The top four wide receiver spots on the Buffalo Bills’ depth chart are set in stone, with reigning All-Pros Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, along with the newly-added Emmanuel Sanders and promising second-year player Gabriel Davis. The quartet is among the best in the NFL and will receive the bulk of targets from quarterback Josh Allen in the 2021 NFL season. After the top four, though, things get a bit unclear. Fortunately, the question marks regarding the remaining roster spots aren’t about talent. The Bills have a plethora of young receivers on the roster, some new and some returning. Buffalo will keep a minimum of one, probably two, and as many as three of the names from the following group, but competition will be fierce at Buffalo Bills training camp this summer.
The longest-tenured member of the Bills’ wide receiver corps, McKenzie is entering his fourth season with Buffalo and his fifth in the NFL after being claimed off waivers from the Denver Broncos in 2018. The former Georgia Bulldog has improved his production each year and enjoyed somewhat of a breakout campaign in 2020 with five receiving touchdowns along with both a passing and punt return touchdown.
McKenzie sees most of his action as a jet sweep specialist, acting as eye candy to draw the attention of defenses. But he’s slowly improved as a traditional receiver as well, operating primarily out of the slot. 79 of his 108 targets have been within nine yards of the line of scrimmage, with 42 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. He’s got a lot of room to grow, but his development as a slot receiver is hardly unnoticed.
As previously mentioned, McKenzie also adds value as a punt returner. However, he’s had issues in the past with holding onto the football when returning. Coach Sean McDermott values ball security above all else, so McKenzie will have to prove that he can consistently secure the ball and be rid of his fumbling issues before he’s trusted will a full-time job as a returner.
Selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL draft out of Oregon State, Isaiah Hodgins never saw the field in 2020 due to injuries, but he’s already created a buzz this offseason. With an impressive frame and sure hands, Hodgins has a unique skillset when compared to the rest of the Bills’ wide receivers.
Josh Allen sings praises of WR Isaiah Hodgins at Bills minicamp
One area Hodgins could make an immediate impact is in the intermediate and deep middle of the field. During his final two years with the Beavers, the 6-foot-4 receiver tallied 39 receptions on passes 10-plus yards downfield in the middle of the field on 51 targets, racking up 820 yards, five touchdowns and just one drop, good for a 76-percent catch rate at 21 yards-per-catch. With his wide frame and reliable hands, Hodgins has the potential to carve out a significant role both this season and in the future.
Step one for Hodgins is staying healthy. Just how serious his shoulder injury was last year is unknown, but if he can keep turning heads at training camp and throughout the preseason, the 22-year old should have a clear path to making the roster. If he wants to cement himself onto the 53-man roster, though, he may need to show some ability to contribute on special teams, as depth receivers often need to do to make the active gameday roster.
Stevenson was one of three sixth-round selections by Buffalo in the 2021 NFL draft and played his college ball at Houston. There, he used his blinding speed to make a name for himself as both a receiver and kick returner, racking up 25 touchdowns in 29 games. The Bills lacked true game-breaking speed on offense last year, and while Matt Breida was added to bring some juice to the running back room, Stevenson can do the same for the wideouts.
Stevenson primarily operated out of the slot for the Cougars and was YAC specialist. Over 55-percent of his 2,247 receiving yards came after the catch and he averaged over eight yards-per-catch on targets behind the line of scrimmage. Stevenson needs to work on his deep ball catching, though, as he only caught 34-percent of his targets that were 20-plus yards downfield, but when those connected, it usually went for six.
Marquez Stevenson shows off his breakaway talent on the kick return 🔥
Who do you want returning kicks in Buffalo?
via 804Sports on YT | #GoBills pic.twitter.com/oJptGlx7s8
— Built in Buffalo (@BuiltInBuffalo_) May 9, 2021
He’ll be the primary competition for Isaiah McKenzie, both at wide receiver and returner. While McKenzie has the edge in experience, Stevenson has a bigger frame and more burst than McKenzie, who is more quick and shifty than fast. Stevenson needs a lot of polish as a route runner but he’s adequate enough to make an impact as a receiver if the team decides he’s the better option at returner.
Nicknamed “Touchdown Jesus” because of his long flowing hair, Kumerow is probably best known for two things – catching an absolute laser from Josh Allen against the Broncos in 2020, and being a personal favorite target of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay before getting cut. The majority of Kumerow’s snaps have been on special teams, where he was a regular for Buffalo in 2020 while on the active roster.
Josh Allen with a DART to Jake Kumerow! 🎯
The @BuffaloBills extend their lead!
📺: #BUFvsDEN on NFL Network pic.twitter.com/3mG2UV9RRH
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) December 19, 2020
Kumerow is the underdog of this group, but he’s far from a long shot. Special teams definitely matter to this coaching staff, so Kumerow might be able to earn a major role there that justifies a roster spot. If he can show that he’s also a decent enough receiver, that’ll help his odds. If he could catch that bullet from Allen, his hands must be pretty good.
Brandon Powell was added during the offseason and is statistically the most experienced returner in the room at the moment. If Stevenson and McKenzie both develop a case of fumble-itis, Powell could win the job by default.
Duke Williams went from getting several targets in a playoff game to a full season stuck on the practice squad. The former CFL star has flashed physicality, but he’d need to significantly outperform the younger, more talented, and more physically gifted receiver in Hodgins for the role.
Tanner Gentry has a neat story as Allen’s former teammate at Wyoming. By all accounts, the established chemistry between the former Cowboys (including tight end Jacob Hollister) was on display at OTAs, but Gentry doesn’t have much of a real shot at the roster given the talent ahead of him.
The Bills will either keep six or seven wide receivers on the roster, including whoever is designated as the returner. Hodgins seems to be the closest thing there is to a “lock” due to the amount of excitement around him at OTAs and the promise he showed in college. McKenzie and Stevenson are in direct competition and while it’s possible that they both make the team, it likely will be an either/or situation, with one making the team and the other getting cut. Kumerow is most likely to be released than not, but if the team decides to keep seven, his special teams contributions could be the reason he’s the 53rd man on the roster and not the first name on the practice squad. Williams, Powell and Gentry are longshots who will most likely be competing for spots on the practice squad.