Players in Review (2022): Khalil Shakir
Starting the third and final week of the Buffalo Bills offensive players in review series, I’m going to discuss WR Khalil Shakir. So far, I have covered WR Gabe Davis and RBs James Cook and Nyheim Hines as part of this three-week series. On the defensive side of things, Iestyn Harris covered DE Greg Rousseau last week and is working on CB Kaiir Elam this week.
As for Khalil Shakir, I’ll say the same thing this week that I said about Cook and Hines last week… he was underutilized.
The Buffalo Bills traded a fifth-round pick (168) and a sixth-round pick (203) to the Chicago Bears last year to move up 20 spots in round five to draft Shakir (148 overall). He was the 21st of 28 wideouts selected. The Boise State product was regarded as one of the steals of the draft considering he fell to round five.
In four years (43 games) at Boise State, Shakir had 208 receptions for 2,878 yards (13.8 yards/reception) and 20 TDs. His best season came in 2021 when he caught 77 balls for 1,117 yards (14.5 avg.) and 7 TDs. He also added 130 rushing yards on 21 attempts (6.2 avg).
I went to the Buffalo Bills’ Town Hall event on that Sunday of draft weekend, and I specifically remember Bills GM Brandon Beane saying that they viewed Shakir as their WR4. This means that he would be the first guy to come off the bench, either in the slot or on the boundary. (The slot is considered WR3.) It seemed like a perfect spot for someone with speed, athleticism, and versatility.
However, the Bills hardly used him.
Shakir finished his rookie season with just 10 receptions on 20 targets for 161 yards and one TD over 14 games. During his junior season in college, he had 10 receptions for 139 yards and 2 TDs in just ONE GAME. As a senior, he had a game where he went for 166 yards on just seven receptions. So, his numbers with the Bills this past season were underwhelming to say the least.
But the funny thing is, his numbers were actually good (outside of the generic stats). First of all, Shakir averaged 16.1 yards/reception. He did not have one fumble and only dropped two passes all season. On top of that, he led all rookie WRs in the rate of which he got open vs. single man coverage. Out of 70 single-man snaps, Shakir found himself open 34 times, giving him a 48.57% open rate.
So what happened with Shakir this year? Why did the Bills bury him on the depth chart? That’s a good question, one that I really don’t have an answer to. It’s another one of those many questions that left fans scratching their heads after the season ended... Why didn’t Cook and Hines see more action? Where was the screen game? Why did they never implement a short-to-intermediate passing game? What happened to utilizing the slot/middle of the field? Why did they go deep to Gabe Davis so often?
The Bills added four slot receivers and three speedy, pass-catching running backs this season. (For the slot, they re-signed Isaiah McKenzie, signed Jamison Crowder, drafted Shakir, and then even brought Cole Beasley back. At RB, they signed Duke Johnson, drafted Cook, and then acquired Hines.) But for some reason, they seemed to have forgotten about their plethora of guys who they brought in to move the chains and get YAC (yards after catch). Their play calls never matched up with their personnel.
Shakir, Cook, and Hines combined for just 36 receptions all season... like, what? To put that into perspective, 32-year old RB Rex Burkhead had 37 receptions this season while never starting a game for the Texans.
What Was His Role? WR4?
Buffalo started the season with McKenzie and Crowder being WRs 3a and 3b while Jake Kumerow was playing a good amount of snaps as the run-blocking receiver. So Shakir essentially started the season as the sixth and final WR on the roster. (The Bills placed Marquez Stevenson on IR and then put Isaiah Hodgins on the practice squad.)
Crowder and Kumerow both went down early in the season with ankle injuries and only played a combined 10 games. So, it seemed like the Bills would replace Crowder with Shakir and platoon him with McKenzie. Except that never happened. McKenzie saw most of the snaps in the slot, and then the Bills brought Beasley back late in the season.
Shakir finished as the Bills’ seventh-leading receiver, behind Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, Isaiah McKenzie, Devin Singletary, and James Cook. According to Ryan Talbot of New York Upstate and Syracuse.com, Shakir is training this offseason with former Bills WR Eric Moulds as he hopes to have a bigger role next season.
As for next season, I would love to see Shakir as this team’s starting slot receiver. As of right now, the Bills have four WRs under contract for 2023: Diggs, Davis, McKenzie and Shakir. This makes me think that they should sign a veteran WR in free agency and then draft one as well.
I will get into this more as we get closer to free agency, but I would like to see the Bills sign a boundary WR to take the pressure off of Davis at WR2. I would like to see them draft an outside receiver as well so they can groom him to replace Davis in the event that he doesn’t re-sign with Buffalo. And because I’m that confident in Shakir in the slot.
I’m not opposed to adding another slot receiver, particularly in the draft if they can find the right one. But this team is built around Josh Allen’s big arm, so I think they need to load up on outside weapons. Have the personnel match the offensive identity. And then you’ll still have Shakir and McKenzie over the middle. (If they do make Shakir their starting slot receiver, I would like to see McKenzie used in his gadget role again, with the Bills using him in pre-snap motion.)
With the Titans releasing WR Robert Woods yesterday, a lot of Bills fans are saying they would love to see him come home to Buffalo. Again, I’m not opposed to adding a veteran wideout like Woods who has inside-outside flexibility. But I think the Buffalo Bills have a younger version of Robert Woods stashed away on their bench in Khalil Shakir.
Khalil Shakir Final Grade: B
Featured Image: Adrian Kraus/AP