GEARY: Camp Observations - wide receiver a position of strength in 2019

John Brown and Cole Beasley look like big additions to Buffalo's offense

Nate Geary
July 31, 2019 - 12:21 pm

Photo: Mark Konezny - USA TODAY Sports

I finally made it out to St. John Fisher College for the first day of pads over the weekend on Saturday and Sunday and a few significant things stood out to me – Josh Allen is the unquestioned leader of this football team and he’s also surrounded with significant veteran talent at the wide receiver position.

Some might balk at the idea that two veteran casts off’s like Cole Beasley and John Brown might have career transformations in 2019 with a second-year quarterback most of the football world believes will fail, but I certainly don’t. Not anymore, anyway.

The Dallas Cowboys criminally underutilized Beasley for the better part of his seven-year career, outside of the 2016 season where he saw 98 targets, 75 catches, 833 yards and five touchdowns. Otherwise, Beasley only saw 75 or more targets two other seasons (2015 and 2018) and never really sniffed 1,000 yards in any one season.

According to PlayerProfile.com, Beasley ranked sixth among qualified wide receivers in 2018 with a 75.6% catch rate and ranked seventh in the league in target separation, which is a receiver’s average yards of separation from the closest defender averaging 1.83 yards of separation. What he showed in seven years with Dallas was an innate ability to always find the open space whether it was against zone defenses or man coverage.

There were moments on Saturday where Beasley lined up during the one-on-one period and completely undressed defenders, who knew where Beasley was going; it didn’t matter. Beasley was able to generate that separation and in one instance, tied up a defender so badly that he fell to the ground. In team drills, Beasley moved all over the field - beginning plays behind Josh Allen in a pistol-like formation just to motion out wide prior to the snap. What that motion does is help the offense identify what coverage the defense is running while also putting Beasley in the most favorable matchup possible. On that particular play, Beasley ran a short pivot route for a five-to-seven-yard completion.

Beasley and Allen together likely don’t sit in the back of many football minds as a fierce 1-2 punch, but that’s because most people think Allen just wants to let it fly down field. His target share coming back from injury last season after Week 12 suggests he was more than willing to check it down to his slot receiver, he just didn’t have the necessary targets to do so consistently or effectively.

Allen’s best slot target from last season Isaiah McKenzie, saw seven or more targets from the slot in three consecutive weeks (Week 13, Week 14, and Week 15) but caught only 50% of those targets – most of which were drops. For context, McKenzie is looking up at the current receivers on this roster firmly on the outside looking in when discussing the likelihood he even makes the 53-man roster out of training camp. It’s safe to say that Brandon Beane made significant changes to remold the slot position to better give Allen the confidence to utilize the position for his own benefit.

Then there’s John Brown, who figures to be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver heading into the season and deservedly so; he’s looked absolutely un-guardable in shorts and full pads alike. Early on, he’s resembled the player Baltimore Ravens fans saw in the first seven weeks of last season – seeing seven or more targets five times, with 90 or more yards in three of those seven games.

PlayerProfile.com ranked Brown seventh in the league in “cushion” – which is the average cushion or yards afforded to a receiver before the ball is snapped by the primary defender with an average of 4.83 yards. What that indicates is teams and more specifically defensive coordinators, both feared and respected Browns ability to beat them over the top. Brown also ranked sixth in average target distance with 17.1 yards per-target last season which I believe might even go up with Josh Allen as his full-time quarterback.

Brown ended up signing a one-year deal with the Ravens last season, but didn’t show the type of chemistry with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson to warrant re-signing him in the offseason and instead decided to go with Willie Snead and three rookie receivers(?). Their loss is Buffalo’s gain.

On the other side, Beasley was seemingly at his wits end with Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and a break-up looked imminent from almost the offset of last season.

There’s a great opportunity that both players could see career seasons in 2019, and I don’t believe that to be a hot take. There are certain things you can take away from training camp that don’t have to be an overreaction like predicting who Allen’s favorite targets will be. That is more than obvious a week into training camp. Allen and Beasley have had a steady line of communication before, during and after plays and it’s noticeable. Brown and Allen have a more unspoken chemistry down the field, and it’s shown up against the first team defense a number of times. 

“He’s got speed, but he also has some shiftiness in his route craft in those small and short areas. That makes him a dual threat,’’ Bills head coach Sean McDermott said of Brown. “We feel his best football is ahead of him.”

Now, all of this means a whole lot of nothing if it doesn’t translate into game situations. Quite frankly, it also won’t matter if the Bills decide they want to be a team that runs the ball as much as they pass it. I’m certainly worried about the viability of the tight end position, but they have the skillset to be a pass heavy team in 2019. Brian Daboll has certainly shown confidence and a willingness to line up in five-wide sets and let his young quarterback sling the rock, but it’s likely in the hands of Sean McDermott as to whether this team will catch up to the rest of the league and sport in general as a team who values throwing the football to win games.

They certainly have the personal to do it.

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