The Buffalo Bills put together the best season the franchise has enjoyed since 1999. After a wild-card round exit, the attention has now shifted to the offseason and how the Bills can improve to make sure there aren’t another 20 years between double-digit win seasons.
Boasting one of the NFL’s best defensive units, the focus for Buffalo moving forward is shoring up the offense by finding consistency and achieving the ultimate goal of scoring more points. In the aftermath of the Bills’ loss to the Houston Texans, where Buffalo racked up 425 yards of offense but scored just 19 points against a weak Houston defense, general manager Brandon Beane acknowledged the problem.
"A lot of times if you make the playoffs your last game is kind of emblematic of how your season went and where you're good and where you have to get better," Beane said. "I thought that you saw we didn't score enough points."
Improving an offense is something Beane has proven he's able to do and the Bills made substantial strides when comparing 2018 to 2019. Between those seasons, Beane added four new starters on the offensive line, assembled an entirely new running back and tight end room while providing Josh Allen with two new top wide receivers in John Brown and Cole Beasley. Those moves resulted in Buffalo increasing its points per game from 16.7 in 2018 to 19.6 in 2019 and yards per game from 316.6 to 345.6. Another strong offseason of roster construction is necessary for the offense to take another much-needed step.
The most obvious way for the Bills to score more points in 2020 is by adding another receiver in the passing game for Allen and early mock drafts clearly agree.
Grinding The Mocks’s Benjamin Robinson compiles numerous mock drafts to build data that reveals trends for both players and teams. A whopping 50 percent of all the mocks Robinson charted have the Bills drafting a wide receiver with their first-round pick.
Brown set new career highs for targets (115), receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,060) while Beasley set new career bests for targets (106), touchdowns (six) and logged the second-most receptions (67) and receiving yards (778) in eight NFL seasons. The duo thrived and connected with Allen, but the receiving corps in Buffalo lacks size.
Early in his rookie season, Allen was provided with two towering wide receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes and the results were nearly fruitless. Allen and the Bills’ offense took off later in 2018 when the primary receiving options were more athletic targets like Robert Foster, Zay Jones, Isaiah McKenzie and the Holmes/Benjamin duo was released. But Allen still needs that type of target to work with.
The Bills sprinkled in the 6-foot-3, 225-pound D'haquille “Duke” Williams this season and there were some encouraging results with Allen throwing to a bigger-bodied receiver that doesn’t have great separation skills. Allen and Williams hooked up for some critical completions in the Bills’ 14-7 win over the Tennessee Titans and Allen targeted Williams a game-high 10 times in the playoff loss to Houston. While the results of those targets were inconsistent, Allen’s willingness to target Williams despite being inactive for 12 of the 16 regular season games says a lot.
While Williams is under contract for next season and he could improve enough to fill that role, the need for that type of receiver is too important for Buffalo to be all-in on him as the answer. And that’s why it has become so common for draftniks to slot a wide receiver to the Bills in the first round.
But it can’t just be a receiver for the sake of slotting the Bills a receiver. It has to be one that brings the traits to the table to not only fill the need for size and physicality to the group, but he must make sense for what we’ve learned about Allen to this point.
Among the most frequently mocked wide receivers to the Bills is Tee Higgins from Clemson and I can see why. The Bills need to score more touchdowns and Higgins has 28 of them in his last 30 games. Allen has a big arm and Higgins averaged 19.8 yards per reception in 2019. Buffalo needs more size to the receiving corps and Higgins is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
The problem with projecting Higgins to Buffalo is that he doesn’t mesh well with Allen’s strengths. Yes, Allen can throw a football further than any other human on the planet but his deep accuracy has been a major problem. While he’s made incredible strides in the short to intermediate areas of the field with accuracy, his passes aimed more than 20 yards down the field aren’t often in the same zip code as his target. If Buffalo cannot take advantage of Higgins’ best trait — his ball skills and vertical receiving ability — it doesn’t make any sense for him to be the pick. Overall, Higgins lacks versatility and isn’t nearly as exciting when forecasting him to the short to intermediate areas of the field.
Buffalo needs a more complete skill set for a first-round investment. Part of that is a size element and the ability to extend throwing windows but that can’t be all. The Bills need a wide receiver that can help in more ways. Enter Colorado’s Laviska Shenault.
Does he have the size? He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. Check. Does he score touchdowns? He had 17 in his last 18 games. Good to go. Does he do more than just win vertically down the field? Emphatically, yes.
Shenault is an alpha receiver in every sense of the label. He has a strong above the rim game and the ability to “go get it” in contested situations, but he’s also dynamic and physical creating after the catch. He’s fearless working across the middle of the field and he uncovers quickly in the short passing game. He’s also experienced filling the role Buffalo currently uses Isaiah McKenzie for in terms of jet motion, sweeps, shuffle passes and quick targets in space.
Shenault would just mean more to Allen and the offense because he’s an every-level-of-the-field threat and overall a much more dynamic prospect. His ability to produce isn’t contingent on Allen’s ability to make accurate throws down the field. Buffalo has field-stretchers already in the mix in Brown and Robert Foster, and Shenault would add another vertical threat in addition to all the other ways he can attack a defense.
There’s no guarantee Shenault makes it to No. 22 overall where the Bills are scheduled to pick in the first round, but he’s the type of weapon that has the skill set needed to step in and play a meaningful role right away for the Bills without hoping Allen figures out the deep ball. Higgins shouldn’t be a first-round consideration for Buffalo, despite the surface-level information that suggests it’s a good idea.