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Buffalo Bills hope rookie WR Zay Jones can step right in opposite Sammy Watkins

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The Sports Xchange
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) is tackled by Washington Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar (47) after a short gain in the second quarter at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) is tackled by Washington Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar (47) after a short gain in the second quarter at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The numbers will tell you that no team in the NFL has been more proficient at running the ball than the Buffalo, Bills as they have led the league in rushing two consecutive years.

On the flip side, few teams have been less proficient at passing the ball than the Bills, as they ranked 30th in yards last year and 28th the year before.

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That was why the Bills traded up in the second round to draft wide receiver Zay Jones, hoping his off-the-charts production in college at East Carolina would translate to the NFL and upgrade a position of significant need.

Sammy Watkins is the No. 1 receiver on the roster, but there's no way around the fact that Watkins has been somewhat of a disappointment for the Bills. They traded up in the first round in 2014 to pick him up, a move that, in hindsight, was terrible for three reasons:

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It cost Buffalo its first-round pick in 2015; there was really no need to move up to No. 4 because that was a deep class at receiver and the Bills could have had someone like Odell Beckham Jr. had they stayed put at No. 9, and Watkins has been sabotaged by injuries all three seasons and has thus not been a difference maker.

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Watkins is again sidelined this offseason by his second foot surgery, and there is no guarantee that he'll be 100 percent for the start of training camp. His health is the main reason why the Bills declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

On top of his issues, the Bills lost No. 2 receiver Robert Woods, No. 3 Marquise Goodwin and No. 4 Justin Hunter in free agency, so Jones, who is battling a sprained knee sustained during his first week of practice with the Bills, is expected to win the starting job opposite Watkins.

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"He's going to have to battle," coach Sean McDermott said. "He's coming in to earn the right to be on this football team and this roster and we'll see where it goes from there.

"He's going to add to the mix of what we already have at the wide receiver position and continue to earn the right just like the rest of the players. So, (we) feel good about it."

McDermott can offer up as much coach speak as he likes, but behind Watkins and Jones, there is a vast abyss on the depth chart, and no matter what combination ultimately makes the team, not a lot is expected from any of them.

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The Bills signed free agent Andre Holmes from Oakland, and he might have the best credentials and most future potential with 102 catches for 1,462 yards and 12 touchdowns across six years with Oakland and Dallas.

Philly Brown, a free agent signee from McDermott's old team, Carolina, caught 79 passes for 1,019 yards and seven touchdowns in three years for the Panthers.

Jeremy Butler has 33 career catches for 374 yards split between one year in Baltimore and one in San Diego.

And the Bills just signed Rod Streater Wednesday, a five-year veteran who has 127 receptions for 1,755 yards and 10 touchdowns.

There are three holdovers from the Bills' 2016 roster -- Dezmin Lewis, Walter Powell, and Brandon Tate -- none of whom figure to help much.

One interesting candidate is Kolby Listenbee, a sixth-round draft pick out of TCU in 2016 who has yet to see the field because of a significant sports hernia that has required two surgeries.

Listenbee is a speed burner, so if he can ever get healthy, there's hope that he could be a pleasant surprise. Still, he was a sixth-round pick, so no one's holding their breath.

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The Bills will be running a new offense under Rick Dennison, so it's hard to figure how any of these players fit in until training camp begins, but there's no doubt the Bills need several receivers to step up and perform because quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who's not the most accurate guy, needs all the help he can get.

"It's a bunch of guys out there competing," Taylor said.

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