As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer, some of the latest buzz surrounding the Buffalo Bills has involved the idea that general manager Doug Whaley is eyeing a “big” wide receiver with the team’s first round pick. While the rumor could wind up being nothing more than a smokescreen, it’s not surprising to once again hear about Buffalo’s desire to select a big-framed, athletic wide receiver who could be paired opposite of Sammy Watkins.
Why isn’t it surprising?
Well, for starters, the Bills have been searching for one such receiver even before Watkins was in a Buffalo uniform. Whether it be selecting a player like James Hardy in the second round in 2008 or trading for a troubled playmaker like Mike Williams in 2014, the quest for a large-bodied receiver with a go-up-and-get-it mentality has been seemingly endless.
The search continued last year with the selection of Dezmin Lewis (6-4, 214) in the seventh round of the draft, but the Central Arkansas product struggled to make the transition from a small school to the NFL, sitting on the practice squad for most of the season before being called up for one game against the Cowboys in Week 16. Lewis could still blossom into something special as evidenced by his play at the end of last preseason, but Whaley continues to search for bigger receivers.
The team signed veteran fallouts Jarrett Boykin (6-2, 215) and Greg Little (6-2, 220) to reserve/future contracts this offseason, furthering the thought that Whaley still wants a big receiver in Buffalo.
The Bills’ general manager could certainly pull the trigger on a player like TCU’s Josh Doctson (6-2, 202), Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell or Ohio State’s Michael Thomas (6-3, 212) in the first round Thursday night.
But what if he doesn’t?
If Whaley decides to take the route of a selecting a dominant defensive lineman or a three-down linebacker in the first two rounds, then a receiver could be targeted in rounds three through seven.
With that said, here are five receivers projected to go in the middle to late rounds of this year’s draft who could fit the bill of what Doug Whaley is looking for in a “big” receiver.
Mid-Round Receivers Who Could Fit Buffalo’s Needs
Stuck behind the likes of current NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins for the majority of his career at Clemson, Peake finally broke onto the scene in his senior season last year as he posted 50 catches for 716 yards and five touchdowns, all of which were career-highs.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 209 pounds, Peake consistently creates separation with solid route running and has shown that he can beat defenders over the top or across the middle.
With excellent ball skills and hand-eye coordination, the former four-star recruit can make difficult catches look easy at times.
The most impressive facet of his game, however, is his effort in the run game.
Using his big frame to his advantage, Peake is an effective blocker on the edge and helps take out safeties and corners at the third level.
While he is still probably a better athlete than receiver at this point of his career, Peake should be able to get on the field early in his career by utilizing his skills as a blocker.
The South Carolina native could fit nicely in Buffalo’s run-heavy offensive system, contributing as a blocker early on while learning what it takes to be an NFL receiver from his former college teammate Sammy Watkins in the meantime.
Draft Projection: Rounds 3 – 4
A highly-touted recruit coming out high school, Payton was the definition of consistent while at UCLA, starting 33 consecutive games and finishing with a school-record 201 receptions over his four-year collegiate career.
The California native capped off his tenure at UCLA by posting 78 catches, 1,105 yards and five touchdowns in 2015, earning himself the second-highest overall grade last season amongst receivers in this year’s draft class according to Pro Football Focus.
Despite running a 4.43 at his pro day, Payton is more of a possession receiver than a deep threat.
With an NFL-ready body, the UCLA all-time receptions leader plays much bigger than his 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame as he effectively uses his hands to get off press coverage and times his jumps well when going up for 50-50 balls, while utilizing his long arms and strong hands to snatch the ball away from his body and secure the catch quickly.
There are questions about Payton’s straight-line speed despite his 40-time, but the Santa Monica, Calif., product appeared in 52 games for UCLA and has the route-running/blocking ability to contribute right away as a rookie.
The Bills attended UCLA’s pro day, so there’s a chance that general manager Doug Whaley and offensive coordinator Greg Roman see a fit for Payton in Buffalo.
Draft Projection: Rounds 3 – 4
Keyarris Garrett may just be the best receiver you’ve never heard of in this year’s NFL draft.
A redshirt senior in 2015, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver blew up for Tulsa as he pulled in 96 receptions for an NCAA-best 1,588 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games.
Though still raw in some areas of his game, Garrett possesses everything you look for in an NFL receiver. Combining 4.4 speed with an imposing frame, the Tulsa product displays good initial quickness to get off the line and sustains that speed down the field to get behind the defense with long strides.
However, what’s even more impressive is his physicality.
Garrett is a mismatch, particularly with smaller defenders, as he consistently boxes out defensive backs, using stellar body control and his long arms to attack the ball at its highest point.
Not only is Garrett a big target, but he’s also a reliable one as he dropped just three passes in all of 2015.
With a great combination of size and speed, the Bills would be wise to consider selecting the Texas native in the middle rounds.
Draft Projection: Rounds 3 – 4
Late Round Receivers Who Could Fit Buffalo’s Needs
Just a two-star recruit coming out of high school, Sharpe wound up leaving UMass holding school records for single-season receptions (111), career receptions (277), career receiving yards (3,486) and single-game receptions (15).
The 6-foot-2, 194-pounder put up 85 receptions, 1,281 yards and seven touchdowns in his junior year before exploding for an NCAA-best 111 receptions, 1,319 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.
Although he has a narrow frame, Sharpe is still able to play “big” as he uses his long arms and strong hands to pluck the ball away from his body and go up for contested catches when needed.
Under the tutelage of head coach Mark Whipple, Sharpe has built up a solid football IQ and shows good field awareness by consistently getting to the sticks, running routes at proper depths and using quality footwork to create separation.
The New Jersey native has smaller hands (7 ¾ inches), but that hasn’t affected him to this point as he dropped just seven of 204 catchable passes over the past two seasons according to Pro Football Focus.
Keeping that in mind, Sharpe is also one of the best in this year’s draft class at making contested catches with a 55-percent catch rate on such plays.
Despite playing against lesser competition, UMass’ all-time receiving leader is fearless in his approach to the game and should grow into a solid NFL receiver in time.
If Buffalo waits to select a receiver in the later rounds, Sharpe would be a solid choice.
Draft Projection: Rounds 5 – 6
The definition of a “big” receiver, Mathews stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs 215 pounds.
After appearing in just 15 games through his first two years at BYU, Mathews was ultra-productive in his junior and senior seasons with the Cougars.
In 2014, Mitch “Too Tall” Mathews posted 73 catches for 922 yards and nine touchdowns before recording 737 yards and 11 touchdowns on 54 catches last season.
While he lacks top-end speed, the Orlando, Fla., native is a jump-ball specialist who excels at boxing out defenders and uses his exceptional leaping ability to attack the ball at its highest point.
He isn’t the fastest or the best route-runner, but Mathews’ size is something that can’t be taught.
The BYU product could immediately contribute as a red-zone threat early on in his career while he continues to work on other aspects of his game like footwork and getting off press coverage.
“Too Tall” could be an intriguing option for Buffalo as a late-round flier.
Draft Projection: Round 7 – Undrafted Free Agent