The Buffalo Bills have a strong core of wide receivers going into training camp and the departure of Cole Beasley isn’t going to hurt the Bills’ receiving at all. The addition of Jamison Crowder is an obvious improvement over Beasley. What’s more, Isaiah McKenzie proved to be more than capable of taking on the slot position last season when the unvaccinated free agent missed time due to a COVID-19 infection. McKenzie (27) and Crowder (29) also still have time left in the prime of their careers, adding to their overall usefulness to the offense.
In 2022, the Bills look to further enforce their offensive dominance through the air. Josh Allen enters the season as one of the frontrunners for MVP. In order to fulfill this, Allen is going to need his wide receivers to be great. The depth of this group is excellent, with at least two of these receivers looking at the possibility of having career seasons. But breaking it down, it isn’t entirely clear who the final receiver to make the Week One roster will be.
The Magnificent Four
Gabriel Davis also came on like an All-Pro in the 2021 playoffs and looks to continue that upward trajectory in 2022. Davis, just 23 years old, has no downside at this point in his young career. He still hasn’t reached the prime of his career either. Add to the mix the presence of Stefon Diggs, one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, and you have a good-looking set of offensive weapons. But who rounds out the depth chart at the wide receiver position?
The Bills are likely to carry six wide receivers on the Week One roster, as the number six is typical of most teams in the NFL these days. With Diggs, Davis, Crowder, and McKenzie all locked in, that leaves an intriguing training camp battle for the final anticipated two spots at the position. Another player who seems to be a near-lock is Tavon Austin. Austin has moved around in the league since 2013, playing for the Rams for five seasons, the Cowboys for two, one in Green Bay, and one last season with Jacksonville.
The Final Two
That leaves a battle for the last spot between Marquez Stevenson and Khalil Shakir, the Bills’ 5th round pick (148th overall) in this year’s NFL Draft. Shakir, out of Boise State, and Stevenson, a second-year player who played five games with the team last season as a punt and kick returner, look to each to find themselves in the slot receiver position. This is in hopes to strike that great balance between short and long passes to Diggs and Davis down the field.
Stevenson hasn’t had much of an opportunity to this point to showcase his abilities as a wide receiver due to his primary usage as a returner. His downside is that he’s already shown in his young career that he has problems with ball security. The thing about him that makes him an attractive option at the final spot for a wide receiver is his exceptional speed. If he’s able to work on improving his ball-handling abilities throughout training camp, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll be finding a spot on the Week One roster.
Training Camp Decides All
Shakir, on the other hand, is a difficult case to predict. The rookie may have potential upside. Comparisons have been made between him and former wide receiver Golden Tate out of the University of Notre Dame. Tate played a number of years in the NFL, most notably with the Seattle Seahawks (2010-2013) and the Detroit Lions (2014-2018). Advanced workout metrics reveal a similar story. If Shakir can manage to have a career trajectory that looks a bit like Tate’s, he would become a much better fifth option at wide receiver than the Bills could ever hope for. But is that a realistic expectation?
I see this ultimately coming down to the final days of the Bills training camp. I don’t see either Stevenson or Shakir breaking away from the other all that clearly. Luckily, the core of the Bills’ offense is strong, and the wide receivers are one of the strengths of the team overall. I believe in Gabriel Davis and Jamison Crowder strongly. To say I feel great about the wide receivers overall is an understatement. If the final spot at the position can even be a warm body, they’ll serve their purpose well enough to balance out the target percentage among the others.
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