The Buffalo Bills’ receiving corps is giving new meaning to the term “long shots” this spring. The group is loaded with long, tall unheralded prospects.
The Bills added five lesser-known receivers to the roster who are 6-foot-2 or taller.
They include: 6-6 Ramses Barden, 6-5 Chris Summers, 6-4 Cordell Roberson, 6-3 Kevin Elliott and 6-2 Caleb Holley.
“There’s a niche available for a big receiver,” Barden said. “They had David Nelson here two years ago.”
Adding size to the receiving corps was a clear priority for Bills General Manager Doug Whaley after last season.
The top four on the Bills’ receiving depth chart are: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin. None of them are huge. However, the 6-1 Watkins has great leaping ability. He plays bigger than his actual height. So does the 6-2 Williams.
There are three other incumbents back from last year’s roster: T.J. Graham, Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley, who has done most of his work on special teams. Easley is the tallest of those three, at 6-2.
NFL teams generally keep five or six wide receivers. Seven is a rarity.
Can one of the Bills’ unheralded big guys beat out at least two of those incumbents?
Barden has the best credentials of the no-name bunch. He was a third-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 2009.
“I run really good routes for somebody my size,” Barden said. “I’m always open even if it may not look like I am. I’ve made a living off of catching balls that don’t seem catchable. I think the Bills are interested in that.”
Injuries have derailed his career. He broke his ankle in 2010. He seemed poised to establish himself in 2012, catching nine passes for 138 yards in a Week Three game at Carolina.
But then he suffered a concussion in Week Four. He barely played the rest of the season. He sprained a knee early in August last summer and was cut by the Giants at the end of preseason.
Barden has experience and intelligence. He has done motivational speaking, some broadcasting and acting. He knows he must stand out once the Bills get to St. John Fisher College this summer.
“My approach to OTAs is first and foremost the playbook,” Barden said of spring organized activity workouts. “Second is getting into the rhythm of the game because I sat out last year.
“Considering that, I feel really good. I’m not one who likes to peak in May. I pick things I want to get better at day-in and day-out.
“This is about learning the system, the personnel, learning the quarterbacks, getting ready for training camp.”
Summers spent 2012 on the Minnesota practice squad and was cut by the Vikings out of camp last summer.
“I kind of figured when they brought me in, looking at the roster, they didn’t really have any big receivers,” he said. “I figured they were trying to go big at some position in the wide receiver room.”
Like Barden, Summers is not a newbie. This will be his third NFL training camp.
“I feel real comfortable, and I know what to expect,” he said. “Coming in as a rookie, your head’s kind of spinning, trying to learn the playbook and how to practice.
“This being my third team, I know what to expect. I figure I’m ready. Once training camp comes, I’m going to strive for greatness.”
The challenge for big receivers is to avoid tipping off the breaks in their pass routes.
“I think my technique is good,” Summers said. “It’s harder being 6-5 trying to get low, but I know I can do it and be consistent.”
All of the big long shots are products of smaller college programs. Barden went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Summers to Liberty, Roberson to Stephen F. Austin, Elliott to Florida A&M and Holley to East Central of Oklahoma. Elliott, undrafted in 2012, was in Bills camp last year and tore a knee ligament on Aug. 16.
He spent the season on the injured reserve list. Roberson, undrafted last year, spent the last two months of last season on the Bills’ practice squad. Holley was invited to the Bills’ rookie minicamp as a tryout player and was signed to the roster on May 20.
Bills coach Doug Marrone called an audible Wednesday, canceling the team’s voluntary practice.
Instead he took the players to the Buffalo Battleground airsoft gun and paintball range in City of Tonawanda for a two-hour team-bonding activity.
The team will be back on the practice field today for the final voluntary organized team activity workout of the spring.
The Bills have three mandatory minicamp practices scheduled next week, Tuesday through Thursday.