What’s the Bills’ plan at receiver without Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis?

The Buffalo Bills will roll into 2024 without their starting wide receiver tandem and team captains from last season, Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. As head coach Sean McDermott put it on the Centered on Buffalo Podcast, the Buffalo Bills’ WR room will have a “different vibe for sure”. With superstar QB Josh Allen manning the helm, some new faces are bound to emerge as Buffalo’s top-receiving threats. As training camp approaches, fans and analysts alike are eager to see who will rise to the occasion and become key contributors in their revamped receiving corps.

Let’s set the table with where the receiver corps stands now and how it’s changed since the end of the 2023 season.

Key Departures

Stefon Diggs
Buffalo’s former bona fide number-one receiver leaves behind a massive hole after averaging 111.25 receptions, 1343 receiving yards, and 9.25 TDs during his four seasons in Buffalo. He was traded to the Houston Texans.

Gabe Davis
A former fourth-round draft pick developed into the number-two option in the Bills’ offense but never eclipsed the 1000-yard mark in any season. “Big Game Gabe” was known for his propensity to show up when it mattered most, but now he’s with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Key Additions

Curtis Samuel
The seven-year veteran was signed to a three-year contract via free agency by the Buffalo Bills this offseason. Samuel has electric speed and some big play juice that Buffalo’s offense has been searching for.

Keon Coleman
Coleman was Buffalo’s top selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. The rookie gives the Bills a new flavor in their WR room and gives Allen a big target to “play above the rim”.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Buffalo swiped a WR away from their nemesis by signing MVS to a one-year contract via free agency. The speedster figures to add depth and a big play threat for Allen to heave the ball to.

Key Returners

Kahlil Shakir
Shakir is the incumbent starting slot WR for the Bills, however, I would expect to see him used on the outside, as well. From Week 8 to the end of the 2023 season, Shakir outpaced Stefon Diggs in receiving yards, and he did it with half of the targets Diggs had. Shakir enters 2024 as one of Allen’s favorite options.

What’s the Bills’ game plan at receiver?

With two big names out and an influx of new faces, the Bills offense will face a significant transition this offseason as they look for solutions to revamp their passing offense. Bills general manager Brandon Beane has certainly brought in a variety of options to find the right fit, but will it be enough? Let’s explore the potential game plans for the Bills’ new-look passing offense in 2024.

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It may be concerning to some that Josh Allen doesn’t have a proven number-one WR to throw the ball to, but Beane doesn’t necessarily feel that way. In a recent interview with Go Long, he said, “Don’t get too caught up in, ‘You don’t have a No. 1 wide receiver.’ Let’s look at it as a whole, and remember that different guys bring different skill sets.”

The downside of not having a true “number one” wide receiver is that Allen won’t have a reliable security blanket to fall back on. However, the upside is equally valuable: Allen will have the freedom to go through his progressions and find the open receiver without worrying about forcing targets for Stefon Diggs.

I’m convinced that the Bills are building a receiving corps with diverse skill sets to exploit mismatches across the field. They’ve acquired special talents at wide receiver, and their pass-catching options at running back and tight end are formidable as well. Here is what some of the specialty skill sets look like when you put it all together:

  • Kahlil Shakir: Rising talent, do-it-all all guy, can be used anywhere on the field
  • Keon Coleman: Jump ball monster, big target, red zone threat
  • Curtis Samuel: Gadget guy for jet sweeps and screens, big-play threat, run after catch
  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Deep threat, quality depth, played in big games
  • Dalton Kincaid: Big slot, gets open over the middle, mismatch nightmare
  • Dawson Knox: Good blocker, tough to bring down, great rapport with Allen
  • James Cook: Athletic receiving asset out of the backfield, mismatch against linebackers

Tight ends need love too

“I read the rules, it’s legal to throw it to a tight end”, Beane told Go Long. The Bills boast one of the best tight end duos in the league with veteran Dawson Knox and former first-round pick Dalton Kincaid. With the wide receiver room only featuring one player who has caught a pass from Josh Allen in Shakir, the Bills will rely on their tight end duo for production due to their established chemistry with Allen. Last season, Kincaid was third in receiving yards on the team and had the second-most targets. Head coach Sean McDermott said on the Centered on Buffalo Podcast that Kincaid is, “going to be primed for a great season and that rapport with Josh is going to be critical for us”.

New top dog

With Diggs gone, someone will need to step up and take over the “top dog” wide receiver spot. While that remains to be seen, the Bills’ top draft pick, Keon Coleman, seems like a strong contender. Brandon Beane highlighted Coleman’s potential with Go Long, saying, “He’s got play speed. I saw him live at LSU. He caught a skinny post, made a guy miss, split the safeties, and took it in. And you saw his athletic ability returning punts. You don’t see 6’3, 6’4 guys that are able to track, bend, and adjust.”

The rookie receiver faces an uphill battle to become a prominent force in the Bills’ offense, but the recent success of rookie WRs in the NFL gives the Bills hope that he can contribute sooner rather than later.

While Coleman is a solid candidate to become the Bills’ number one WR, he might not be the most likely. Shakir flourished in the second half of 2023 and is a sneaky candidate for a classic third-year breakout. Plays like his playoff TD against the Steelers should be an exciting sign of things to come. Don’t overlook him when drafting your fantasy team this year, as there’s little holding him back from exploding onto the scene next season.

Wild cards

As previously mentioned, the Bills have brought in a variety of options at wide receiver through free agency and the NFL Draft, but they also have some deep sleeper options to consider. The Bills took a chance on two former second-round receivers, K.J. Hamler and Chase Claypool. Both have shown flashes of brilliance, though their careers have fizzled out.

Additionally, Justin Shorter is still lurking in the weeds. After being drafted by the Bills in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, Shorter had to sit out the entire season on IR. The former 5-star recruit looks like a WR built in a lab, but his potential has yet to translate to the football field.

These three wild cards will have their opportunity to earn a spot on the Bills’ roster, though their chances are slim. Yet, if one of these reclamation projects succeeds and contributes, the Bills’ WR room could unexpectedly surpass its 2023 performance.

The mix of seasoned veterans, a promising rookie, and potential reclamation projects will make for an exciting and unpredictable offensive dynamic. The stage is set for a reconstructed receiving corps that is poised to redefine the Bills’ passing game, ushering in a new era of success.

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