Remember Greg Little, the second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2011? Or how about Leonard Hankerson, chosen in the third round by the Washington Redskins the same year? Does the name Jarrett Boykin ring a bell?
If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you probably paid attention to the NFL during the 2013 season, when those three wide receivers combined for 120 catches, 1,541 yards and 8 touchdowns -- before their career arcs all took a turn for the worst.
Now the trio of once-productive wideouts, along with journeyman former fourth-round pick Greg Salas, are members of the Buffalo Bills and trying to take advantage of the expected summer-long absence of top wide receiver Sammy Watkins following foot surgery this offseason.
Call it a receiver revival project, or even a resuscitation of four wayward careers. No matter how you label it, Bills wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal has some reclamation projects on his hands as organized team activities continue this week, minicamp is held next month and training camp begins July 30.
"If you take their best seasons, wherever they were, they're legitimate, good NFL receivers," Lal told WGR 550 last week. "Each one has had a different story of why they haven't stuck. I'm hoping one, two, three, [or] all of them will rise up. That would be a tough decision to make, and we'll be more than happy with how it shakes out."
With Watkins not expected to return from his broken foot until the start of the regular season, and with fourth-year receiver Marquise Goodwin potentially missing time this August if he qualifies for the Summer Olympics in Brazil, the Bills' quartet of veteran receivers will appear on the national radar -- and potentially on the fantasy circuit -- this summer as they catch passes from Tyrod Taylor in training-camp practices and preseason games.
Little has been the most productive of the bunch, bursting onto the scene with 61 catches for 709 yards as a rookie with the Browns in 2011. His production declined each of the next two years as he struggled with drops. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Little dropped 7.8 percent of his targets from 2011 through 2013, the highest rate among NFL receivers over that span. He was cut by the Browns after the 2013 season, later spending time with the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals before landing in Buffalo in January.
"He's a big, physical, tough specimen," Lal said of Little, who is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. "He's done a nice job separating versus man-to-man [coverage] this camp."
Second-most notable among the Bills' receiver-revival projects is Hankerson, who caught 22 passes for 291 yards over the Falcons' first six games last season before ribs and hamstring injuries caused his season to veer off track. He eventually landed on injured reserve, was waived by Atlanta, claimed by the New England Patriots, waived again a week later before arriving in Buffalo for the season finale.
"He was Atlanta's third receiver for the first part of last year," Lal said. "Leonard is really smooth. He's one of our best route runners. Some guys, when you watch them, if you're an aficionado of the game, he's just, like, so smooth you enjoy watching how he runs routes. He's very smooth. He's a 4.4 [second 40-yard dash] guy. So again, intrigued by him too."
Then there's Boykin, who was out of football last fall after spending the preseason with the Carolina Panthers. The former undrafted free agent who signed with Jacksonville in 2012 spent three years (2012-14) in Green Bay, landing on the fantasy radar with a 49-catch, 681-yard season in 2013.
"I've watched the film," Lal said of Boykin. "He did some really good stuff. He kind of got caught up in a numbers game there. I think we're lucky to have him. He's a big, physical target. He's got 10-and-a-half [inch] hands, so he catches the ball really, really strongly. Good route-runner. He's picking up everything really well."
Finally, there's Salas, who has a history with Lal and coach Rex Ryan as a member of the New York Jets (2013-2014). The Bills are Salas' sixth NFL team, and he hasn't been a significant contributor since he made 27 catches for 264 yards with the St. Louis Rams in 2011, but nonetheless he has a shot to emerge this summer in Buffalo given the injury to Watkins and the loss of Chris Hogan in free agency.
"He is a smart, savvy, excellent route-runner," Lal said. "I don't think we win the Jets game [in Week 17 last season] 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 when, when all else fails, Greg is gonna get open."