The Buffalo Bills released Cole Beasley this offseason, and have a contingent of players ready to step up and into his role. With a new offensive coordinator in Ken Dorsey, the spot could look different anyway. Despite being the third wide receiver, Buffalo’s slot receiver has played 58% of the snaps last year and 62.50% the year before. It’s a starting role in the offense, and one of the few starting roles on the team up for grabs.
We start our look at the position battles of training camp with slot receiver.
Jamison Crowder vs Isaiah McKenzie vs Khalil Shakir vs O.J. Howard
Jamison Crowder has the inside track to the role with his massive amounts of experience. With 51 receptions, 447 yards, and two touchdowns last season on a very poor New York Jets offense, he still put together better numbers than his competitors. His recent career trajectory is similar to Beasley when he joined the Bills, so we could see his numbers explode in Buffalo’s offense.
Isaiah McKenzie has the best chemistry with quarterback Josh Allen, but his skill set is different than Beasley. He’s great at getting away from man coverage, as he displayed against the New England Patriots in 2021 filling in for Beasley. But McKenzie doesn’t have the NFL experience to become a world-beater in zone coverage, or at least hasn’t shown that to this point in his career. If he can start reading zone coverages better and finding that sweet spot with Allen, he could really see a big uptick in snaps for 2022.
Khalil Shakir is more likely a player who will contribute in this role in 2023, when Crowder’s contract is up. The Bills have needed multiple receivers to step up over the last few years due to injuries, so maybe he’ll be inserted into the lineup sooner. Especially coming from the lower level of competition at Boise State, it’s hard to think he will beat out both McKenzie and Crowder in the next few weeks.
O.J. Howard is a tight end, but hear me out. With the potential changes coming moving from Brian Daboll to Ken Dorsey and the offense play-caller job, they may incorporate more 2-TE sets. That doesn’t mean Howard will be on the end of the offensive line, though. If they move him into the slot, he could fill that Beasley role despite not playing receiver. He’s athletic enough to do that, and the Bills would be wise to move him tight and out wide.
Prediction: Crowder and Howard take over the role. McKenzie resumes his WR4 role and Shakir as the depth development.