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Buffalo Bills training camp roster preview: Wide receivers

A talented group may look a little different this season

AFC Championship - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Just a few short years ago, the Buffalo Bills had one of the league’s worst receiving groups. Of the Bills’ top wide receivers in 2018, which was quarterback Josh Allen’s rookie year, only one—Zay Jones—even played a down in the NFL this past year. He caught 14 passes for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.

Essentially, the Bills were trying to break in a brand-new Ferrari, but rather than giving that car the set of tires it deserved, they equipped it with a set of balding Supermax tires and hoped for the best. General manager Brandon Beane quickly realized the error of his ways, investing heavily in the position in the offseason in both 2019 and 2020. The results have been positive, as Buffalo’s 2020 offense was the best in franchise history in most statistical measures.

With an introduction like that, it should seem that the team would want to leave well enough alone at receiver, but instead they made a swap this past offseason to try and improve even more.


Stefon Diggs

Contract status for 2021: Signed; third year of five-year contract ($12,258,333 cap hit; $6 million dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 27 (28 on 11/29/2021)
2020 Playing time: 16 games (15 starts), 895 offensive snaps (82.26 percent), five ST snaps (1.11 percent)
Key 2020 statistics: 166 targets, 127 receptions, 1,535 receiving yards, eight touchdowns, one rush, one yard

There were some who thought that the Bills overpaid in acquiring Diggs, sending their first-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft (in addition to their fourth-round choice in the 2021 Draft) to acquire Diggs and a seventh-round pick. After Diggs rewrote the Bills’ record books in 2020, those fears are all but forgotten. Diggs immediately gelled with quarterback Josh Allen, as the duo rose to elite status right from the jump. Diggs became the first player in team history to lead the NFL in receptions and in receiving yards, and he was also the first First-Team All-Pro at receiver in franchise history. Diggs is one of the main reasons that Allen was able to raise his game to an elite level, as he provided Josh with the elite target he lacked even in 2019.

Cole Beasley

Contract status for 2021: Signed; third year of four-year contract ($7,368,750 cap hit; $3 million dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: Turned 32 on 4/26/2021
2020 Playing time: 15 games (ten starts), 619 offensive snaps (56.89 percent), seven ST snaps (1.56 percent)
Key 2020 statistics: 107 targets, 82 receptions, 967 receiving yards, four receiving touchdowns, 1/1 passing, 20 yards, one passing touchdown

The No. 3 wideout in terms of snaps was Buffalo’s No. 2 wideout in terms of targets, as Beasley built off the career year he had in 2019 by having an even better season in 2020. Had he not suffered a broken bone in his leg during the team’s Week 16 victory over the New England Patriots, which caused him to miss the season finale, he almost certainly would have eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career. Instead, Beasley had to settle for a career-high 967 yards as Josh Allen’s go-to guy over the middle. The veteran made waves this offseason when he proclaimed he wouldn’t follow the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols during the 2021 season and also won’t be vaccinated. We still have to see how that is going to play out in the real world and not just Tweets.

Gabriel Davis

Contract status for 2021: Signed; second year of rookie contract ($954,845 cap hit; $524,535 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: Turned 22 on 4/1/2021
2020 Playing time: 16 games (11 starts), 735 offensive snaps (67.56 percent), 32 ST snaps (7.13 percent)
Key 2020 statistics: 62 targets, 35 receptions, 599 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns, one rush, zero rushing yards, one fumble

The rookie was actually Buffalo’s No. 2 wideout in terms of sheer playtime percentage, as injuries to John Brown forced him into a greater role than he otherwise would have had. The big-bodied target showed excellent route-running, sure hands, strong presence in the red zone, and an uncanny ability to toe-tap his way to great catches on the sideline. Davis’s great year ultimately made Brown expendable and his second year has large expectations.

Isaiah McKenzie

Contract status for 2021: Signed a one-year, $1.13 million deal this offseason ($350,000 guaranteed and dead cap)
Age: Turned 26 on 4/9/2021
2020 Playing time: 16 games (seven starts), 260 offensive snaps (23.9 percent), 12 ST snaps (2.67 percent)
Key 2020 statistics: 34 targets, 30 receptions, 282 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns, ten rushes, nine rushing yards, two kickoff returns, 32 kickoff return yards, one punt return, 84 punt return yards, one punt return touchdown, 1/1 passing, 12 passing yards, one passing touchdown

The Swiss-Army knife is actually the only receiver left from Allen’s rookie season, as McKenzie joined the Bills via waiver claim late that year. He’s developed into a solid player on offense, as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has used McKenzie as a jet sweep/move piece over the last two years. The Bills allowed McKenzie to return kicks and punts in the season finale, and he delivered an 84-yard touchdown on a punt return. With Andre Roberts gone, he’s now the leading candidate for the position.

Jake Kumerow

Contract status for 2021: Signed reserve/futures contract on 1/26/2021 ($920,000 cap hit; $0 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: Turned 29 on 2/17/2021
2020 Playing time: Six games, 79 ST snaps (17.59 percent), 13 offensive snaps (1.19 percent)
Key 2020 statistics: One target, one reception, 22 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown

Talk about making the most of your time on the field. Kumerow converted his only target into a 22-yard touchdown catch against the Denver Broncos, spending most of his time on Buffalo’s active roster playing special teams. Kumerow was released with the hopes of being re-signed to the practice squad, but he was claimed by the New Orleans Saints before that could happen. When the Saints released him, though, Buffalo quickly added him back to their squad. Kumerow is, at worst, a solid camp body.

Duke Williams

Contract status for 2021: Signed reserve/futures contract on 1/26/2021
Age: Turned 28 on 5/13/2021
2020 Playing time: One game, four offensive snaps (.37 percent)
Key 2020 statistics: N/A

From practice-squad darling to starter-by-necessity to afterthought, Williams has been through it all as a member of the Bills over the last two seasons. If he sticks with the team in 2021, it will most likely be in a similar role to what he did in 2020, as he’ll be fighting for a spot on the practice squad with Kumerow. Buffalo’s improvements at the position have almost certainly squeezed Williams out of a roster spot.

Tanner Gentry

Contract status for 2021: Signed reserve/futures contract on 1/26/2021
Age: 26 (27 on 12/18/2021)
2020 Playing time: N/A
Key 2020 statistics: N/A

Gentry was Josh Allen’s favorite target in college at Wyoming, and he signed with Buffalo’s practice squad in January. He hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2017, but perhaps his chemistry with Allen gives him a shot at sticking with the practice squad.

Isaiah Hodgins

Contract status for 2021: Signed; second year of rookie contract ($819,722 cap hit; $119,166 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 22 (23 on 10/21/2021)
2020 Playing time: N/A
Key 2020 statistics: N/A

Hodgins essentially took a red-shirt year, as the sixth-round pick had shoulder surgery early on and spent the year on injured reserve. He’ll have a good shot at making the active roster in 2021 and has been the media darling of spring workouts. We know that doesn’t always translate to contact in training camp, but he had a solid camp a year ago. At 6’3” and 201 lbs, he gives the Bills an element that they really don’t have.

Emmanuel Sanders

Contract status for 2021: Signed a one-year, $6 million contract this offseason ($5.9 million fully guaranteed)
Age: Turned 34 on 3/17/2021
2020 Playing time: 14 games (5 starts) for New Orleans Saints; 559 offensive snaps (51.90%) and 1 special teams snap
Key 2020 statistics: 61 catches for 726 yards, 5 TDs, 1 rush for 12 yards

On paper, Sanders is the replacement for the departed John Brown. He’s an experienced receiver that can help the younger guys in the room and be a guiding force. On the field, they can use him in the slot or outside to create mismatches and he’ll be a great new piece for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Popping Davis outside and using Sanders in the slot is an intriguing matchup problem for Buffalo. The team has been trying to acquire him for years, which is a good sign they have a role in mind for him.

Marquez Stevenson

Contract status for 2021: Signed his four-year rookie deal this offseason worth $3.65 million ($703,136 cap hit in 2021, $172,544 dead cap if cut)
Age: Turned 23 on 3/26/21
2020 Playing time: Five games for University of Houston
Key 2020 statistics: 20 receptions for 307 yards and four touchdowns, 3 rushes for 16 yards

The sixth-round pick dealt with a lot on injuries in college, which caused his draft stock to fall. He is an exciting player with the ball in his hands and could be a returner option for the Bills. It seems unlikely at this point that he makes the active roster with Isaiah McKenzie in front of him.

Brandon Powell

Contract status for 2021: Signed a one-year, $920,000 deal with no guarantees this offseason
Age: 25 (26 on 9/12/21)
2020 Playing time: 15 games, 1 start for Atlanta Falcons; 181 offensive snaps (16.12%), 127 special teams snaps (28.16%)
Key 2020 statistics: 12 receptions for 69 yards and 2 TDs, 2 rushes for 7 yards

Another player who could theoretically fight for the returner role, it’s hard to see him passing McKenzie during training camp. He brings something to the receiver role, which means he’s not just a camp body.

Lance Lenoir

Contract status for 2021: Signed a one-year, $780,000 contract with no guarantees this offseason
Age: Turned 26 on 2/9/21
2020 Playing time: N/A
Key 2020 statistics: N/A

Lenoir spent portions of the 2020 season on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad. In 2019, he spent the year on injured reserve with the Dallas Cowboys. He’s played in 8 career NFL games (7 in 2018, 1 in 2017).

Players who left this offseason

  • John Brown (Released, signed with Las Vegas Raiders)
  • Andre Roberts (Signed with Houston Texans)
  • Kenny Stills (Free agent)

This much is clear: Stefon Diggs will top the Bills’ depth chart at receiver again next year. Beasley, Davis, and Sanders appear to be locks. Isaiah McKenzie is pretty close to a lock, but if he’s unseated in the returner competition, it’s more up in the air. Hodgins was an intriguing rookie a year ago and could make a big impact in 2021 (or be cut in August because it’s such a deep roster). For now, my guess is Diggs, Beasley, Davis, Sanders, McKenzie, and Hodgins will make the team. I had Stevenson on the squad earlier in the Andre Roberts return role, but every indication so far is that McKenzie is going to get the nod, opening up the spot for Hodgins. Buffalo has kept six wide receivers to open every season under head coach Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane.