As the Buffalo Bills approach the start of training camp, all eyes are locked onto third-year wide receiver Gabriel Davis as the team’s prime candidate to break out at the position. The additions of two dynamic rookies in running back James Cook and wide receiver Khalil Shakir have fans brimming with excitement as well. And while the three aforementioned players should help usher in a new era of skill position talent throughout Buffalo’s roster, a quality veteran free agent signing – Jamison Crowder – seems to be getting lost in the shuffle.
Signed to replace Cole Beasley – who the Bills moved on from after three years during the offseason – Crowder figures to slide into the starting slot role in new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s scheme. Crowder joins the Bills in eerily similar fashion to when the team added Beasley back in the 2018 offseason. Both were entering their eighth season and had solid, yet unspectacular production throughout their careers.
In his first seven years with the Dallas Cowboys, Beasley averaged roughly 45 catches for 467 yards and 3.2 receiving touchdowns. He became a focal point of Buffalo’s offense and emerged as a go-to threat in short-to-intermediate yardage situations for Josh Allen, who was coming into his own as a passer. Beasley went on to average 77 catches for 812 yards and 3.6 touchdowns per year with Buffalo.
Dorsey will certainly implement his own system and wrinkles into the Bills’ offense, but there’s no doubt that there will be a heavy carryover from Brian Daboll’s potent passing attack that relied on production from the slot, where Crowder has proven to be effective throughout his career, despite underwhelming quarterback play.
Crowder, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal spent his first seven seasons with the Washington Commanders and New York Jets, where he caught 409 passes for 4,607 yards and 28 touchdowns. While Crowder lacks great speed, running a 4.56 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Combine, he’s a crafty route runner with quickness and has a high IQ to get open in a similar fashion to Beasley.
The slot receiver has been an incredibly important role within Buffalo’s offense, and while the emergence of Davis and Dawson Knox surely figure to alter how Allen and the Bills will attack defenses, that role shouldn’t diminish much – if at all – in 2022. And the former Duke product has proven that he’s capable of producing when taking on a featured role on offense. During the 2019 season – his first with the Jets, and the only season in which he played all 16 games – he reeled in 78-of-122 targets for 833 yards (364 yards-after-catch) and found the endzone six times.
After missing time in each of the following two seasons with groin and calf injuries, Crowder is ready for a resurgence with Josh Allen, who he’s envied from afar, throwing passes his way.
“He’s a dog. Just watching the last few years, his development obviously from afar, but he’s a dog,” Crowder said upon joining the team. “He’s a guy that can make things happen. And then most of all, he’s a winner. I’m excited to get a chance to play alongside him and play alongside other guys as well.”
We broke down the Exit stunt back when Kyle Williams used to execute it, but now you can hear Shaq (@Shaq_Lawson90) break down his assignment and process.— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 15, 2022
Show: https://t.co/FzQEnSh2hn pic.twitter.com/w5s5EtBLRg
Crowder will have to fend off competition from Isaiah McKenzie, a favorite of fans and teammates alike, who re-joined the squad on a two-year $4 million deal during the offseason. While McKenzie has yet to secure the full confidence from the coaching staff during his tenure with the team, he flashed in relief of Beasley last season, dominating the New England Patriots to the tune of an 11-catch, 125 yards and one score game last season, leaving many wondering what he could do with a full-time role.
Shakir, the team’s fifth-round draft pick, was touted as one of the deep sleepers in the 2022 NFL Draft after an impressive career at Boise State in which he caught 208 passes for 2,878 yards and 20 touchdowns. At 6-foot, 190-pounds, Shakir projects well to the slot thanks to his speed, quickness and uncanny knack for creating separation early in the down.
While McKenzie has flashed and Shakir possesses untapped potential, the Bills are in win-now mode. They know what they can get from McKenzie in a niche role and are more likely to ease Shakir into the offense while relying on the proven commodity in Crowder, who has seven years of experience defeating defenses from the slot.
Beasley’s departure opens up roughly 100 targets on offense, many of which should fall into Crowder’s lap. And while Beasley was immensely productive for the team during his short tenure, Crowder’s ability to create yards after catch should bring a new look to the position. Beasley’s yards-after-catch dropped each year, from an average of 5.3 to 4.3 to 3.9, while Crowder has averaged five or more yards after the catch in five of his seven pro seasons.
How does #BillsMafia's new slot WR Jamison Crowder compare to Cole Beasley?— Cover 1 (@Cover1) March 24, 2022
Will Crowder's few more peaks in YAC be a benefit?
Crowder was still very good at creating separation... but not as elite as Beasley, is that a concern?
What does Crowder bring to this offense? pic.twitter.com/rFEarcUMJW
As explosive of an offense that the Bills have fielded in recent years, they’ve struggled significantly to create yards after the catch. Josh Allen had the lowest yards-after-catch percentage of all qualifying quarterbacks, and it’s an area that he’s looking to improve upon in 2022.
“Main thing is still limiting turnovers, limiting bad decisions, and then ball placement on some of the underneath routes, allowing the guys to get more YAC,” Allen pointed out as the areas for growth entering year five. “Last year, I don’t think we were very good in that department. So it’s kind of on me to put the ball where it needs to be and allow our guys to utilize their legs and run after catch. I think those are the two most important things, and still just trying to develop that relationship with [new Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey] and understand why he’s calling certain things in certain situations, and that comes with live reps.”
Crowder’s addition to the offense should provide a spark in that department.
Buffalo’s passing attack has been lethal during the last two seasons, and despite an influx of new faces, Jamison Crowder is a name you need to know as the team begins training camp in just under two weeks.