The Buffalo Bills retooled their wide receiver group this year, as they lost two high-profile veterans from what was arguably the league’s deepest receiving corps last season. While that might seem as if it means the Bills will have less talent at wideout than they did in 2021, that isn’t necessarily the case. The Bills added two solid players (a veteran and a rookie) to replace their two free agent losses, Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley, each of whom was on the wrong side of 30 years old.
While Sanders and Beasley are a big loss, the team does have the talent to absorb their absence. With the two veterans off the roster and still looking for work, the Bills can give those snaps to younger players. While I already alluded to the fact that the team added some players via free agency and the NFL Draft, the Bills also have some players who could flourish in larger roles.
In today’s edition of “ 90 players in 90 days,” we profile the wide receiver who has been with the team the longest.
Name: Isaiah McKenzie
Height/Weight: 5’8” 173 lbs
Age: 27 (28 on 4/9/2023)
Experience/Draft: 6; selected in the fifth round (No. 172 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos
Acquired: Waiver claim awarded on 11/5/18
Financial situation (per Spotrac): McKenzie signed a two-year extension this offseason, a pact worth a total of $4.4 million overall and $1.25 million guaranteed. For the 2022 season, McKenzie’s cap hit is $1,860,294.
2021 Recap: McKenzie saw a decrease in his snaps on offense, but it was a negligible difference, as he played just 13 fewer offensive snaps in 2021 than he did in 2020. He was targeted just 26 times on offense, making 20 catches for 178 yards and one touchdown on the season. Where McKenzie saw an increase in snaps was on special teams, as he took over as the primary return man after Buffalo allowed Andre Roberts to leave via free agency. McKenzie returned 19 punts for 147 yards, and he also returned 24 kicks for 584 yards. After losing a fumble on a punt return against the Indianapolis Colts, McKenzie was subsequently benched and then left as a healthy inactive for two straight weeks. When the Bills squared off against the New England Patriots in Week 16, McKenzie stepped in for Beasley and had a huge day. He caught 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, keying a 33-21 Bills victory that put the team in first place in the AFC East. McKenzie had nine rushing attempts for 47 yards and a touchdown during the regular season, as well. In the postseason, McKenzie caught four passes for 48 yards, adding six carries for 44 yards in two games.
Positional outlook: McKenzie slots in as WR4, with Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, and Jamison Crowder the probable trio ahead of him. Khalil Shakir will push for snaps, as well. Jake Kumerow, Tanner Gentry, Isaiah Hodgins, Tavon Austin, Marquez Stevenson, and Neil Pau’u round out the group.
2022 Offseason: McKenzie is healthy and he has participated in all OTAs to date.
2022 Season outlook: I expect that the Bills will give McKenzie some more chances on offense this year, but I want to temper those expectations, too. Crowder is a really solid veteran, and as long as he’s healthy, he’s the most likely person to replace Beasley as Buffalo’s primary slot man. While McKenzie shined in his lone opportunity to be “the guy” in the slot last year, asking a guy with just 99 career receptions over five years to be the top option is a big ask. McKenzie will compete with Stevenson and Austin for the right to be the primary return man, as well—and given the totality of his resume, I expect that he’ll win that gig.
McKenzie’s career highs as a receiver were all set in 2020, as he made 30 receptions for 282 yards and five touchdowns. I don’t think he’ll break the touchdown mark, but I think he’ll surpass those reception and receiving yardage totals this year. Even though Crowder should be the primary guy in the slot when healthy, he’s missed nine games over the last two seasons due to injury. McKenzie will see plenty of chances this year, and as quarterback Josh Allen’s longest-tenured pass catcher—the chemistry between them is clear. McKenzie should have a strong 2022.