Bills: Is the Gabriel Davis Hype Warranted in Buffalo?

Bills receiver Gabriel Davis had 8 catches for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Bills receiver Gabriel Davis had 8 catches for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns. /

Has the anticipated 2022 breakout for Gabriel Davis gone hyperbolic?

Perhaps. Certainly, the battery of Josh Allen and Gabriel Davis left a lasting impression during the Divisional Round shootout between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. There’s a chance we’re making too much of his 8-catches, 201 yards and four touchdowns! It was only one game. Neither defense performed particularly well. We have a tendency to overreact to standout performances when they occur during primetime; it’s easy to get swept up into the romance and hysteria born of a great individual effort for sure. If you examine Davis’ statistical output in 2021, outside of his sterling playoff performance last season, there’s little variance compared to what he accomplished in 2020 as a rookie.

In fact, during his rookie campaign, Gabriel Davis managed a 35/599/7 line on 62 targets. During his second season in Buffalo, Davis amassed a 35/549/6 line on 63 targets. Encouraging totals for the fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Central Florida; but hardly the type of performance(s) that on its surface would suggest an impending leap, particularly if appraising successive seasons. So the Bills found a matchup they liked against the Chiefs and exploited it with Davis being the primary beneficiary. We should temper our expectations in 2022, right?

Pessimism will abate. You may not like it, but accept it.

Considering the aforementioned, I understand why a 2022 Gabriel Davis leap might be met with some skepticism. However, I believe there’s a more compelling case to support a legitimate breakout this season. Re-visiting his regular season performances in 2020 and 2021 there truly is minimal variance in terms of counting stats: receptions, yards and touchdowns. In fact, one might argue he took a slight step back in generating explosive plays due to a drop in average yards per reception (17.1 in 2020; 15.7 in 2021). Davis’ drop rate spiked from year one to year two, as well. But, I find it particularly telling that Davis managed almost identical production despite playing only 51% of the offensive snaps in 2021; compared to 73% of the Bills offensive snaps in 2020 ( That differential makes sense considering Davis started seven fewer games in 2021 compared to 2020 resulting in 226 fewer snaps.

What’s more, Gabriel Davis’ 62 targets in 2020 was good for third most on the team. Whereas his 63 targets in 2021 (fifth-most) didn’t even make the podium. Clearly there were more mouths to feed. Still, despite fewer snaps and an increase in missed opportunities Davis still managed to do as much, in year two. Whether that portends Gabriel Davis becoming a household NFL name remains to be seen. However, when juxtaposed with 182 vacated targets (Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley) and the rapport Davis has developed with Josh Allen it’s hard to imagine the arrow pointing anywhere but up.

Obviously, some of that volume will be usurped by free agent acquisition Jamison Crowder but he’s expected to assume Cole Beasley’s role as Davis slides into the role vacated by Emmanuel Sanders. Davis’ finish to the 2021 season made Sanders expendable and a 40-50% increase in targets, in one of the league’s most explosive offenses is a conservative projection. You probably don’t have to look much further than Davis’ target share during games Sanders didn’t play. In games in which Sanders was active Davis averaged less than four targets per game; in the three contests Sanders was inactive, Davis more than doubled that amount with eight targets per game.

Enough with the data let’s talk practical application.

The most successful wideouts in today’s NFL are deployed all over the formation and can consistently beat man-to-man coverage. An under-appreciated aspect of Gabriel Davis’ game is his ability to create separation. He’s not a speed merchant nor is he super twitchy but he does a good job of using his hands, stemming his route and stacking defenders. Despite being one of the bigger wideouts on the Bills roster he runs a healthy number of his routes from the slot, creating plenty of favorable matchups against linebackers and safeties. Furthermore, with Stefon Diggs garnering the focus of the opposition’s pass defense Davis will continue to face a significant amount of man coverage against lesser defensive backs.

Another important factor to consider, as we prepare for Gabriel Davis to take his game to another level, is first time play-caller Ken Dorsey, and his relationship with trigger man Josh Allen; while tangential, this bodes well for Davis. Former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is now the head coach of the New York Giants. Daboll is credited with unlocking Josh Allen’s talent, opening up the offense and forcing the opposition to defend four-to-five wideouts on any given play. Most teams simply didn’t have the personnel to matchup nor the corresponding pass rush to mitigate Buffalo’s offensive attack. While Daboll certainly will be missed, head coach Sean McDermott’s decision to promote Dorsey, the Bills quarterbacks coach over the last few seasons, was a shrewd decision; recommended by Allen himself. Dorsey represents familiarity which breeds continuity. I don’t expect Dorsey to be a carbon copy of Daboll but the offense isn’t expected to change substantially. Simply keeping the terminology intact bodes well for everyone in the offense including Gabriel Davis.

All things considered circumstances seem ripe for Gabriel Davis to enjoy a year-three breakout. His role will most certainly expand. There’s a level of familiarity with both quarterback and offensive system. And perhaps most importantly Davis appeared to be playing with a lot of confidence down the stretch last season, punctuated by a pair of playoff performances netting five touchdowns. Assuming he remains healthy, it’s difficult to imagine Davis not doubling his reception and yardage totals. Even if his regular season touchdown total remained static a 70/1050/6 line would be more than enough  of a leap to substantiate Davis as a legitimate No. 2 option in an NFL offense.