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Buffalo Bills training camp preview, 2022: Wide receivers

A hopefully deep group has a lot of questions to answer with new roles, faces

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2021 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills had a clear advantage over most teams at wide receiver. Their top three rivaled any receiver group in the league, and fans knew that the player slated to run as the fourth wideout was good enough to start on most teams. The depth included three other players who, if necessary, could turn in solid play, as well.

Following the season, though, two of those top three receivers departed the team. Turnover is expected, of course, but coupled with the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, questions remain for this wide receiver group stepping into a new role with an inexperienced play caller and the possibility of two-TE sets taking over as a primary formation.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the state of the Bills’ wide receivers.

Stefon Diggs

Contract status: Signed a four-year contract extension this offseason through 2027 (11.7 million cap hit in 2022)
Age: 28 (29 on 11/29/2022)
2021 Playing time: 17 games (17 starts), 977 offensive snaps (81.55% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 164 targets, 103 receptions, 1,225 yards, 10 touchdowns, 1 fumble

Buffalo’s alpha wideout had another exceptional year, and while he didn’t rewrite team record books like he did in 2020, he did become just the second Buffalo wideout ever to record back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, joining Stevie Johnson (2010-2012) as the only other player to do so. He is the only player in team history to record two seasons of 100-plus receptions, and he missed tying Bill Brooks’s franchise record for receiving touchdowns in a year by just one score. After a stellar regular season, it was a little concerning to watch him all but disappear in the playoffs, however, as Diggs caught just six passes for 67 yards in two playoff games. He was only targeted ten times, however, and the Kansas City Chiefs’ double-team may have worked to remove Diggs from the picture—but it just freed up another receiver to have a record-setting day. The combination of Diggs and Josh Allen isn’t going anywhere for a while, and we’re all better for it.

Gabriel Davis

Contract status: Entering third year of four-year rookie contract ($1,069,845 cap hit, $349,690 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: Turned 23 on 4/1/2022
2021 Playing time: 16 games (4 starts), 571 offensive snaps (47.66% of team total), 33 special teams snaps (7.6% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 63 targets, 35 receptions, 549 yards, 6 touchdowns

In 2020, Davis was targeted 62 times, making 35 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns. He had a nearly identical stat line in 2021, playing both years in a complementary role. His largest gains from year to year, of course, came in the playoffs, as Davis caught ten passes for 242 yards and five touchdowns this past postseason. After two years where speedy veterans were expected to see the majority of the snaps as the team’s WR2, this appears to be the year where the Bills allow Davis to be the guy across from Stefon Diggs. He’s ready.

Jamison Crowder

Contract status: Signed a one-year, $2 million contract this offseason ($2 million cap hit, $1.87 million dead cap if cut)
Age: Turned 29 on 6/17/2022
2021 Playing time: 12 games (4 starts), 538 offensive snaps (49.54%) for the Jets
Key 2021 statistics: 51 catches for 447 yards and 2 touchdowns for New York Jets

The big free-agent signing for the room this offseason, Crowder was underutilized in a terrible Jets offense last season. In 2019 he has 833 yards and six touchdowns while being targeted 122 times. Crowder is likely to come in and play the Beasley role in the slot and is still in the prime of his career.

Jake Kumerow

Contract status: Signed a one-year deal this offseason ($1.187 million cap hit, $76,250 dead cap if cut)
Age: Turned 30 on 2/17/2022
2021 Playing time: 15 games (2 starts), 264 special teams snaps (60.83% of team total), 116 offensive snaps (9.68% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 6 targets, 2 receptions, 28 yards

Kumerow remained one of the Bills’ top special teams contributors while adding some plays on offense to his resume in 2021. He is a valuable member of the team and a capable wideout when called upon, but his role is mostly on special teams.

Isaiah McKenzie

Contract status: Signed a two-year, $4.4 million contract this offseason ($1.86 million cap hit, $1.25 million dead cap if cut)
Age: Turned 27 on 4/9/2022
2021 Playing time: 15 games (2 starts), 257 offensive snaps (21.45% of team total), 91 special teams snaps (20.97% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 26 targets, 20 receptions, 178 yards, 1 touchdown, 9 carries, 47 yards, 1 touchdown, 19 punt returns, 147 yards, 24 kickoff returns, 584 yards, 2 fumbles

What an interesting season McKenzie had. He was given the return-man role after Andre Roberts was allowed to depart via free agency, and he performed admirably early on. Muffed kicks against the Indianapolis Colts led to a few games where he was a healthy scratch, but rather than sulk, McKenzie remained ready. When Beasley had to miss a must-win game against the New England Patriots, McKenzie went off, catching ten passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the victory. He definitely fits the scheme, and he is absolutely a beloved figure in the locker room (in that annoying little brother way). We will have to see how he adapts to Ken Dorsey’s new offense and whether or not he can secure the return role (again).

Khalil Shakir

Contract status: Signed a four-year, $4 million rookie contract this offseason ($792,000 cap hit)
Age: Turned 22 on 2/3/2022
2021 Playing time: 12 games for Boise State
Key 2021 statistics: 77 receptions for 1117 yards and 7 touchdowns for Boise State

Shakir had a monster year as a senior, but the level of competition and some testing concerns led him to fall a bit in the NFL Draft. Nabbing him in the fifth round was a steal for Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane and Shakir could contribute in his first season or take over for Crowder a year from now as a developmental prospect. Beane has said he can play inside or outside but he’ll start in the slot.

Marquez Stevenson

Contract status: Entering second year of four-year rookie contract ($868,136 cap hit; $129,408 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: Turned 24 on 3/26/2022
2021 Playing time: 5 games, 40 special teams snaps (9.22% of team total), 6 offensive snaps (.5% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 14 punt returns, 132 yards, 7 kickoff returns, 165 yards, 2 fumbles

The rookie began the year rehabbing a foot injury only to make his professional debut on Thanksgiving night against the New Orleans Saints. He muffed a punt in that game, and after sitting during the “Wind Bowl” versus New England, he remained the team’s primary returner through the Week 17 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. He fumbled a punt in that one, too, which led to a safety. He was a healthy scratch from that point onward. Stevenson has some speed and quickness, but if he’s not the primary punt returner, it doesn’t seem likely he’s on the team. Based on his 2021, it’s hard to think they will trust him to be the primary punt returner.

Tanner Gentry

Contract status: Signed reserve/futures deal on 1/24/2022
Age: 27 (28 on 12/18/2022)
2021 Playing time: N/A
Key 2021 statistics: N/A

A practice squad player who has familiarity with Josh Allen from college, Gentry was not active at all during the regular season. He provides some roster depth as a slot player.

Isaiah Hodgins

Contract status: Signed reserve/futures deal on 1/24/2022
Age: 23 (24 on 10/21/2022)
2021 Playing time: 1 game, 4 offensive snaps (.33% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: N/A

The second-year man did make his professional debut this year, playing four snaps in Buffalo’s Week 16 win over New England, but he was not targeted. This offseason is a big one for the former sixth-round pick.

Tavon Austin

Contract status: Signed a one-year, veteran minimum deal ($895,000 cap hit, $0 dead cap if cut)
Age: Turned 32 on 3/15/2022
2021 Playing time: 13 games (3 starts) and 288 offensive snaps (26.54%), 2 special teams snaps for Jaguars
Key 2021 statistics: 24 receptions for 213 yards and 1 touchdown, 3 rushes for 21 yards, 2 punt returns for 3 yards for Jacksonville

Austin was signed to bolster the returner competition and possibly pitch in at wide receiver. His video-game moves from early in his career aren’t the expectation, but he’s a reliable option to add to the mix.

Neil Pau’u

Contract status : Signed a three-year UDFA contract this offseason
Age: 26 (27 on 9/14/2022)
2021 Playing time: 10 games for BYU
Key 2021 statistics: 46 catches for 526 yards and 6 touchdowns, 5 rushes for 46 yards, 4 passes for 26 yards for Brigham Young University

At BYU, Pau’u had a solid year in 2021 as a senior before entering the NFL Draft. He has a large frame at 6’4” and 215 lbs, with solid hands. The former high school quarterback has a chance to impress and stick on the practice squad, but a path to the 53-man roster seems unlikely. One thing working against him is he’s the same age as Josh Allen despite being a rookie; he served a two-year mission as a member of the Mormon church and missed one season after a DUI arrest.

Buffalo’s receiving group looks pretty solid once again, but the only constant from last year is Diggs. Davis and McKenzie could find themselves in new roles while Crowder and Shakir are brand new to the roster. Stevenson and Kumerow rely on their special teams value, while the depth at the position means Stevenson, Gentry, Austin, Pau’u, and Hodgins won’t just be fighting for a spot on the 53, they will be fighting just to make the practice squad.

In head coach Sean McDermott’s world where iron sharpens iron, Brandon Beane has assembled a top-to-bottom wide receiver room with enviable talent. To mix metaphors, we shall see which cream rises to the top. Training camp injuries are always a concern at this position group, so that could be a big factor in those roster battles.

The other factor to take into account is O.J. Howard and James Cook. The Bills added two pass-catching options outside of the wide receiver room this offseason; and with a new offensive coordinator, we may see fewer three-WR sets, and more two-TE or two-RB sets with one of those guys split out wide. That will eat into playing time, targets, and ultimately, the importance of some of those receivers.

Some of the most interesting training camp battles will be fought in this position group and we’re ready for it.