Former Bills No. 1 Receiver Returns to Team in Surprise Move

John Brown

Getty John Brown celebrates after catching a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins.

The Buffalo Bills are addressing their lack of depth at wide receiver by bringing back the “Smoke.”

John Brown, the veteran wide receiver who earned the nickname “Smoke” for his burner speed, will be returning to the Bills as a member of the practice squad. Brown spent two years in Buffalo and was their top wide receiver for the 2019 season, helping the second-year Josh Allen make a significant leap forward and getting the Bills to the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons.

Brown joins the practice squad after the departure of former teammate Isaiah Hodgins, and could eventually provide some depth to a wide receiving corps hit hard by injuries.

Brown Back With the Bills

The team announced on Saturday that they signed Brown to the practice squad. Brown had two successful seasons with the Bills, leading the team in 2019 with 1,060 yards and six touchdowns as a deep threat for Allen. Brown had a memorable play in the team’s playoff game that season, throwing a touchdown pass to Allen to open the scoring against the Houston Texans.

His production dropped the next season as Stefon Diggs joined the Bills and led the league in receiving yards and receptions, with Brown making 33 receptions for 458 yards and three touchdowns.

Brown appeared in four games last season, two each for the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars, but had no receptions. He was a free agent this season.

Bills Lose Depth at Wide Receiver

The Bills are down a pair of wide receivers from their opening-day roster, with both Jamison Crowder and Jake Kumerow being placed on injured reserve with ankle injuries.

They had called on Hodgins, a 2020 draft pick who missed his rookie season with an injury and appeared in just one game last season, as a fill-in from the practice squad. Hodgins had four catches for 41 yards in a 38-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was picked up on waivers by the New York Giants after being released by the Bills.

The Bills have struggled at times in the passing game, with Allen throwing six interceptions in a stretch of three games. They have rebounded in wins over the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. In their win over Detroit on Thanksgiving, Allen found Diggs for a 36-yard strike to put the Bills into range for the game-winning field goal with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter.

After the game, Diggs gave credit to Allen for the throw.

“I would say it’s not me at all. I got the best quarterback in the league,” Diggs said. “Anytime we hit a lull, it’s like his eyes are locked in, he’s focused. I try to be that support system, you know, be his receiver, catch the ball, get open like he always tell me. And that’ll bring some energy. You know, get my guy going, that’s my guy man. When in doubt, I’m riding with 17.”

The Bills could still bring in more help at wide receiver. Free-agent receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is reportedly planning a visit with the Bills as he nears a return from a torn ACL and prepares to make a free-agency decision.

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