There’s still a long way to go until the Buffalo Bills season starts, but early signs are looking very good for Isaiah McKenzie and his role in the offense.
The speedy wide receiver has played a minor role in the offense through his four seasons in Buffalo, with most of his impact coming on the special teams side as a return specialist. But the departure of a pair of veteran wide receivers has created an opening that it looks like McKenzie could fill next season.
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McKenzie Makes Big Impression at Minicamp
As The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia reported, McKenzie was quarterback Josh Allen’s favorite target at the recently completed minicamp, getting the largest share of targets and showing off his speed.
“Allen targeted McKenzie on four of the 12 attempts, connecting on three,” Buscaglia reported. “All three completions were short as Allen took what the defense was giving him, but McKenzie looked quick and shifty all day. McKenzie was one of only three receivers Allen targeted during team drills, and the other two — Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis — combined for only three targets. The rest of Allen’s passes went to tight ends and running backs.”
McKenzie has the chance to be the team’s primary slot receiver after the departure of Cole Beasley this offseason. Though McKenzie didn’t contribute much to the team’s passing attack last season — making 20 catches for 178 yards and one touchdown — he made a huge impression when he had the chance to fill while Beasley was out with COVID-19. Facing the New England Patriots in a Week 16 game to decide the division lead, McKenzie made 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
As Buscaglia reported, McKenzie looks like the team’s best slot receiver through offseason practices so far.
“In each practice I’ve witnessed, McKenzie has taken advantage of his opportunities and looked quicker than most of his teammates,” Buscaglia reported. “The disclaimer is that these sessions are designed for receivers to look good without any defensive physicality or pads. Though in McKenzie’s case, it was hard not to notice his dynamism. He’s a real contender to become the primary slot receiver this season, but unfortunately for him, his main competition also had an excellent minicamp and offseason.”
Competition for Targets
The Bills have added some other talented pass-catchers who will likely challenge McKenzie for his slot position. One of those is free-agent pickup Jamison Crowder, who also made a series of impressive catches at minicamp and prompted Buscaglia to call him a “technically savvy route runner” with a knack for making catches.
The Bills also used their fifth-round draft pick on Boise State receiver Khalil Shakir, earning some praise for the selection. The analysis outlet Pro Football Focus called this pick a “steal,” noting that Shakir posted a grade of 86.0 or above for all three seasons from 2019 to 2021.
Shakir could also help McKenzie shift to more of an offensive-focused role. He was a punt and kick returner in college, and gives the Bills the chance to move McKenzie out of that role. Second-year wide receiver Marquez Stevenson could also have the chance to return kicks.