Bills Rumors: Veteran WR May Be Forced Into Minor Role as Season Opens

Jamison Crowder

Getty Jamison Crowder looks on before a Buffalo Bills preseason game.

Jamison Crowder could find a difficult time getting targets as the Buffalo Bills open the season.

The veteran slot receiver was one of the team’s biggest free-agency additions on offense, filling some of the void left by Cole Beasley’s departure. But Crowder was beaten out by Isaiah McKenzie — who through four years had played a limited role in the passing game — and could find himself with a small role as the season opens.

Crowder May Not Play in Bills’ Season Opener Against Rams

Through his first four years in Buffalo, McKenzie played mostly as a return specialist and jet-sweep threat out of the backfield. His most productive season came in 2020 when he made 30 catches for 282 yards and five touchdowns, though a large chunk of his production came in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins as the Bills were resting most of their starters.

But McKenzie came up big as a slot receiver last year when Beasley was out with a COVID-19 infection, making 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in a key Week 16 win over the New England Patriots. He continued to look strong in training camp and ultimately won out the starting slot job over Crowder.

As Matt Warren of SB Nation’s Buffalo Rumblings noted, Crowder could be the odd man out in a packed receiving corps, and at risk of being left inactive against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday and for subsequent games.

“The Bills have their starting three wide receivers, then Khalil Shakir is the primary punt returner and Jake Kumerow is a special teams stalwart,” he wrote. “With what Shakir showed during camp and the preseason, he’s more than capable of finishing a game if one of the starters goes down. Crowder doesn’t play special teams and is likely inactive on game days unless there is an injury.”

Crowder had been a steady slot threat for the New York Jets over the last three seasons, averaging close to 660 yards per season.

McKenzie Fills Key Need for Bills

As The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia noted during training camp, McKenzie looked like a better playmaker than Crowder and could fill an important need for the team this season. The Bills had one of the league’s lowest average yards after the catch last season, and this offseason made it a priority to improve in that area.

As Buscaglia wrote, McKenzie could be one of the strongest candidates to help in that respect.

“The speedy McKenzie is a nightmare against man and is improved against zone. He has been excellent all summer and has far more potential to provide the team yards after the catch than Crowder,” Buscaglia wrote. “Getting more after the catch has been a talking point all spring and summer and will likely be a focus of the offense all season.”

But McKenzie may not take a big role right away. He is coming off a groin injury suffered after the last preseason game, and though he was able to fully return to practice, it could hold him back early in the season and give Crowder the chance for more targets.