The road to making the Buffalo Bills‘ final roster may have grown a lot more narrow for Marquez Stevenson this week.
The 2021 sixth-round pick was primarily used as a return specialist last season, one where he missed a significant stretch with injury and found himself on the bench when poor weather conditions grounded the return game. The team’s acquisition of a speedy veteran and Stevenson’s struggles at team OTAs this week could now put Stevenson on the outside of the roster bubble.
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Competition at Kick Returner
Stevenson mostly split time with fellow wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie at punt and kick returner last season, though both were healthy scratches for a stretch late in the season when heavy winds led Bills head coach Sean McDermott to tap the more sure-handed Micah Hyde. Both will now have some competition from the team’s newest wide receiver, veteran Tavon Austin.
As the team noted, Austin has had a strong career both as a receiver and in the running game, but since 2018 has been primarily used as a punt returner. During his career, Austin has returned 190 punts for 1,483 yards with three touchdowns and a career-long return of 98 yards.
If Austin were to make the final roster, he would likely occupy the punt returner slot that Stevenson held at times last season. McKenzie would be considered a safer bet to make the final roster given his usage in the passing game and as a jet-sweep specialist, especially after he signed a two-year contract extension earlier this offseason.
Stevenson’s resume from 2022 may not be enough on its own. He returned 14 punts for a total of 132 yards, a 9.4 yards-per-return average, and returned seven kicks for 165 yards, a 23.6-yard average.
Stevenson Struggles at OTAs
Stevenson could also push to get more involvement in the passing game, especially given his speed and ability to stretch the field, but got off to a rough start at team OTAs this week. As The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia noted, he struggled with drops at practice for the second straight week.
“This time Stevenson dropped four more attempts and really looked to be battling his hands for much of the practice,” Buscaglia reported. “Stevenson has plenty of time to turn it around before September, but it’s a bit of a heightened concern if this trend continues.”
Buscaglia added that the best path to the final roster for Stevenson is to win the spot at the team’s return specialist, but will need to win the trust of McDermott — and there’s still time for him to do it.
“He’ll likely go up against McKenzie and some others, but Stevenson has to prove that there is no doubt about his trustworthiness in that role,” Buscaglia wrote. “Otherwise, his hold on a roster spot is not guaranteed. We’ll have to see how Stevenson battles back next week and then again at mandatory minicamp in two weeks.”
Stevenson had already flashed some of his ability, breaking off a 79-yard punt return touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the 2021 preseason. He is also one of the fastest receivers on the team’s roster.