Isaiah McKenzie is having a phenomenal offseason. The self-proclaimed face of the franchise is doing everything right so far in camp, and he may have already earned himself a bigger role in the offense moving forward. Though there are stipulations, McKenzie currently looks like the Buffalo Bills’ starting slot receiver this season.
There are plenty of snaps up for grabs amongst the Bills receivers, of course. The losses of Buffalo’s top two snap leaders out of the slot, Cole Beasley (who was second league-wide in slot snaps in 2021) and Emmanuel Sanders, make for a hole that needs filling.
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Beasley’s absence will, undoubtedly, be felt and Sanders did his fair share of slot work too. Still, McKenzie took 43% of his snaps from the slot in 2021, so experience isn’t what he’s lacking; just opportunity. When given the chance, he’s excelled.
A Shot at Slot for Isaiah McKenzie
When Beasley and Gabe Davis (Covid list) were out Week 16 against the New England Patriots last season, it was McKenzie who stepped up. His play was crucial to Buffalo’s success on offense. New England didn’t have an answer for the Bills’ game plan of having McKenzie running away from linebackers on crossing routes and slants. He delivered 11 catches, 125 yards, and a TD on 12 targets. They were all career highs.
“The biggest adjustment is going to be the potential for stepping into a full-time role.”– Sean MCDermott on McKenzie in 2022, video Press conference (01/08/22)
As a result of that game, we have exactly one game on file of McKenzie as the starting slot receiver in this offense. As teams game plan to beat him, his production per-game would be expected to decrease from that surprise performance, but his skillset allows him to draw coverage and break up zones to help teammates get open.
An Opportunity to Seize
So, where did his front-runner status come from? It wasn’t just the absence of Beasley and Sanders that brought this on. His main competition for the role, recently signed Jamison Crowder, has been hurt and unable to participate. Rookie WR Khalil Shakir is drawing plenty of attention for his play, but has been working with the second-string in practice thus far.
It’s been reported by numerous outlets that McKenzie has made the most of his starting time, and has been a topic of discussion during plenty of the team’s press conferences. He’ll have to keep it up – with the preseason only a week away, Crowder returns to practice. The 29-year old was a notable signing for the Buffalo Bills this offseason, and won’t take this competition sitting down. The team also signed Tavon Austin, the former eighth-overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
What do you think? Is Isaiah McKenzie capable of filling the slot WR role for the Buffalo Bills? Let us know!
Featured Image: Winslow Townson/AP