We continue our look at the Buffalo Bills’ roster with niche player Isaiah McKenzie. The wide receiver is best known for his role on gadget plays. In 2020, injuries and blowout wins allowed McKenzie to see a little extra time on the field to showcase his talents. McKenzie even got a shot as a returner against Miami in Week 17, something Buffalo asked him to do in 2018 but seemed reluctant to try in 2019. Let’s hit the film room!
If we were to play football-themed word association this is what most fans would think of when the name “Isaiah McKenzie” was mentioned. Sometimes he even gets the ball. But mostly it’s pre-snap motion to give Josh Allen a little more information on the defensive play call and possibly get one or more defenders to hesitate. With most games seeing at least a few McKenzie targets, it’s often enough to make the defense think.
This is pretty similar but it’s a faked handoff and more deliberate. McKenzie saw only ten rushing attempts during the regular season. That’s often enough to be potential concern for a defense, especially when they’re run so similarly from other plays using McKenzie.
And here’s the real deal. It only gets a couple yards, but it’s enough for the first down. They like to have Isaiah McKenzie start from these bunch formations as well. This can help pull defenders to one side of the field and then put them in a foot race against the speedy McKenzie. The New England Patriots played this relatively well all things considered but still gave up the first down. As a fun math note, and probably explanation on why you can’t run this too often, Isaiah McKenzie runs over 30 yards sideways to gain two yards forward.
Speed kills, and not always directly. This isn’t a complex route but it needs to be respected. In addition to the one defender McKenzie rockets past, two defensive backs are forced to pay attention on the back end. It helps clear Gabriel Davis for the catch.
A similar idea here. Isaiah McKenzie draws the defense away from the main target of Cole Beasley. The route isn’t crazy, but that’s a heck of a gear shift.
This is the opposite. The rest of the Bills’ offense pulls the defense away from Isaiah McKenzie. His speed helps him pick up another first down despite the catch being made behind the line of scrimmage.
Isaiah McKenzie starts his route like he’s shot out of a cannon. He jams on the brakes, turns the corner and this is an easy throw for Josh Allen to make. Touchdown Bills.
Now remember, this is 50 percent of Isaiah McKenzie’s kick returns in 2020. He starts three yards deep and gets back very near to where the touchback would have given them the ball. With the current kickoff rules, even incredibly fast players have limited opportunity. The Miami Dolphins set their lanes pretty well and win a few full-speed matchups. McKenzie has to swerve early and the gap that looks like it was there vanishes.
Isaiah McKenzie returned one punt this year. An 84-yard touchdown. While there’s no reason to think a sample size of one is super valid on what a person’s ceiling is, it’s still fun. He does show some good ability to make cuts. And McKenzie does need to make several decisions on the fly. There are good skills on display but, again, who knows how this plays out if he was asked to do it all the time.
In general terms you could do a lot worse for a depth receiver than Isaiah McKenzie. His speed provides a nice floor. As seen above, even without a complex route tree, careful play design can stress a defense. And it’s not that Isaiah McKenzie is a bad route runner. Far from it. He’s just competing against the likes of Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and John Brown.
McKenzie could provide added value as a returner if Andre Roberts isn’t in the cards any longer. Buffalo had McKenzie perform in this role in 2018, but he fell out of favor, which led to signing Roberts in the first place. At best, his 2020 grade would be incomplete despite an impressive TD/punt-return ratio.