Bills Beat continues to roll along with our “Top 5” series. Today, we are looking at the wide receivers throughout the Buffalo Bills’ history and I came across a few things that were a little surprising to me.
For starters, I’ve been a Bills fan since 1988, I watched Thurman Thomas be a dominant running back on both the ground and through the air. Unfortunately, his hay day was before NFL Sunday Ticket, so most of us outside the Buffalo market didn’t get to see all the games but we still knew how good Thomas was. That said, I had no clue he was sixth in team history for receiving yards, and incredibly, he’s ranked third with 456 receptions.
One of our fellow Bills Beat writers just recently did a Top Five running backs. The numbers I just mentioned are exactly why I would have ranked Thurman Thomas differently, but that is part of the fun of writing this, are the debate and varying opinions.
How about this little nugget? The Buffalo Bills’ top 10 players in receptions are not all wide receivers, the list includes three non-wide receivers. Two are running backs and one is a tight end. The two running backs were Thomas and Fred Jackson. The tight end in the top ten is Pete Metzelaars, which reminds me, Bills Beat just published a top five tight ends, check that out to see where Metzelaars landed.
Now that I said all that, let’s get back to the point of this article, the top five wide receivers, not running backs, not tight ends either, so those guys won’t make this list. So, which wide receivers did make the list? Well, let’s get into it and we start at number five.
5 – Elbert Dubenion
Elbert Dubenion played during a time when the game was vastly different from what it is today and wide receivers were not viewed as an integral part of the offense. He played in 103 games and totaled 294 receptions, which places him 10th in Buffalo Bills history. He piled up 5,294 yards, 4th in team history. Dubenion leads all five of these wide receivers with average yards per reception of 18 yards.
To do what Elbert Dubenion did for the Buffalo Bills during a time when the run game was king is nothing less than impressive. He was a member of those AFL Championship Bills teams of 1964 and 1965 and was a nightmare in the playoffs, playing in three total games and having a career playoff average yards per reception of 31.3.
His 1964 season was one for the ages and one of the best performances by a wide receiver in the AFL. He only had 42 receptions, but he turned that into 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns. Again, his yards per reception were astounding in 1964, with an average of 27.1, which was tops among all wide receivers in the AFL. He was also a two-time second-team All-Pro, in 1963 and 1964.
4 – Stevie Johnson
Stevie Johnson played for the Buffalo Bills from 2008 – 2013, compiling 301 receptions for 3,832 yards, with 28 touchdowns. The 301 receptions place him ninth on the all-time list in Bills’ history He places eight in receptions and seventh in touchdowns, so while none of these numbers are top five in team history, he was certainly a fan favorite among wide receivers and known for his ability to adlib his route running and get open.
He started as a seventh-round selection of the Buffalo Bills in 2008 and mostly lingered on the practice squad or the bench his first two seasons. I remember back then, hearing about him from players, coaches, and local media too, talking about how hard he was to cover because his route running was unpredictable. I often wondered, why isn’t he on the field come game day?
Fast forward two seasons to 2010 and he finally got his shot and he would team up with another Bills’ favorite, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The two would instantly click and the chemistry was evident right away. Stevie Johnson would go on to record three consecutive thousand-yard seasons, which had never been done previously by any Bills wide receiver or since either. He would also record 23 touchdowns over that same three-year span, only Andre Reed produced more touchdowns in any given three-year span.
3 – Stefon Diggs
Stefon Diggs came over to the Buffalo Bills in 2020, via a blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Vikings. The trade did not come without its fair share of worry from the Bills Mafia. During his time with the Minnesota Vikings, Diggs was a solid player. He totaled 365 receptions and 4,623 yards, with 30 touchdowns.
He was initially most known with the Vikings fans as the guy who caught the Minneapolis Miracle and I’m sure most of us are familiar with this play. The problems started the following season, at least that is when we started hearing some rumblings of Diggs’ unhappiness in Minnesota. We could spend all day talking about what may or may not have happened or who was right or wrong but at the end of the day, Bills Mafia doesn’t really care because since coming over, he’s become one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
In just two seasons with the Bills, Stefon Diggs has accumulated more than half the totals he piled up in five seasons in Minnesota. All Diggs has done so far, 2,760 yards, 230 receptions, and 18 touchdowns. He led the NFL in 2020 in receptions and yards with 127 and 2,760 respectively. Diggs sits fourth with the most receiving yards in the last two seasons and third during that time in receptions among all wide receivers.
He was named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster both years and the All-Pro First Team in 2020. Two years with the Bills have resulted in back-to-back playoff births as well, where he has totaled 26 receptions, 309 yards, and 2 touchdowns. By the time his career is done, he may very well climb this wide receivers list to number one or two but for now, we’ll put in at number three.
2 – Andre Reed
I think when you talk about Buffalo Bills’ all-time greats, Andre Reed is one of those that comes to mind and without question, he is just that, not just one of the best wide receivers but one of the best to ever suit up for the Bills, period. I’m sure many people will not agree with me that Reed belongs in the number two spot, believing he should be number one.
Yes, the numbers are without question the best of any wide receiver to play the position for the Buffalo Bills; however, before you give up on me, hear me out but let’s first talk about what Reed has done with this franchise.
Let’s just start with the obvious. Andre Reed totaled 13,198, 18th best in league history. 951 receptions, again 18th in league history. 87 touchdowns, 15th in NFL history. He produced seven Pro Bowl seasons and was a two-time second-team All-Pro.
Andre Reed was a key piece of the K-Gun offense, and the Super Bowl runs as well. During the playoffs, Reed amassed 85 receptions, with 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns. Those of us old enough had the amazing experience of watching the greatest comeback in NFL history when the Buffalo Bills defeated the Houston Oilers in 1993. In this game, Reed was instrumental in that comeback, with eight receptions, 136 yards, and three touchdowns.
Andre Reed will forever hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Bills Mafia.
1 – Eric Moulds
Eric Moulds was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 1996 NFL Draft, with the 24th overall selection. He played with the Bills from 1996 – 2005 and is second in team history in receptions with 675, second in team history in yards with 9,096, and second in touchdowns with 48. Statistically, he’s been one of the best wide receivers to play in Buffalo but here’s why he’s number one.
Eric Moulds was voted to three Pro Bowls and two second-team All-Pro teams. He also did something that Andre Reed never did, which was have a season with 100 receptions. Andre Reed’s best season in receptions was 1994, with 90. Both wide receivers have produced four, 1,000 plus seasons and Reed played 16 seasons, to Moulds 12 years. Oh, and let’s not forget Eric Moulds hold the record among all wide receivers with 240 receiving yards in a playoff game.
Andre Reed played in a total of 234 games to Moulds 186. Here’s the thing, if you take Moulds’ and Reed’s per-game averages and extrapolate that over 234 games, the numbers are eerily similar for the most part. The thing that separates the two wide receivers for me and puts Moulds number one is simple, it’s Jim Kelly versus Todd Collins, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, and Kelly Holcomb. Admittingly, he played with Jim Kelly too, for one season, Kelly’s final year with the Buffalo Bills, which was Moulds’ rookie year.
Add to that, Moulds worked with four head coaches and six different offensive coordinators. Those teams Moulds played on, were simply not good. He never had a consistent coach, either the head coach or the offensive coordinator. The team never solved their quarterback issues and Moulds simply was the best player on one of the worst teams in the league for the majority of his career.
Despite all this, Moulds stills sits tied at 39th in NFL history for receptions and is 51st in receiving yards. Eric Moulds may never get into the NFL Hall of Fame but it’s certainly no fault of his own. For my money, Moulds is the greatest wide receiver to have ever played for the Buffalo Bills.
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