The Buffalo Bills have a wide open competition at the wide receiver position behind Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. While the team selected Kolby Listenbee, a speedster out of TCU in the sixth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the battle for the No. 3 job appears to come down to four veterans—Leonard Hankerson, Greg Salas, Jarrett Boykin and Greg Little. Salas was brought in towards the end of the 2015 season, while the other three were signed as free agents during the offseason.
All four bring size to the table, but each have unique traits that separate themselves from one another, but also have questions surrounding their consistency and talent level, which is why they were available in the first place.
Let’s take a look at what each of the four brings to the table and how they would potentially benefit the Buffalo Bills’ offense.
Jarrett Boykin was Tyrod Taylor’s teammate during their collegiate years at Virginia Tech but wound up going undrafted, before signing with the Green Bay Packers in 2012. In 2013, Boykin got his chance to showcase his abilities due to several injuries and shined, hauling in 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns.
Boykin has a big frame, standing 6’2” and weighing 215 pounds and is a great athlete—running a 4.57 40-yard dash, a 6.63-second three cone, a 4.31 short shuttle, while broad jumping 11 feet and posting a 34” vertical leap.
Jarrett Boykin shows the ability to contort his body, positioning himself in front of defensive backs, shielding them from the ball to make acrobatic grabs in contested situations like the one below.
He’s got good, but not great speed, instead relying on his quick feet and burst to get behind defenders, as you can see in the following clip. Boykin is running a go route and throws his hand up when he knows he’s got his man beat.
This footwork is put on display again in the following rep. Boykin creates separation with a double move before turning downfield and picking up additional yards-after-the-catch.
Sanjay Lal, who’s the Bills’ wide receivers coach, had this to say about Jarrett Boykin during the team’s OTAs.
“I think we’re lucky to have him,” Lal said. “He’s big, physical target. He’s got 10.5 hands so he catches the ball really, really strongly. Good route runner. He’s picking up everything really well.”
Leonard Hankerson, 27
Hankerson was selected by the Washington Redskins with the No. 79 overall pick in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami. A physical specimen, he stands 6’2” and weighs 210 pounds. He ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash with a ridiculous 1.51 10-yard split, while posting impressive times in the agility drills, a 4.21 short shuttle and a 6.94 second three-cone. Additionally, Hankerson posted a 36” vertical leap and a 9’9” broad jump.
He’s dealt with nagging injuries since entering the league and saw limited action in his first four years, sitting behind players like Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, Julio Jones and Roddy White.In those four seasons, Hankerson caught 109 passes for 1,435 yards (13.2 yards-per-catch) and nine touchdowns. 459 of his yards came after the catch.
Like Jarrett Boykin, Hankerson has got good size with a muscular frame that he’ll use to position himself in front of defenders and play physical in contested situations. He’s also got impressive speed and quickness for a player of his stature. He can cover a lot of ground and will eat up the cushion between himself and a defender on vertical routes in a hurry.
In the following play from his second season, Hankerson is lined up against Janoris Jenkins. He’s running a go route, but as he closes ground on Jenkins, Hankerson gives a stutter step before accelerating down the field. The fake causes Jenkins to take a false step, but a split second is all Hankerson needs to find himself wide open for a 70-yard touchdown.
Leonard Hankerson is a long strider, but his speed, agility and fantastic footwork allow him to run a variety of routes.
This short area quickness is put on display again against the New York Giants. Lined up at the bottom of the screen, Hankerson gets an inside release when the ball is snapped and sells the vertical route before quickly breaking inside to make a catch away from his body, moving the chains for a first down.
The most frustrating aspect of Leonard Hankerson’s game has to be his inconsistent hands. It’s been an issue since his college days, as he’ll often look to turn and run before fully securing the pass. In his four seasons during which he’s been targeted 169 times, Hankerson has dropped 15 passes.
Most wideouts that suffer from drops see that it’s a result of letting the ball get into their body, rather than extending their arms and plucking it out of the air. Hankerson isn’t scared to go after a high pass over the middle of the field as the clip below shows.
Hankerson is a true hands catcher and will fight to high-point the ball at its highest point. What’s maddening is the fact that he’ll make a ridiculous catch like the one below.
Here’s what Sanjay Lal had to say about Hankerson.
“Leonard is really smooth,” Lal said. “He’s one of our best route runners. If you’re an aficionado for the game, he’s just like so smooth you like enjoy watching how he runs routes. So very smooth, got sneaky speed, he’s a 4.4 guy, so again intrigued by him too.”
Greg Little, 26
Greg Little is another physical specimen who’s inconsistencies and drop issues have prevented him from reaching the potential many envisioned when he was selected with the No. 59 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft out of North Carolina. Standing 6’2” and weighing roughly 230 pounds, Little tested off the charts at the NFL Combine, running a 4.50 40-yard dash, a 6.65 three cone, a 4.16 short shuttle, while posting a 38” vertical leap and a 10’10” broad jump.
Little put up decent numbers in his first three years with the Cleveland Browns, catching 161 passes for 1,821 yards and eight touchdowns.
However, he dropped 29 passes in that span, many of them were pretty ugly, and couldn’t be relied on.
He’s a big, physical receiver with all of the attributes you covet in a boundary wideout, and he flashes his ridiculous talent at times.
Here, Greg Little shows off his physicality and ability to use his big frame to his advantage on a vertical route. The ball is thrown high and Little goes up to make an impressive catch in traffic while absorbing hits from multiple defenders.
Sanjay Lal was impressed with his size and physical abilities, stating,
“He’s a big, physical, tough specimen,” Lal said. “He’s done a nice job separating versus man-to-man this camp.”
He’s physical over the middle, as seen on the following slant route. He quickly breaks inside, makes the catch and turns downfield to pick up the first down and more.
But as impressive as those plays are, Greg Little had far too many costly drops. In the play below, Little lets the ball go off of his hands and it bounces right into the hands of a Miami Dolphins defender for an interception.
Here, Little can’t secure the ball after beating the defensive back for a would-be touchdown.
In the following play, Little lets the ball go right through his hands.
Greg Salas, 27
Greg Salas was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams after a productive career at Hawaii. While he doesn’t have the size of the other three receivers he’s competing with, standing 6’1” and 206 pounds, Salas shares similar athletic ability, running a 4.56 40-yard dash, 6.65 second three cone, 4.10-second shuttle and posted a 37” vert and a 10’ broad jump.
Salas is a smooth route runner that’s ideal for the slot, as he has quick feet and gets in and out of his breaks In a hurry. Salas is familiar with Sanjay Lal from their time with the Jets and he caught eight passes for 167 yards last year before being picked up by the Bills late last season.
Against his former team, Salas made three crucial catches for 41 yards, showing off his ability to create separation by selling his route through the stem, before changing direction and getting open.
Here against the Jets, Salas is in the slot. He eats up the cushion between himself and the defender before breaking to the sideline and making himself an easy target for Tyrod Taylor.
In the same game he picks up a decent chunk of yards on a comeback route. At the snap, Salas does a fantastic job selling the go route, before stopping on a dime and turning back to the quarterback, causing the defensive back to get turned around. This sudden change of direction creates about five yards of space between Salas and the safety and he makes the easy grab to convert a first down.
Sanjay Lal seems to be a big fan of Greg Salas, telling John Murphy that he was likely the reason the Bills won against the Jets last season, adding,
“He is a smart, savvy, excellent route runner. I don’t think we win the Jets game without what he did on third down for us. We’re really counting on him to come through, take another step, and really be the guy that when all else fails, Greg’s going to get open.”
The Buffalo Bills have a star in the making in Sammy Watkins, a solid short-to-intermediate option in Robert Woods and a quality tight end in Charles Clay. However, after losing Percy Harvin and Chris Hogan this offseason, they need to find a reliable third wideout that can either present a size mismatch, or a versatile player that’s a fluid route runner.
Based on the offense the Bills’ ran last year, it’d be hard to predict Greg Little being a real consideration unless his drop issues suddenly disappear, even though he’d be an intriguing reclamation project as a red-zone threat. Leonard Hankerson is the most experienced and has played both the “X” and “Z” receiver positions, as well as the slot and has the physical attributes the team desires, but is an underrated route runner as well.
Greg Salas is somewhat similar to Chris Hogan in that he doesn’t have great deep speed, but he’s explosive and creates separation horizontally. However, he’s probably limited to the slot, which could possibly hurt his chances. Jarrett Boykin is interesting, as he’s familiar with Tyrod Taylor, he doesn’t have many concerns with drops and while he’s a bit raw from an experience standpoint, he has adequate speed and can run a diverse route tree.
If I had to guess, the battle will really come down to Leonard Hankerson and Greg Salas, as they’re the “safest” players that present the best value and complement the current offense well.