By Mike Roadk, ESPN Staff Writer
Through six games, the Buffalo Bills’ second-leading wide receiver in terms of yards is not second-round rookie Zay Jones or veteran Andre Holmes.
It is Deonte Thompson, whom the Bills signed on Tuesday.
Thompson caught four passes for a team-high 107 yards in Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, placing him second to Jordan Matthews (172 yards in five games) on the Bills’ stat sheet among wide receivers this season. Thompson was able to quickly see the field, in part because of his history with Tyrod Taylor. And that experience could help Thompson become Taylor’s favorite receiver in short order.
There was a sizable void to be filled at receiver for the Bills when they signed Thompson, 28, coming off their bye week. Through the first five games, Bills wide receivers were averaging 10.2 targets, 4.8 receptions and 63.2 yards per game — the lowest rates in the NFL since at least 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
Enter Thompson. Initially signed by Buffalo off the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad in Week 15 of the 2014 season, Thompson played in the 2014 season finale for the Bills and spent training camp with the team in 2015. He was placed on injured reserve during final cuts that summer and later released, catching on with the Chicago Bears.
In 23 games for Chicago in 2015 and 2016, including six starts, Thompson caught 24 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He started three of the Bears’ first five games this season, catching 11 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown before he was abruptly released Oct. 11.
The Bills signed Thompson six days later. While Thompson never played with Taylor in Buffalo, the two had a shared history of playing in an All-American game in high school and for almost three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens from 2012 through 2014.
“I trust him,” Taylor said after Sunday’s game. “I trust all [the Bills’ receivers]. [Thompson] was able to take advantage of some of the matchups and he was able to make some plays downfield.”
Thompson gave the Bills the deep threat they were lacking so far this season. He caught a 27-yard pass from Taylor in the second quarter, grabbed a 23-yard pass in the fourth quarter and made the defining play of the afternoon by finding open space along the left sideline for a 44-yard gain with less than four minutes remaining in the contest. That play, which also included a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness call against Tampa Bay, set up the Bills’ game-tying touchdown.
“I just knew what time it was in the game,” Thompson said. “I was like, if he throws to me, I’m coming down with this ball, regardless.”