The Buffalo Bills’ passing attack was one of the league’s best last season, racking up 258.1 yards per game which was seventh-best in the league. They scored the second most points per game in 2022 at 28.4. Looking at some advanced numbers, Football Outsider’s DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) ranked Buffalo’s offense second overall and second in passing. The Bills were seventh in PFF (Pro Football Focus) overall grade at 86.6, and the 84.1 grade in passing was good enough for third. However, whether you use the eye test or dive into the numbers, Buffalo struggled in the slot.
Aside from when Stefon Diggs moved to the slot position, the Bills didn’t have a receiver finish within the top 40 of PFF’s receiving grades. In fact, the next three WRs after Diggs were Cole Beasley at #44, Khalil Shakir at #58, and Isaiah McKenzie at #89. To make it worse, the Bills, again besides Diggs, didn’t have a slot receiver finish in the top 20 in receiving yards. Buffalo can very easily move on from both Beasley and McKenzie this offseason, which leaves us with a second-year Shakir or a free agent. For today’s exercise, we’re going to explore the numbers behind PROMOTING the 2022 draft pick or PAYING a less expensive (versus other free agents) name in the form Colts’ WR Parris Campbell.
Khalil Shakir has spent about 50% of his snaps in the slot for Buffalo. According to PFF, last year’s fifth-round selection was lined up there 160 times, with 165 snaps coming from the backfield, inline, or out wide. His routes from the slot saw an uptick in the playoffs, running 18% of all his slot snaps in the postseason. As for Campbell, he has played 756 of 977 total 2022 offensive snaps from the slot. Campbell also played 218 snaps out wide, showing some versatility.
Neither of these guys was prolific in the boxscore, which is why Parris Campbell is a realistic, low-cost, option for Buffalo in 2023. Shakir brought in 50% of his 20 targets (10) for 161 yards and a touchdown. The Boise State product’s 16.8 yards per reception ranked 12th among WRs with at least 20 targets. Campbell was finally healthy last season, playing in all 17 of the Colts’ games (before last season he had only played in 15 games during his three-year career). The Ohio State product hauled in 63 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns. While Shakir thrived on yards per reception, Campbell only averaged 9.9 yards per catch. Campbell gets the nod in reception percentage, bringing in 74.1% of his targets, good enough for 25th overall, per PFF.
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In limited action, Shakir had some spots on the field where he flashed (stats and PFF grade in the image below). He caught all but one pass in the intermediate level between 10 and 20 yards and only missed one pass that was between 0 and 10 yards. The rookie had a 117.7 passer rating when targeted on passes over 20 yards, a 118.8 rating on the intermediate game, and 101.2 on passes from 0 to 10 yards. Putting those numbers in the context of the Bills, Josh Allen’s 20+ yard passer rating was 97.4, his rating between 10 to 20 yards was 119.7, and he was 96.2 from 0 to 10 yards. It’s fair to say that Shakir was as good or better than his teammates in each of those levels. The one downside of the deep targets to Shakir is that he dropped two of those five attempts. Though it’s a small sample size, a 40% drop rate just won’t cut it.
Flipping over to Campbell, who had a 95.8 passer rating when targeted on passes over 20 yards, a 66.1 rating on the intermediate game, and 82.4 on passes from 0 to 10 yards. The former Buckeye did most of his damage between 0 to 20 yards, hauling in all three of his touchdowns in those areas. The odd thing about Campbell’s stats is that all three of the drops he was credited for came in the 0 to 10 yard gap, to look at that further, all three of those were in the short center portion of the field.
Let’s take a minute to look at some surface analytics of Campbell vs. Shakir vs. McKenzie vs. Beasley in 2022. Pro Football Reference uses a system they call “AV” which stands for “approximate value” (“this is our attempt to put a single number on each player season since 1960 so that we can (very approximately) compare across years and positions”). Here they grade Campbell a 5, Shakir a 2, McKenzie a 5, and Beasley a 0. Football Outsiders use DYAR or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the performance on plays where this WR caught the ball, compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent, and then translated into yardage. Here they score Campbell a 62, Shakir a 36, McKenzie a 93, and Beasley didn’t qualify. As for PFF’s grades, it gave Campbell a 61.2 receiving grade, Shakir a 68.0, McKenzie a 65.9, and Beasley a 73.0. As you can see, most of these stats/grades are very similar and could be thrown in a hat and handed out like candy at a parade.
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As I mentioned above, the Bills can walk away from Cole Beasley, as he’s a free agent, and Isaiah McKenzie, who could be cut for a dead cap of $300,000, per Spotrac. Shakir is entering year two of his four-year, $4,007,148 contract. This deal included a $347,148 signing bonus, $347,148 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $1,001,787. In 2023, Shakir will earn a base salary of $870,000, while carrying a cap hit of $956,787 and a dead cap value of $260,361, per Spotrac. Parris Campbell is a free agent after finishing his rookie deal with the Colts. Going back to Spotrac, they give him an estimated market value of $2,500,000. This would make him the 77th highest-paid WR as he enters his age-26 season.
We all know the Bills aren’t flush with cash entering 2023. Even if they pull out most of their “cap coupons” (as our cap guru, Greg Tompsett, calls contract restructures), they are still looking at $40M to $50M to work with before signing or drafting anyone. That said, I believe it would be a great move for the Bills to try and obtain the services of Parris Campbell at the above price. If they can sign the former Colts’ WR on a short-term deal, a year or two, with an average annual value between $2,000,000 and $3,000,00,0 he could be a steal. The biggest concern you have if you’re Brandon Beane is Campbell’s injury history he only averaged five games per season in his first three years. If the Bills can bring in Campbell to be the slot receiver and share those responsibilities with Khalil Shakir as he continues to grow into his role, the Bills could be on to something in their WR 2/3 rotation.