The Buffalo Bills have two potential returners on their roster but both are free agents. Andre Roberts is 33 but coming off multiple Pro Bowl nods while Isaiah McKenzie is hitting free agency for the first time.
On Friday and Monday, we dove into these two players and the possibilities for replacing them. We’ve linked excerpts below but in this article, it’s about you. What do you think the Bills should do this offseason?
Kick returner adds enough value on its own to want a great one regardless of whether or not they’ll regularly play in another phase. A true depth player might make a difference as a fill-in. A great kick returner will consistently make a difference.
One last thought. If you’re worried about him declining, the season average of 30 yards per return is the second-highest in his career. If I’m the front office, I try to keep Roberts in Buffalo.
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.
One year, $1.5 million
That splits the difference between league minimum and his last contract ($1.075 million to $2.3 million per season). They don’t get the veteran minimum benefit, so I lowered it a couple hundred grand. I fully guaranteed the money to help with that fact that it’s lower than his last deal, but I’m not sure the Bills will even be that generous. Again, it’s not because Roberts isn’t good and valuable. It’s a numbers game right now. They can add two veterans for $1.7 million in cap space or one Roberts.
One year, $1.13 million
It’s a veteran minimum deal for McKenzie. This is a bad year to be a low-to-mid-tier free agent. That’s the group that’s going to get pinched by the COVID-19 cap reductions. The top players will still get their money.
McKenzie can come in and still be part of the offense, be valued, and potentially start returning kicks and/or punts so he can maybe up his value in 2022.
League-leading receiver Stefon Diggs hasn’t returned kicks in several years since his first and second seasons in the NFL, and Buffalo wouldn’t want to expose him to injury risk on those plays. Tre’Davious White had a great career returning punts at LSU, but Buffalo wouldn’t want him back there, either.
Micah Hyde returned punts in his first three seasons for the Green Bay Packers, but hasn’t been a full-time returner since leaving the Packers. He’s only been a designated punt catcher for the Bills, returning just four punts in the last two years and 15 in his four seasons with the Bills.
Patterson turns 30 this year, but the special teams dynamo hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He scored his eighth career kickoff return touchdown this year, and ranked second in kick return average. It added up to the fourth All-Pro selection of his career.
On special teams, he’s lightning in a bottle. The 5’10” 190-lb dynamo has four punt return touchdowns and a kick return touchdown in his first four seasons. With 12.7 yards per punt return and 28.0 yards per kick return, he just had arguably the best season of his career. The only downside: seven career fumbles, including two this year.
Erickson has never hit paydirt in his career, but he’s had a handful of big returns—including a 77-yarder and an 84-yarder on kickoffs. His career averages of 8.0 yards per punt return and 24.7 yards per kick return are both good numbers that place him roughly in the top ten or top 15 of the league. He’s also had a decent career as a backup receiver, peaking with 43 catches for 529 yards in 2019. The fumbles and muffed punts, though: woof. Erickson’s allowed the ball to hit the dirt 13 times in his career as a returner, plus three more as a receiver/runner. Someone teach this guy how to catch punts.
The player who replaced Erickson as kick returner is Wilson, a cornerback and former sixth round pick by the Bengals. Since taking over the duties, Wilson’s resume is impressive: 45 kickoff returns for an average of 27.8 yards, and two touchdowns. He’s only fumbled the ball once.
In the peak of his career, Lewis was an electric triple threat of a runner, receiver, and returner. The versatility and veteran knowledge is still there, but the danger is dialed back more than a few notches. Lewis, who doesn’t return punts, returned to kick return duties in 2020 after two years without that role. He had 24 returns for an average of 22.4 yards—with a long of 48 yards.
Ray-Ray McCloud III
McCloud came into his own as a dangerous returner this year, but he still needs to be better taking care of the football. He’s fumbled seven times in three years. Still, he offered impressive results on both punt and kick returns, and it’s nice to only need a single roster spot for both jobs.
Jaylen Waddle WR (Alabama)
DeVonta Smith WR (Alabama)
Rondale Moore WR (Purdue)
Travis Etienne RB (Clemson)
Watch any highlight of Waddle’s best kickoff returns, specifically his 2019 ones against LSU and Auburn, and you’ll know that he is the most talented returner coming out. He’s shifty, has true elite speed but also an ability to ratchet down and follow his blocks. What Waddle was for Alabama on kick returns, Smith was on punt returns. Ranking third in the country in punt return yardage, Smith excels in that area because of his stop-start acceleration. The player who resembles Andre Roberts the most is probably Moore, who’s not only a speed demon (possible 4.2 speed) but he also oozes core strength. Etienne maybe doesn’t have the shiftiness you want in a true punt returner, but he’s got good straight-line speed and is much tougher to bring down than almost any of the players ranked above him.
I wouldn’t offer him the same deal he signed two years ago, but I would try to bring Roberts back into the fold for 2021. Do you remember what it was like before?
P.S. I think the Bills should bring back McKenzie AND Roberts at the deals I suggested earlier in the article. They both fill roles I am comfortable with on the team.
Now it’s your turn to vote. What should the Bills do this offseason at their returner spots?
What should the Bills do at returner this offseason?
This poll is closed
Re-sign both Roberts and McKenzie
Add Roberts, let McKenzie walk
Add McKenzie, let Roberts walk
Let Roberts & McKenzie go, have another roster player take returning duties
Add a free agent returner
Draft a returner (or sign a UDFA)