Written by Greg Boucher
The 2020 season was an historic year for the Buffalo Bills offense as they seemed to rewrite their record books every other week. Third year QB Josh Allen took the next step on his way to becoming one of the league’s best, throwing for 4,544 yards 37 TDs leading the offense to a 31.7 points per game average. While Allen completed nearly 400 passes on the year, he was generous in spreading the wealth, connecting with almost every receiver on his team for a TD throughout the year from superstar WR Stephon Diggs to 4th string TE Jason Croom. While there seemed to be a free for all in the end zone this year there was one player Allen was unable to hook up with, rookie WR Isiah Hodgins. GM Brandon Beane addressed the wide receiver corps heavily in 2020, trading for Diggs and drafting both Davis in the 4th round and Hodgins in the 6th. Unfortunately, after an impressive showing in camp, one that seemed to put him ahead of fellow rookie Davis on the depth chart, Hodgins injured his shoulder severely enough it would eventually require season ending surgery. “He has something that may require surgery at some point… but not right now,” Beane said at the time of the IR designation. “Just going to try and let the injury calm down. Let him get some strength in his shoulder and see where it goes. He battled hard, he finished camp with it, but I do think it was affecting him a little bit and so we’ll see. At some point, if we need to shut it down, we will, but right now we’re going to try to approach and see if he’s able to come back and help us, should we need him, this season.”
While Davis went on to have one of the most productive rookie seasons in Buffalo history with 35 receptions, 599 yards and 7 TDS. Hodgins seemed to fade off into the abyss, far from the minds of fans but with a new season just around the corner and a pressing salary cap that may claim veteran John Brown and utility receiver Isiah McKenzie, Hodgins may find himself thrust back into relevance. So that begs the question, just who is Isiah Hodgins and what can he bring to the table in 2021? For starters Hodgins is a tall, slender bodied receiver, who stands almost 6’4 and weighs about 210lbs. but without question his most striking feature is his exceptional pair of hands. While he was certainly not in the conversation for top wide receiver in the 2020 draft, he was noted by many for being one of the best natural catchers available. At Oregon State he compiled 176 catches, 2,322 yards and 20 TDs all statistics which ranked near the top in school history. Hodgins was best known for his ability to win contested catches, he utilized his length, his coordination and body control extremely well to high point balls, to snatch them away from defenders and make the difficult grabs while tapping a toe down on the sideline or in the corner of the endzone.
Despite his quality production and a pair of exceptional hands Hodgins wound up at the back end of the draft because he lacks speed, which he reaffirmed to scouts when he posted a 4.61 forty at the combine, a slow time for WRs considering the scouting threshold is 4.5 seconds. Scouts feared he would struggle on his release, and that he would not be able to create enough separation on routes or provide enough vertical threat to produce consistently. While speed is a large part of what makes a wide receiver successful it is not the end all be all, above all they have to catch the ball when it is in their radius. Hall of famer Chris Carter posted a 4.63, Future Hall of Famer, Larry Fitzgerald clocked in at 4.63 and potential Hall of Fame inductee Anquan Boldin posted a pedestrian 4.71 time. Now I am not saying Hodgins has the making to be any of the aforementioned players but it is proof that one doesn’t need to be a track star to succeed in this league. In fact, many players who ran impressive times have had disappointing careers, J.J Nelson and Jacoby Ford posted a 4.28’s, Tyrone Calico posted a 4.3, Chad Jackson ran a 4.32 and none were able to parlay their lightning quick speed into a successful career
With the current state of the Bills receiving corps, it will be difficult for Hodgins to break through, especially after Beane went out and signed veteran and elite route runner Emanuel Sanders who will undoubtedly join Diggs, Beasley and Davis in the starting rotation. Beane also brought back gadget extraordinaire Isiah McKenzie who may also have an increased role in 2021. Aside from the players already under contract Hodgins has to contend with for a roster spot there are those who are not here yet, based on some pre-draft zoom visits Beane seems intent on drafting a speedy receiver as well, someone to presumably take on the vertical role left vacant by the release of John Brown. The competition will be stiff and the odds stacked against him but I believe that Hodgins has the talent to find himself onto the field and with his reliable hands he has the potential to be a dark horse contributor next season.