NFL News & Analysis

Have the Buffalo Bills done enough this offseason to address their receiver room?

2WAM4X1 Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws to wide receiver Khalil Shakir (10) during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Wide receiver might be the second most important position in today’s NFL. Quarterback takes the cake, but who the quarterback has to throw to has as strong a case as any position to be the next biggest needle-mover.

Despite that, some of the best teams seem to have engineered questionable receiving corps in recent years. The Kansas City Chiefs won last year’s Super Bowl in spite of their receiver group, while the Buffalo Bills responded this offseason to being unable to get past the Chiefs by trading away their best receiver for pennies on the dollar.

Stefon Diggs, now with the Houston Texans, is coming off a down year in which the second half of his campaign was worse than the first, but he is still only 30 years old. It would take an extremely knee-jerk outlook to conclude that the Bills will be better without him on the roster next season than with him.

And the trade offer Buffalo received wasn't too good to turn down (they received a 2025 second-round pick but had to send Houston two Day 2 picks along with Diggs). Lastly, the contract extension the team signed Diggs to meant they were eating over $30 million in dead cap to make it happen.

It’s fair to say that this was not a football decision, or rather if it was one, it was motivated by team chemistry and the attitude that Diggs brings. This is now the second team in his NFL career that he has seemingly orchestrated his way out of, and it’s perhaps telling that Houston’s first move was to rework his deal and ensure that it will be just a one-year rental.

It left the Bills with a glaring hole at receiver heading into the draft with their first selection due at No. 28 overall. As things turned out, they had the opportunity to select the fourth receiver off the board but instead chose to trade down twice before drafting Keon Coleman at No. 33. In both cases, the team the Bills traded down with chose a wide receiver. And in total, three more receivers came off the board before Buffalo finally selected Coleman.

Coleman is an intriguing prospect, but his profile had a lot of red flags and he would seem to be one of the riskier answers to a team that intends to install him as their X receiver and essentially replace Diggs. Coleman has size and exceptional body control and hands — traits that Diggs possesses — but he doesn’t have the route-running chops or ability to separate against man coverage that Diggs does.

Coleman ranked in the bottom percentile of separation against man coverage last season, and even if we include his Michigan State tape, he barely clears the 50th percentile for his college career.

Click here to see Keon Coleman's 2024 NFL Draft profile.

He has a far better success rate against zone coverage, and that led a lot of draft analysts, such as Matt Harmon of Reception Perception, to suggest that he needs to operate as a big slot receiver at the next level to thrive.

If Harmon and others are right, Coleman as the solution for the Bills seems far from ideal, because their depth chart before the draft was well stocked with slot options, including tight end Dalton Kincaid, who operated exactly as a big slot receiver last season to aid his transition to the professional ranks.

Buffalo had a plethora of slot options; what they were lacking was a receiver who could line up outside and consistently defeat press-man coverage the way Diggs could. Perhaps that’s Coleman, but his profile thus far doesn’t suggest as much.

Since the draft, the Bills have also signed Chase Claypool and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to one-year deals. Those two players team with Coleman and Mack Hollins to bring a lot of size and length to a receiver room that skewed smaller with all of their slot options.

But the totality of the group begs the question of whether the Bills have done enough at the position to give Josh Allen the weapons he needs to win in 2024.

Is this Bills receiving corps even as good as it was this time last year?

Whether we view that in terms of overall quality or balance, the answer isn’t an immediately obvious “yes.”

MVS was part of the disappointing Chiefs receiver room last season that was rescued only by the emergence of rookie Rashee Rice. MVS himself had just 29 catches for 443 receiving yards through the playoffs, averaging a miserable 0.78 yards per route run.

Claypool will be joining his fifth team in three years and caught just four passes across eight games at his last stop.

Arguably the biggest potential area of improvement is from continued growth in Khalil Shakir, who had eclipsed Diggs as the team’s primary receiver down the stretch last season.

Shakir, a former fifth-round draft pick, had multiple 100-yard games in the second half of the season and five games with at least 2.6 yards per route run. Allen’s passer rating when targeting him was a massive 141.5 for the season, but there is still significant projection involved for a player who has fewer than 1,000 receiving yards across two years in the NFL thus far.

Elsewhere in the receiver room are various wild cards, such as Curtis Samuel, KJ Hamler, Quintez Cephus and Justin Shorter, but the top three proven options on this team are Shakir and then some combination of James Cook out of the backfield and the two tight ends, Dalton Kincaid and Dawson Knox.

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Overall, this is a receiving group that feels completely disjointed as much as it may be lacking in proven quality. The Bills seem to have simply thrown a lot of darts at a few different targets in the hope they will connect with at least one of them in each area.

If one of their big-bodied receivers can become the primary X receiver, job done. If one of the smaller slot receivers can be the high-volume, underneath threat, likewise.

There is definitely an optimistic outlook where this group comes together and is the receiving corps Josh Allen needs to make the Bills true championship contenders, but it’s a very real concern about whether that outlook falls within the more likely range of outcomes or if it’s an outlier.

The Bills will be playoff contenders simply through having Allen at quarterback, but whether he can take them much further may be determined by whether a legitimate receiving corps emerges from the assortment of options left after Diggs' departure.

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