As we progress from 1st to 4th down, it will reflect my personal viewpoint on the most likely to least likely player to make the team. If the Bills do decide to keep seven receivers on the final roster, I do not see the reason to keep both McKenzie and McCloud, thus the reason I have ranked Isaiah and Duke at one and two, respectively.
1st Down – Isaiah McKenzie
Heading into the offseason, Isaiah McKenzie may have been a forgotten man to some within the wide receiver group. I will be the first to admit that at the onset of training camp, my belief was that McKenzie’s chances of making the Bills roster in 2019 were less than 50%. However, after a solid camp and preseason, McKenzie may now be the favorite to be the Bills 6th wide receiver in 2019.
In my opinion, there is a clear need to have a competent and reliable backup slot receiver for Cole Beasley on this roster. The importance of the slot receiver role for the Bills (and Josh Allen) was on clear display throughout the early stages of both the first and second preseason games. The Bills could decide to keep a player like McKenzie over Duke Williams as a bit of insurance should an injury force Beasley to miss any time throughout the season.
If the Bills feel enamored enough by Ray-Ray McCloud they could also decide to keep McKenzie on the 53, and attempt to sneak McCloud on to the practice squad. Keeping McKenzie would also provide the Bills another option (and possibly, a primary option) at punt returner, outside of Andre Roberts.
2nd Down – Duke Williams
Duke Williams has developed somewhat of a cult following ever since he was signed to a futures contract by the Bills back in January. There are a lot of compelling reasons to keep Duke Williams on the final 53 man roster.
Perhaps the most compelling reasons to keep Duke Williams is the fact that he brings elements to the receiver room that none of the other “top 5” guys can offer. Williams has shown an excellent rapport with backup quarterback Matt Barkley throughout the preseason and has made some really nice catches along the way. Through three preseason games, Williams has notched 6 catches for 53 yards.
While those numbers don’t jump off the page, the highlight here is the ability he’s shown on the two touchdowns he’s nabbed in back to back games. I am not certain the Bills have any other receivers on their roster that could have made the impressive catch Williams did against the Panthers for a touchdown.
Williams has scored two of the three Bills receiving touchdowns thus far in the preseason and has shown strong hands catching a few other contested balls as well. In my mind, Williams could be more than just a red zone threat for the Bills, and if the coaches feel he could eventually contribute on special teams, I would not be surprised if he finds his way on to the final 53 man roster.
3rd Down – Ray-Ray McCloud
Out of the “top three” receivers battling it out for a spot on the final 53, McCloud is the only player of the three of which the Bills invested draft capital. He has also produced some decent numbers throughout a solid, yet unspectacular, preseason.
Taking a quick glance at McCloud’s preseason statistics compared to Isaiah McKenzie, the numbers are staggeringly similar. McCloud has four catches compared to McKenzie’s three, and both have chipped in five punt returns for almost identical yardage totals (34 for McCloud; 35 for McKenzie).
McCloud has also seen a few nice punt returns nullified due to special teams penalties. On the theme of special teams, we have also seen McCloud make a few nice plays on some of the coverage units throughout the preseason.
If the Bills feel that McCloud’s long term potential is higher than that of Isaiah McKenzie, we could be talking about him as the 6th wide receiver to make this team. Various outlets have reported that McCloud has seemingly taken a step forward in the mental aspect of his game as well, compared to where he was at the same time last year.
4th Down – Everyone Else (Sills, Easley, Phillips, Bolden Jr.)
It is hard to make an argument for any of these four players. David Sills, Nick Easley, Cam Phillips, and Victor Bolden Jr. have a combined three receptions through the team’s first three preseason games. Neither Sills nor Easley has even recorded a single reception.
I think it’s fairly easy to make the case that although all of these receivers have seen a decent share of playing time thus far in the preseason, the quarterback playing a vast majority of their snaps has been Tyree Jackson, and he’s been holding them back.
Cam Phillips scored a touchdown against the Colts, but I can’t envision a scenario where the Bills would keep Cam Phillips over a player like Duke Johnson. Phillips does at least appear to have a decent chance to land on the practice squad.
Nick Easley has not even recorded a target through three games and could be fighting an uphill battle to even make the practice squad.
Victor Bolden Jr. has shown a bit of flash on a few of his kick returns but is not going to offer the Bills much in the receiving game. He is likely auditioning for another team with the hopes of landing a kick returning gig elsewhere.
Even with zero catches in the preseason, I still believe that David Sill has the best chance, albeit a slim one, to make the final roster. The Bills clearly put the press on Sills as an UDFA, as evidenced by the focus he received on the Embedded series. Like the others in this group, Sills has played almost exclusively with Tyree Jackson as his quarterback throughout the preseason. Sills does at least appear to offer a bit more of a unique receiving skillset but is not likely to contribute anything on special teams. For these reasons, he is still a longshot to make the final roster, but I could see the Bills keeping him around on the practice squad.