The Buffalo Bills’ overhauled wide receiver group will be a focal point throughout training camp and the preseason. While many will focus on the additions made in the offseason, the first big changes to the grouping happened during the 2018 season. Gone were lumbering targets like Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes, replaced by smaller players who could separate from tight man coverage.
With so many new faces in the room, it’s going to be difficult for those who were on the roster last season to reprise their roles—and possibly even their roster spots. In today’s installment of our “90 players in 90 days” series, we look at one of Buffalo’s 2018 midseason adds at wide receiver.
Name: Isaiah McKenzie
Height/Weight: 5’8” 173 lbs.
Age: 24 (25 on 4/9/20)
Acquired: Claimed off waivers by Buffalo on 11/5/18
Financial situation (per Spotrac): McKenzie enters the final year of the pact the Bills assumed liability for when they claimed him off waivers. McKenzie’s 2019 cap hit is $645,000 with no guaranteed money.
2018 Recap: McKenzie began the year with Denver. He was waived on September 10, but he re-signed to the team’s practice squad. The Broncos promoted him to the active roster on October 25. He appeared in that week’s game—a 30-23 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs, but he only appeared on three offensive snaps and three special-teams snaps. He was not targeted in the passing game, and he returned two punts for 13 yards. The Broncos waived him on November 2, and the Bills claimed him on November 5. He immediately found his way onto the field for the Bills, appearing in the following week’s game against the New York Jets. The Bills walloped their division rivals, winning 41-10 at The Meadowlands. McKenzie appeared on seven offensive snaps in that game, and it was clear that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had a plan for the shifty slot receiver. McKenzie carried the ball three times for 32 yards and also caught his lone target, a 14 yard pass thrown by Matt Barkley. McKenzie ended up playing 222 offensive snaps for Buffalo, catching 18 passes for 179 yards. He added ten rushes for 66 yards and two touchdowns. He also served as a returner on both kickoffs and punts. He returned 14 punts for 87 yards while in Buffalo, and he also returned 12 kickoffs for 237 yards.
Positional outlook: McKenzie is one of twelve receivers vying for a place on the 53-man roster. Zay Jones, Robert Foster, John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Andre Roberts are generally thought to be the top five, with Ray-Ray McCloud III, Duke Williams, Cam Phillips, David Sills V, Nick Easley, and Victor Bolden Jr. fighting for one or two spots that remain.
2019 Offseason: McKenzie has participated in all offseason activities to date. During mandatory minicamp, he saw plenty of run with the first unit, though projected top slot receiver Cole Beasley was out while recovering from offseason surgery.
2019 Season outlook: McKenzie’s status is worth monitoring over the next month, as he played a sizable role on a pretty bad receiving corps last year. Did he see so much time because the receivers were so bad? Or, do his skills fit exactly what Daboll wants? It might take something drastic, like an injury or a surprise trade (Zay Jones, perhaps?) to make room for McKenzie, given the additions of higher-priced players at slot receiver (Beasley) and kick returner (Roberts) who also have far better NFL track records of success than McKenzie. I won’t count him out entirely, but it will take a very strong preseason to put him on the roster in 2019.