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91 players in 91 days: Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie

Buffalo’s WR3 from 2019 won’t retain that role in 2020. Will he retain his spot on the roster?

NFL: JAN 04 AFC Wild Card - Bills at Texans Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills added Stefon Diggs to a top-heavy wide receiver room this offseason, giving the team a bonafide number-one wideout for third-year quarterback Josh Allen. Trading for Diggs adds expectations of growth to the Bills’ offense, but it also adds pressure to some returning players with regard to their roster spots.

Buffalo had four wideouts play at least 20% of the offensive snaps last year, and all four players are currently under contract. While two are roster locks, the other two are anything but.

In today’s edition of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile one of those two members of the “20% club” who is anything but a lock to remain on the team in 2020.

Name: Isaiah McKenzie
Number: 19
Position: WR
Height/Weight: 5’8”, 173 lbs.
Age: 25 (26 on 4/9/2021)
Experience/Draft: 4; selected in the fifth round (No. 172 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Denver BroncosCollege: Georgia
Acquired: Claimed off waivers by Bills on 11/5/18

Financial situation (per Spotrac): McKenzie was a restricted free agent this year, and he was tendered a contract by Buffalo. That one-year pact is worth a total of $962,500, of which $275,000 is guaranteed. If McKenzie is released, that guarantee will stand as the dead-cap charge counting against Buffalo’s salary cap.

2019 Recap: In terms of snap share, stats, and usage, McKenzie was Buffalo’s third wideout last year, appearing on 451 offensive snaps (42.2%) for the season. McKenzie set career highs in games played (15), starts (8), targets (39), receptions (27), receiving yardage (254), receiving touchdowns (1), and scrimmage yards (303). He added eight rushes for 49 yards, and he returned kicks while Andre Roberts was out to begin the year (three kick returns for 65 yards; one punt return for four yards). McKenzie also played three defensive snaps in the season finale as a cornerback, making him one of only two players (safety Jordan Poyer is the other) to play snaps in all three phases of the game. Poyer appears on “victory formation” snaps, so McKenzie’s three-play stint as a shutdown corner is a tad more impressive.

Positional outlook: The Bills invested heavily in their receiving corps this offseason, essentially spending six draft choices to acquire Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, and Isaiah Hodgins. Maybe it isn’t fair to categorize those acquisitions in that way, but Buffalo sent four picks for Diggs (along with a seventh-round choice spent on cornerback Dane Jackson), then used their own fourth-rounder and sixth-rounder to draft Davis and Hodgins, respectively. This comes just one year after handing out $56 million in contracts to John Brown and Cole Beasley, who led the team in receiver snaps last year. Buffalo also has Robert Foster, the fourth member of the “20% club,” returning this year, along with Duke Williams and Andre Roberts. Nick Easley and Ray-Ray McCloud III round out the receiver group.

2020 Offseason: Nothing new to report.

2020 Season outlook: I like McKenzie, I really do, but I find it hard to believe that the Bills will keep him on the roster this year given the level of investment they’ve made in the position over the last two years. Barring something truly bizarre, the “locks” here are Diggs, Brown, and Beasley. I don’t think they’ll cut a fourth-round pick before his rookie year, so I consider Davis to be a lock as well. Roberts is a highly valued returner, and while I don’t view him as a “lock,” he’s darn close. That would leave McKenzie battling Hodgins, Williams, and Foster for one or two spots on the roster. My feelings on who stays and who goes seems to shift daily (and it will probably continue to do so until we have actual football to watch and evaluate), but if I’m making the roster, I keep Hodgins and McKenzie over Williams and Foster. McKenzie’s ability to return kicks (even if he gives me a heart attack every time he does it) plus his ability to work as a move-receiver-slash runner makes him more valuable than someone like Foster, whose consistency issues on offense aren’t offset by his success as a gunner on special teams. I won’t be surprised with whatever decision the team makes regarding McKenzie, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on the reports surrounding the receiver group when training camp begins in July.