Despite a confounding and limited role in the Buffalo Bills’ offense during the 2022 NFL season, rookie wide receiver Khalil Shakir took advantage of his opportunities and left many an analyst, sports writer, and those within Bills Mafia clamoring to see him more involved.
To that end, it appears Shakir’s focused on making it impossible for the team to ignore him next season and beyond, evidenced by his decision to work with former Bills great, wide receiver Eric Moulds.
First reported by Ryan Talbot with Syracuse.com, Moulds can relate to Shakir’s situation, having found himself buried on a depth chart that included future Hall of Fame wide receiver Andre Reed and Quinn Early. In fact, it wasn’t until Moulds’ third year in the NFL when he managed to break out. Clearly Eric Moulds sees something in Khalil Shakir, and Moulds likely believes he can help elevate the young receiver’s game to the next level. Such sessions can only be productive in numerous ways for Shakir, who had a fair bit of buzz surrounding him between college and landing in Orchard Park, NY.
In the lead up to the 2022 NFL Draft last April, many a pundit declared Shakir one of the best route runners in his draft class. Yet somehow, he was overlooked until the fifth round. Despite what everyone was trying to tell those who’d listen, Shakir was unable to surpass those ahead of him on draft day and within Buffalo’s depth chart at slot receiver. The Buffalo Bills’ selection of Shakir in the fifth round was widely praised and observed as a steal of the draft. Again, more praise by those in the industry. Yes, college football is different than NFL football, but some traits are undeniable. That’s especially true when considering them against top competition the likes of which a player will see in the pros. Shakir showed that often in key moments.
And then he transferred all of it to the NFL as a rookie. Take a moment to digest this tasty nugget uncovered by data analyst Arjun Menon of Pro Football Focus:
How often the 2022 rookie WR class was charted as open against single man coverage this season. Khalil Shakir should probably get more snaps next season? pic.twitter.com/2q6vyuAfAA— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) February 16, 2023
Criminally underused, no? I’d like to think the intelligent football minds at One Bills Drive knew of Shakir’s consistency and efficiency rankings, and just found the situation an unfortunate byproduct of some inefficiency within their systems. If they weren’t in the know, then hopefully they’re now aware that he finished ranked fourth among his entire class as an open receiver versus man coverage. That’s a guy you want to throw to almost every time if you’re Josh Allen. At worst, he’s someone who should immediately follow Stefon Diggs in the pecking order of trust — given what we saw transpire within the receiver room over the course of last season.
In some big moments, Shakir showed up huge. But his stats won’t wow most observers: 10 receptions on 20 targets for 161 yards, 1 TD. Underwhelming, on paper. But how often was he observed to be open only to be passed over, or even nowhere to be found on the field?
The hope is that offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was continuously getting his feet under him as a play caller, and he couldn’t manage the idea of working Shakir more heavily into the rotation. Perhaps this coming season we see Shakir on the field more often and tasked with a bigger role as an outlet valve for quarterback Josh Allen. This may be especially true when considering the following video by Cover 1:
Yes, Stefon Diggs isn’t Khalil Shakir, but he is a prolific and highly efficient wide receiver, especially since coming to the Bills. But the key for me in the embedded video is the following idea within the video’s description:
“Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey has schemed an offense that has Bills WR Stefon Diggs playing with purpose. The details behind Dorsey’s scheme are player friendly, and he’s maximizing what Stefon Diggs does well.”
Reading that, it’s hard to fathom two ideas. First, how could Dorsey have been so (my words) careless in neglecting Shakir’s use? Is it all that rookie coordinator footing issue? Second, there’s no way Dorsey will allow Shakir to go similarly absent next season and beyond, right?
It’s quite possible the Bills already employ a talented third key receiver, but have yet to figure out how to use him. While Isaiah McKenzie is an alluring slot receiver, given his potential for explosive plays — the reality has meant something much different for him in a more featured role. There’s no denying he’s been excellent against the New England Patriots, but the sample size is small. Remember, Shakir himself is also explosive, having run 4.43 40-yard dash and 4.21 short shuttle last spring, so it would seem he trends well in the direction of an explosive multi-faceted slot receiver who can also beat coverage on the outside.
The idea that there aren’t enough footballs to go around sounds foolish to me. When a player like Diggs continues to defy catch-rate odds against coverage and remains a well-targeted receiver, there’s more than enough opportunity to see how Khalil Shakir functions given his ample open rate.