness early in training camp. During the regular season, he dealt with a shoulder injury that limited him prior to the Patriots game but did not appear to affect his play. As he moved on from the Bills, he is just another player to have graced the halls of One Bills Drive.

Returning

WR Robert Foster 

13 games, 2 rushing attempts, 29 yards, 18 targets, 3 receptions, 64 yards 

Robert Foster is incredibly perplexing. Here is this UDFA that made the team out of training camp in 2018, was cut, resigned to the practice squad, and then resigned to the active roster. From there, he tore it up down the stretch and appeared to show his value to the team. Come 2019, he was merely an afterthought in the offense as seen in the stats above.

In addition, Foster suffered several injuries that didn’t help his cause which made 2019 an overall down year for him. Below is his injuries:

    • Left Turf Toe

The season did not start well for Foster, suffering a left turf toe injury during spring practices that he appeared to re-aggravate shortly into training camp. He battled through this injury for much of the preseason and was never quite 100% heading into the regular season. He battled with the turf toe into Week 1 before it apparently got well enough that it was no longer listed on the injury report. Without the big toe to push off of during running, he would not have had the ability to get a strong push off at the line of scrimmage or get up to speed.

    • Right shoulder

Also during training camp, he suffered a right shoulder injury that didn’t appear to hamper him but is something to note. It was later described as shoulder soreness, but considering the physicality of the game, any injury can certainly make even the routine tasks more difficult.

    • Groin

During practice prior to the Week 4 matchup against the Patriots, Foster injured his groin during a routine practice which led to him missing both the Patriots & Titans game heading into the bye week before he was cleared to play against Miami. It’s not certain that his previous turf toe issues would have led to the groin, but it’s a possibility and didn’t help his case playing in the offense down the stretch.

He will have to improve his worth on offense and continue to impress as a gunner on special teams. He will have to maximize his health along with anything else the team asks of him in order to make the roster in 2020. 

WR Cole Beasley 

15 games, 10 starts, 106 targets, 67 receptions, 778 yards, 6 TD’s

Beasley really made the most of his first season in Buffalo, quickly becoming a great option for Allen in the slot in order to move the chains. In addition, he stayed relatively healthy, the benefactor of his time in the league, knowing how to take care of his body. 

Injury wise, Beasley didn’t deal with much and the injuries he did had are listed below:

    • Right knee

He suffered a right knee injury during the Bengals game, getting tangled up with his defensive counterpart and falling to the ground. He missed several plays but quickly returned indicating it wasn’t serious, likely a contusion.

    • Ankle

Beasley showed up on the injury report for the week following the loss to the Patriots but did not miss the Titans game. There wasn’t any real information regarding the ankle injury or even which side it was on. Looking back even now, it’s hard to say what he was really dealing with.

    • Left ankle

He ended up hurting the other ankle in the win over the Broncos when he got his ankle kicked out from under him while attempting to block for RB Devin Singletary. He was in obvious pain and was tended to by trainers, but was able to walk off briefly before returning later in the game to score a touchdown.

Overall, Beasley continues to stay healthy and a valuable contributor to the offense. He gets dinged up here and there but there are not any long term concerns moving forward in 2020.

WR Isaiah McKenzie 

15 games, 8 starts, 8 rushing attempts, 49 yards, 39 targets, 27 receptions, 254 yards, 1 TD

McKenzie is in a unique situation in which he was at times productive as an offensive threat, but never at times consistent to be a game-changer. He appeared in 15 games, inactive for the Eagles game, and suffering minimal injuries. 

Below is McKenzie’s injuries from 2019:

    • Ankle

He showed up on the injury report just prior to the first Patriots game with an ankle injury that was not apparent on film. He was questionable for the Week 4 matchup but ended up playing in only 1 offensive snap.

    • Left knee

McKenzie appeared to hyperextend his knee hauling in a pass when he had a defender fall on his leg. He was able to get up under his own power and limp off the field before the half but was able to return to finish the game.

McKenzie better hope for a perfect training camp plus several injuries in order to make this roster. He may be a better candidate to get traded as the likelihood that injuries occur around the league due to the shortened offseason due to the pandemic. 

WR Duke Williams 

4 games, 3 starts, 19 targets, 12 receptions, 166 yards, 1 TD

Fan-favorite Duke Williams came down from the CFL and the fan base became enamored by the long shot to make the roster. He eventually did make the roster and caught the game-winning touchdown against the Titans but was quickly relegated to the inactive list after 3 total games. He played in the regular-season finale and the playoff game with mixed results, leading to questions regarding his future.

Williams’ injuries below:

    • Right shoulder

Williams injured his right shoulder while catching a pass going out of bounds playing against the Dolphins during the first meeting. According to video, it appeared as though he suffered an AC joint sprain which had him limited in practice the following week and highly unproductive against the Eagles.

    • Left low ankle sprain

He hurt his ankle in the playoff loss to the Texans in which he stepped awkwardly out of bounds, appearing to hyperextend his knee. Upon further review, he suffered a lateral low ankle sprain which took the brunt of the forces through his body rather than a more dreaded knee injury.

Williams still has the talent to play in the NFL. The big question will be whether he will be with the Bills or another team. He is talented, but it’s not known if he’s talented to stick with arguably the best top 3 wide receiver group in the league. His injuries overall aren’t ones that carry over into the regular season, but he will need to stay healthy in order to have a shot.

WR John Brown 

15 games, 15 starts, 2 rushing attempts, 7 yards, 115 targets, 72 receptions, 1060 yards, 6 TD’s, 1 pass, 1 completion, 28 yards, 1 TD

John Brown can really do it all. After spurning the Bills in 2018 for the Ravens, he came to Buffalo on a one year deal and quickly became a favorite of Josh Allen’s. Brown’s versatility to stretch the field, get involved in both the running and passing games made him invaluable in offensive game planning. He appeared in all regular-season games besides the meaningless season finale. 

On top of that, Brown was healthy as seen below. 

    • Groin

Brown suffered a minor groin injury that appeared following the Titans win that wasn’t apparent on film. He showed up on the injury report but did not miss any games as a result. He did have the benefit of having the bye week to recover from any issues he was having but it didn’t appear to be an issue down the stretch as he continued to be highly productive.

Brown is a lock for the team in 2020 and the groin injury he suffered likely healed up on its own. There is a chance he could suffer another groin injury in the future, but that would be more on the nature of his positional demands rather than a chronic injury. 

WR Ray-Ray McCloud

McCloud is a familiar face that returns to Buffalo for the 2020 season after spending 2019 with the Carolina Panthers for 6 games after getting claimed off waivers following training camp. He got most of his work on special teams before getting waived and picked back by Buffalo for the practice squad. 

Considering McCloud was a draft pick of this regime, they like to hold onto their own, but he may have a lot of men to fight against for a roster spot, more likely a practice squad position. He didn’t suffer any known injuries and his availability & experience may be the reason he finds a job in 2020.

WR Nick Easley

Easley spent the entirety of the 2019 season on the practice squad and did not appear to suffer any known injuries during weekly practices. While he continues to be a developmental player, his path to the roster continues to be limited due to the depth

New to the roster

WR Stefon Diggs

In March, the Bills shocked the football world and traded for the disgruntled Minnesota wideout in a deal that some called overpayment and others stating it was the right move. As the 2020 NFL draft played out, it appeared to be the right move as Diggs comes with far more experience and a readiness to contribute compared to rookies having to get up to speed. 

In addition, Diggs also comes to Buffalo with minimal injury history which is detailed out in the article at Buffalo Rumblings

WR Gabriel Davis

The 4th round pick out of UCF followed the trend of the Bills drafting players with no injury concerns or that would require rehab during the pandemic. As a mid-round pick, Davis has virtually assured a roster spot and will greatly benefit from learning under some of the veteran receivers in the room, not forced into playing often early on. To read up on Davis’ injury history, check out the article at Buffalo Rumblings

WR Isaiah Hodges

A 6th round pick out of Oregon State, Hodges also comes to the Bills with little injury concerns and a legitimate chance to earn a roster spot, if not a practice squad spot. To read up on Hodges injury analysis, check out the article at Buffalo Rumblings.

2020 Outlook

This is a deep position on the roster. Brown, Beasley, Diggs, Davis, & Hodges all should make the team out of training camp. McKenzie and Williams have a shot at unseating one of the players listed above with a stellar training camp. McCloud & Easley also are capable of making the roster but are more suited for the practice squad as they have become projects of this team. As for Foster, he could make this team if he finds his 2018 form, and if he stays healthy. Both are big ifs. The best part about this is that if anyone does go down with an injury, there is another guy to step up that at least knows the system. 

Bills Post Draft: UDFA Signings

Assessing the injury histories of the Bills UDFA signings and their injury histories.

Even though the Bills addressed a lot of needs through the draft last weekend, they were far from done, signing a slew of undrafted players to nearly fill out the 90 man roster. Today’s article will review the injury histories of each UDFA and whether they have a shot at making the roster come the regular season.

First up is QB Tyree Jackson out of University at Buffalo. The familiar face was reportedly one of the first players signed following the draft and appeared to be a priority for the front office to begin developing future signal callers. This is a far cry from past regimes that were looking for a quick fix through free agency or hoping to hit in the draft. Injury-wise, he was relatively healthy through his college career despite being a mobile QB. He did suffer a knee injury in 2017 that caused him to miss 4 games. Specifics were not given on the injury but considering the timeline, his mobility, and lack of reports indicating further complications lead me to believe he suffered an MCL sprain. This is not an injury that typically lingers and is supported by the fact that he played in all 14 games last season.

As for Jackson’s future in Buffalo, I expect that he’ll make the practice squad, soaking up what it means to be an NFL pro with the possibility of moving up to a backup role with the Bills or getting scooped up by another team to develop. Still, an excellent signing by Buffalo to identify future talent.

Next is WR Nick Easley out of Iowa. The productive WR out of the Midwest spent only 2 years with the Hawkeyes compiling 103 receptions for 1024 yards and 9 scores. During his 2 years, he suffered a collapsed lung with broken ribs during the regular season finale but recovered well enough to play in their bowl game which is incredible due to the pain alone of broken ribs. In 2018, he dealt with several nagging injuries for which I could not find specifics but he did not miss any games as a result. One article from 2017 revealed several injuries he stated that he had dealt with over his collegiate career included: turf toe, ankle sprains, two concussions, and a severe high ankle sprain from high school. The ankle sprains could have been something chronic over the past year in which he suffered a sprain but quickly recovers due to the scar tissue already present. However, most of these injuries are unfortunately common injuries players sustain but can vary in severity with regards to games missed. I am not certain that these injuries mentioned are what he dealt with this last season, but merely opens a window into what he played through. Future injury concerns moving forward, the broken ribs/lungs are not concerning but the concussions and ankle injuries can cause further worry as previous concussions increase the risk for future concussions. In addition, the ankle injuries could become chronic if not rehabbed properly, leading to more frequent injuries due to instability.

Considering he had to work his way up from Iowa Western Community College to D-1 football to the NFL, he has shown the ability to work and tough it out. While I don’t know how he will fit in with the WR corps, he may be someone who could sneak onto the roster with special teams play and an excellent training camp.

OL Blake Hance our of Northwestern demonstrated that during his time in Evanston, he was incredibly durable at a violent position. He at one point made 35 consecutive starts until an ankle injury forced him to miss one game early in 2018. Overall, he played in 51 out of a possible 53 games for the Wildcats demonstrating his health. He is yet another player that the Bills have placed a priority on with regards to avoiding major injury during college and being available. Considering the academic reputation that Northwestern has, he could be an intelligent developmental player on the practice squad that earns roster consideration in the future as the Bills continue to mold their offensive line.

Another local player that the Bills picked up as a UDFA was CB Cam Lewis out of Buffalo. It’s always said, you can never have too many cornerbacks. The Bills certainly understand this as it seems like while they have talent at the position, if an injury occurs, the quality of play goes way down and finding a CB4 that can be consistent has been challenging for this regime. While Lewis may not be the answer, he may be someone they can develop if he shows promise in training camp. He could also be someone that they put on the practice squad or cut but keep close by in the event of a shortage of defensive backs. Injury-wise, he did deal with several while in college but nothing that is likely to become a problem at the next level. In 2017, he dealt with a broken thumb and forearm that caused him to miss 5 games. In 2018, he suffered a leg injury which forced him to miss the Army game, but no specifics regarding the nature of the ailment could be found. This could have been something as simple as a contusion, pulled calf muscle, etc. that necessitated rest.

LB Juwan Foggie out of UNC-Charlotte continues the trend of effective, healthy players that the Bills have targeted in the draft. Foggie appeared in 47 games over his career, appearing to avoid injury which is remarkable in itself. As there are no injury concerns, he could be another player that sees practice squad time with an effective training camp or cut and brought back if injuries mount.

WR David Sills out of WVU appears to be an incredibly sneaky signing by the Bills during the UDFA period. The former QB turned WR has been a hot topic in past years, famously being given a verbal scholarship offer by then USC HC Lane Kiffin when he was 13. Unfortunately for Sills, he broke a knuckle on his throwing hand during his junior year of high school which altered his throwing motion which led to the position change. During his time at WVU and El Camino College, he did not suffer any reported injuries which is remarkable considering how much physical demand is required at that position. Sills will have a tough climb up the depth chart at WR, but could make noise with a great training camp and may warrant a roster spot to avoid losing him altogether.

LB Tyrel Dodson out of Texas A&M declared for the draft as a junior but that decision appeared to be short-sighted as he was not drafted and will have to work even harder to get an NFL roster spot. While has productive during his time in College Station, the one thing that he has going for him was that he did not suffer any major injuries. The only injury that can be found was in 2018 he suffered a minor sprained ankle against Ole Miss for which he did not miss any games. While the linebacking corps can always use extra depth, Dodson may be another player who makes an NFL training camp and nothing further.

Finally, K Chase McLaughlin out of Illinois rounds out the UDFA signings. McLaughlin was the 2018 Big Ten Kicker of the year, hitting 4 of 6 FG’s from 50+ yards out. As he is a kicker, special teams players are typically not known for getting injured and he was no exception. While K Stephen Hauschka continues to produce at a high level, he has begun showing his age along with suffering an injury last year due to a blindside block. I do not believe that McLaughlin will seriously challenge for the starting kicker role. However, the competition will certainly help keep Hauschka on his toes to produce.

Overall, these UDFA signing’s show some promise but are relative long shots to make the team. Bills fans know all about UDFA’s making their mark in the league with LB Lorenzo Alexander spending nearly 15 years in the league along with CB Levi Wallace and WR Robert Foster eventually making the roster and producing despite their starting position as a UDFA. This will be an exciting group to watch through training camp who can make their presence known. I believe at least 1-2 of these guys will find their name on the Buffalo Bills roster come 2019.

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