Bills Training Camp: WR Isaiah McKenzie riding high through Day 2

07/25/2022
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“The Face of the Franchise” aka Isaiah McKenzie has become a favorite of Bills Mafia over the years. The seven-year pro “earned” that title with his interactions on social media, national television appearances plus 11 catches for 125 yards, and a touchdown in a 33-21 win versus the Buffalo Bills’ most hated opponent last season. Outside of that performance against the Patriots, Lil’ Dirty has been rather pedestrian with 797 yards and six touchdowns on 88 receptions through his first half dozen seasons in the league. If wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie is going to be the late bloomer that Buffalo football botanists believe he can grow into, three questions need to be answered:

Opportunity

This question is extremely easy to answer because there are two huge departures in slot receiver Cole Beasley and wideout Emmanuel Sanders. The duo not only bumps McKenzie up the depth chart but also leaves behind 184 targets which they turned into 124 catches for over 1,300 yards and five touchdowns. Those vacated targets are over seven times more than McKenzie saw a season ago. Their departure also frees up 1,438 snaps for McKenzie and company. If Isaiah can earn just 20 percent of those, his snaps would double from 2021.

Trust

Now that those opportunities are up for grabs, who Sean McDermott and Ken Dorsey trust to give those shares to needs addressed. It’s just two days into Buffalo Bills training camp, but a couple of observations show that Buffalo’s offensive brass is giving McKenzie said trust. He is lining up with Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis with Josh Allen under center during first-team practice. What might be more indicative of his use is that No. 6 isn’t being sent with the special teams unit to take reps at returner.

I often say: “trust what a team does, not says.” By making McKenzie’s main focus running with the ones, Buffalo is clearly showing he will have a chance to win that role.

Precedent

It’s not very often a player becomes a standout in his profession entering year seven, but it wouldn’t be totally out of left field should Mr. Franchise make a leap as a full-time slot receiver. Vikings’ Adam Thielen barely saw the field in his first two seasons. The All-Pro receiver had just 31 targets with just one touchdown and 281 yards on 20 catches in his first couple of years. Those numbers exploded after that with over 3,000 yards, 280 receptions, and 18 touchdowns in the next three years.

Two other slot receivers that needed some seasoning before they went off are names familiar to Bills fans. Drought-ender Tyler Boyd saw just 76 catches for 825 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons. That was before he put up back-to-back 1,000-yard years in Cincinnati. I hate to do this to you, but Julian Edelman is arguably the best example. The Super Bowl winner only complied 69 catches, 714 yards, and four scores during his first four seasons. After that, he hauled in 74 or more passes for over 850 yards in five of six campaigns while adding 32 touchdowns.

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I’m not saying to fun and burn all your FAAB dollars to add McKenzie onto your dynasty roster, but the opportunity is certainly there and it appears, early in camp, the trust is there as well.

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