One battle in training camp that I’m very excited to see is the battle for the slot receiver position between Isaiah Mackenzie and Jamison Crowder. Everyone is a fan of Isaiah Mackenzie if you’re a Bills fan. The guy is extremely likable and has a great personality. His teammates love him and love to poke fun at him as well. And as you can tell, we love to write about him. McKenzie is quite the character, and we were all very ecstatic when we learned he would be coming back to the Bills for another season on a one-year deal. Thank you Beane!
McKenzie’s slot wide receiver job won’t come that easily this year. Beane also went out and signed Jamison Crowder to a one-year deal. Coming over from the Jets, we know Crowder can be very valuable coming out of the slot and will definitely compete in training camp for that starting wide receiver three position.
With Beasley gone, the slot is presumed open to two guys. Crowder and Lil’ Dirty, Isaiah McKenzie. McKenzie is going to be used more than just the “gadget guy” that we’re accustomed to seeing from him. He showed us that he is more than capable of being a serviceable wide receiver in this league after his huge performance against the Patriots when he filled in for an injured Beasley and had 11 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown.
He was torching the Patriots’ slot corners all game and constantly getting separation on them. We knew McKenzie was fast and agile, but we never knew how good his hands were. He made several fantastic catches helping out his quarterback, including a couple of diving grabs along the sidelines, and on his touchdown grab as he had to stop and reach back across the body to grab that fourth down conversion.
Crowder; however, spent the last couple of years of his career in the quarterback circus that was the New York Jets. Despite having Sam Darnold, followed by Zach Wilson then Mike White, and back to Wilson, Crowder still managed to put up decent numbers, even with the inconsistent play from his quarterbacks.
Last year was a down year for him, he missed five games, but still managed to put up over 50 receptions and 447 yards. Imagine those numbers with a full season and Josh Allen throwing him the ball.
While Crowder is a veteran at the slot position, McKenzie has built a solid relationship with Allen over the past three years and has begun to trust him more and more which is going to be great going into this season. While Crowder is there and he is going to get opportunities, McKenzie will absolutely be a big part of this offense and get his number called.
The Bills’ coaching staff has shown more trust in McKenzie as well and with the exit of Beasley, I believe he will be great to fill the slot, as he’s said how Beasley has taught him a lot and how to work the middle of the field. Sort of like a “passing of the torch” from Beasley to McKenzie.
We’re definitely aware that Crowder was brought in mainly to fill in that Beasley role, but with training camp looming, the battle between Crowder and McKenzie will be fun to watch. Allen has even said that McKenzie’s play and his intelligence of the game have stood out more this past Spring.
“We’re communicating like him and Bease were communicating (throughout OTAs and minicamp),” McKenzie said. “I want that chemistry that they had the past few years. I want that. We’re gonna have to speed it up a little because the season is right around the corner.”
“Maybe we can come up with our own someday,” he said. “But being behind Bease, he taught me a lot. Just watching him run routes and how he read coverages and everything. … Josh was very intrigued by what I can do now that Bease is gone. We’ve been on the same page so far and I want to keep it that way.”
While Crowder is the veteran and most likely the first choice right now to fill the slot receiver role, McKenzie has something going for him that Crowder doesn’t yet have. He has built a relationship and trust with his quarterback. He’s been with this team since Allen came into the league, and that definitely bodes in his favor
More questions involving McKenzie’s usage will be answered during training camp and we get to see exactly how well McKenzie and Crowder are looking and who has the upper edge in the slot receiver battle. Both have very unique traits and skills, and both will be put to the test.
One thing that is for sure, is that McKenzie’s usage will increase this season. Under new Offensive Coordinator Ken Dorsey, he’s going to mix in plays and routes designed to get the ball into McKenzie’s hands. We know Crowder wasn’t brought in to ride the bench either, Crowder will contribute and there will be times where Crowder has great games and McKenzie doesn’t and vice versa. It’s a great problem to have with these two both battling in training camp for the starting slot job. This will be one of my favorite training camp battles to watch going forward, and I’m excited to see the skill set that they both can bring to the table, especially in person at camp.
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