Reading the Rooms (2022): Buffalo Bills WRs
As strong as the Buffalo Bills receiving corps has been in recent years, it may be even deeper in 2022. From top to bottom, this could be the best group Josh Allen has ever worked with.
Although Ken Dorsey is taking over for Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator, his promotion should still allow the WRs to thrive in this offense. But they will also be working under beloved receivers coach Chad Hall, giving the unit another level of continuity.
With summer underway, here’s a view on what the Bills receiving corps could look like once training camp begins.
Projected depth chart
|WR1 (X)||Stefon Diggs||Jake Kumerow||Marquez Stevenson||Tanner Gentry|
|WR2 (Z)||Gabriel Davis||Khalil Shakir||Isaiah Hodgins||Neil Pau’u|
|WR3 (Slot)||Jamison Crowder||Isaiah McKenzie||Tavon Austin|
We all know who the Buffalo Bills’ X receiver will be. Stefon Diggs has made a superstar turn in Buffalo, as he’s averaged 115 catches, 1,380 yards, and nine touchdowns per season in his two years in Orchard Park. Although Diggs did not have as gaudy of stats in 2021 as he did during a first-team All-Pro season in 2020, he did have another tremendous Pro Bowl campaign.
The Maryland native had over 100 receptions for the third time over the past four seasons (103), his fourth-straight 1,000-yard season (1,225), and set a career-high with 10 TDs in 2021. Diggs also improved in concentration from 2020 to 2021; his five drops and 3% drop rate were the lowest of his career since 2018.
The 2021 season did end a run from 2018 to 2020 where he garnered a passer rating of 100 or more when targeted, but his 90.6 rating in 2021 is still commendable.
Diggs could have a true Robin to his Batman in Gabe Davis. We all know what he did the last time he played football in the AFC Divisional Round. But he has been one of the most underrated receivers in the league since being drafted.
Despite just three career games with over 100 yards receiving, the Central Florida product has made the most of his targets. His 16.4 yards per reception are tied for eighth highest in the league since 2020 and he’s averaging a TD every 5.4 receptions in that span. Davis has really shown his worth as a field-stretching threat downfield with 12 career games with a YPR mark of 20 or higher.
Davis is likely to see an increased workload for the Bills in 2022 after tallying a total of 125 targets in his first two seasons.
The slot receiver competition should be interesting, but Jamison Crowder appears to be the leader to overtake Cole Beasley’s role in the offense. It may be hard for Crowder to replicate the second-team All-Pro season Beasley had in 2020, due to the many mouths to feed. However, he has the upside to have a season similar to the one Beasley had in 2019.
That 2019 season saw Beasley haul in 67 receptions for 778 yards and six scores. That same year was Crowder’s first (and best) season with the New York Jets. He totaled 78 catches for 833 yards and six scores. The problem is Crowder has not reached those heights since, mainly due to injury.
Since 2020, Crowder has been limited to 24 games, missing nine games. And, over the last four seasons, he’s missed 16 games total. But that does not meant he can’t produce when healthy. The Duke product has only posted five drops over the last two seasons, including two in 2021. Last year, he had the second-highest catch rate of his career (71.8%). And, in 2020, he garnered a 98.5 passer rating when targeted.
Crowder’s production may have a ceiling, given the deep WR group, his injury history, and being the No. 2 or 3 option in the Buffalo Bills passing attack. But, considering he’s played his career thus far — catching passes from the likes of Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Josh Johnson, Sam Darnold, Joe Flacco, Zach WIlson, and Mike White (to name a few) — there’s no telling what he can do with Josh Allen slinging him the rock.
Things are a bit unclear after that, but there is a lot of talent to go around. For instance, Isaiah McKenzie figures to have more of a role after stepping up in the Buffalo Bills’ regular season win in New England just the day after Christmas. That 11-catch, 125-yard, one-TD showing may have been his crowning moment, but people tend to forget the 74 yards from scrimmage he had in Buffalo’s rubber match with the Patriots in the playoffs.
It remains to be seen if McKenzie will be used more in the slot, but his role as a gadget player should uphold. He’s got 95 career receptions as a Bill to go along with 37 rushes. And we, of course, must consider the value he brings being a return man. But his receiving numbers show that he can possibly blossom if given more of a role — since 2019, the former Georgia Bulldog has had a 114.6 passer rating when targted, including back-to-back seasons of over 100 in 2020 (140.8) and 2021 (107.5).
Then there’s fifth-round rookie Khalil Shakir. He’s the one name that has been pegged as a true x-factor in the receiver room in terms of the next group. He’s got a similar build to Diggs and has an all-around game that allows him to play in and out of the slot. After two steady seasons in 2019 and 2020, Shakir capped his career at Boise State with career-highs across the board (77 receptions, 1,117 yards, 7 TDs) in 2021.
Shakir brings a toughness with his skillset too. He was a Deebo Samuel-type player in college, as he added 71 carries, 414 rushing yards, and four TDs on the ground. But he’s also a solid return man as well after posting a 12.8 punt return average last fall.
Marquez Stevenson, Isaiah Hodgins, Tavon Austin, Tanner Gentry, Jake Kumerow, and Neil Pau’u could be the players fighting for the final roster spot in the room. Austin may have one of the dopest college highlight tapes of all time, but it’s not 2012 anymore. However, even if he does not provide value on offense, the West Virginia product’s best route to make the team may be as a returner.
Stevenson had moments in the return game a year ago, but he also had some mishaps, on top of dealing with injury. Kumerow will also be a name to watch. Although his claim to fame was Aaron Rodgers’ displeasure over him being let go by the Green Bay Packers, Kumerow is one of the Buffalo Bills’ most important special teams players. In 2021, the former Division III standout set a new career mark with 264 special teams snaps.
- How many receivers will make the roster? Would seven be too much?
- How will Gabe Davis handle an increased role?
- Will James Cook’s addition cut into the target share?
- Can Jamsion Crowder stay healthy?
- Who will be the top slot receiver?
- Can Isaiah McKenzie expand his role?
- What impact will Khalil Shakir make?
- Will any practice squad guys elevate themselves?