Isaiah McKenzie spent the last three seasons studying from one of the league’s best slot receivers, and now is ready to step into the job with the Buffalo Bills.
McKenzie is expected to grab a significant share of the targets available after the team released Cole Beasley, moving beyond his role primarily as a return specialist and playing a bigger part of the offense. In order to do so, McKenzie said that wants to build the same chemistry that Beasley had with quarterback Josh Allen.
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Working With Allen
Speaking to the Buffalo News, McKenzie said he wants the same on-field connection that Beasley and Allen shared. Beasley became a favorite target for Allen, catching 256 passes over the last three years and showing a knack for coming up in the biggest moments.
“I want that chemistry that they had the past few years,” McKenzie said. “I want that. We’re gonna have to speed it up a little because the season is right around the corner. But I want that chemistry they had even though they been together for like three years. They built a great chemistry, and that’s what I want with Josh. When camp comes, I want to keep communicating with him and keep learning from him and just help the team win the best way I can.”
McKenzie showed a preview of his potential role in the slot last season. Filling in while Beasley was on the COVID-19 list in a critical game against the New England Patriots, McKenzie had the best game of his career, catching 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. The Bills won, moving into first place in the AFC East and holding it for the rest of the season.
But McKenzie has never been a major part of the Bills offense, serving as a speedy change of pace in the slot and jet-sweep specialist in the running game. His most productive season in Buffalo came in 2020, when he made 30 catches for 282 yards and five touchdowns.
McKenzie Already a Popular Target
McKenzie has made the most of his early opportunities to build chemistry with Allen. As The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia noted, McKenzie was the top target during the team’s minicamp in June. He noted that Allen mostly found McKenzie for short completions, but the receiver “looked quick and shifty all day.”
Though Buscaglia added the caveat that minicamp naturally gives an advantage to offensive players over the defense, McKenzie was still able to impress.
“McKenzie’s role on the team will be an interesting one to track during camp,” he noted. “The Bills released Cole Beasley this offseason, which left the slot receiver position wide open, and McKenzie is one of the two legitimate options for the role at the moment. In each practice I’ve witnessed, McKenzie has taken advantage of his opportunities and looked quicker than most of his teammates.”
McKenzie will have plenty of competition for targets out of the slot. The Bills also signed free agent Jamison Crowder and drafted Boise State receiver Khalil Shakir, who will not only see work out of the slot but could also serve as a kick and punt returner.