Some have called the modern NFL "basketball on turf," and the Buffalo Bills could probably field a hoops team at one position.
With an average height of 6-foot-2 among their 12 wide receivers, the Bills have the NFL's tallest group of pass-catchers.
Bigger, taller and longer has been the mantra of general manager Doug Whaley since he took over for Buddy Nix last spring. The Bills have brought in waves of developmental receivers with above-average height and continued that trend Tuesday when they signed Caleb Holley, a 6-foot-4 undrafted free agent from East Central University in Oklahoma.
Whaley dug into the NCAA's Division II ranks for Holley, who stood out as a tryout player in the Bills' three-day rookie minicamp over the weekend. While Holley certainly qualifies as tall, consider that he replaced Brandon Kaufman -- who is 6-foot-5 -- on the roster.
Still, much of the Bills' height at wide receiver is concentrated at the bottom of their depth chart, among unproven players -- not experienced pass-catchers.
In addition to Holley, the Bills have Ramses Barden (6-6), Chris Summers (6-5), Cordell Roberson (6-4), and Kevin Elliott (6-3) all competing for roster spots this summer. The team is hoping it can find at least one diamond in the rough, but only Barden -- a former third-round pick by the New York Giants -- has any significant NFL experience.
The Bills tried digging up a tall receiver last season and largely came up empty. Whaley brought in Kaufman, Da'Rick Rogers (6-3), and DeMarco Sampson (6-2) for training camp but none could make the roster. Tommy Streeter (6-5) later joined the practice squad but he was gone by December. The Bills instead leaned on shorter, speedier players like Marquise Goodwin (5-9) and T.J. Graham (5-11) last season to mixed results.
In his pre-draft news conference last month, Whaley acknowledged that the Bills needed more height at receiver.
"Sometimes you have to bring in a dimension that you don’t have and a size receiver is a dimension that we don’t have," he said. "Everybody is looking for that, but it would help EJ [Manuel] just because he can find that guy anywhere and also EJ can basically throw up the ball and you’ve got a 6-5 guy with 35-inch arms and 30-plus vertical, that’s a big target that you can have down the field."
Having Sammy Watkins, whom the Bills drafted fourth overall, could help change that. While Watkins is "only" 6-1, his long arms allow him to play taller than his listed height. He could be a difference-maker in the red zone, where the Bills ranked 29th in scoring efficiency last season.
That's why, if Whaley wants to strike gold with a tall receiver, he'll need to keep panning -- and that's just what he's been doing.