Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley is making headlines, but not the good kind like you want. The former Dallas Cowboy will not receive the COVID vaccine, and it sounds like he has no plans of following the NFL’s restrictions for non-vaccinated players, going so far as to say he’d rather retire than take the shot.
Public Service Announcement pic.twitter.com/XjQicdvnKm
— Cole Beasley (@Bease11) June 18, 2021
Ignoring the real-world implications of such a stance, Buffalo needs to prepare for life without Cole Beasley. Speaking from purely a football perspective, Cole Beasley is one of the best slot receivers in the league, and the Bills will need somebody to stand up in the very real scenario that Beasley misses some or all of 2021.
Buffalo Bills Backup Plans For Cole Beasley
As mentioned in the 53-man roster projection, the Buffalo Bills have a lot of talent at the wide receiver position. Stefon Diggs is a bonafide stud, Gabriel Davis showed a lot of promise as a rookie, and Emmanuel Sanders still has something left in his tank. Buffalo runs a lot of three-receiver sets, which means that having depth at the position is of utmost importance.
If Beasley is gone for an extended period of time, then Emmanuel Sanders will probably move into the slot. Entering his age-34 season, Emmanuel Sanders is not the great player he once was during the final years of the Peyton Manning Era. However, he is still a solid role player and is more than capable of being the third receiver in this passing attack.
Sanders spent 2020 catching passes from a worn-down Drew Brees and Taysom Hill. Despite the lackluster quarterback situation, the receiver finished his season with 61 receptions for 726 yards and five touchdowns. While the volume stats are solid, Sanders’ efficiency numbers show that he can still be a good player in a high-volume offense. His 2.23 yards per route ranked 15th in the league, while his 110.9% true catch rate was the best in the NFL. Somehow, someway, Sanders managed to catch more passes than he had catchable targets.
While he probably won’t be able to do THAT again, he should be a reliable slot option if he needs to be. This will leave Gabriel Davis as the unquestioned starter on the outside opposite Diggs. Losing Beasley is obviously not ideal, but the team is in a position to handle such a loss.
Isaiah McKenzie: The Dark Horse
Emmanuel Sanders is a fine option in the slot, but he is no longer a big-play threat. While he can still get open in the short and intermediate parts of the field, he no longer has the speed required to blow past defenders and take the top off the defense. Isaiah McKenzie has that big-play potential and could emerge as the starting slot receiver with a strong camp.
Today belongs to Isaiah McKenzie. 🔥
📺 #MIAvsBUF on CBS pic.twitter.com/dZov52m8FI
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 3, 2021
After starting his career in Denver, McKenzie turned into a decent depth receiver and return specialist over the past three seasons. In 2020, the Georgia product set career marks in receptions (30), yards (282), and touchdowns (five) while all but giving up his job as a returner. The team appears interested in increasing his role in the passing game, and he played well last year when given the chance.
Playing in the slot on 54% of his offensive snaps, McKenzie finished the season with 1.96 yards per route, a 93.8% true catch rate, and a respectable 72.4 PFF grade. It’s anyone’s guess if he could sustain this type of performance with a larger workload, but he offers an explosive upside that Sanders simply cannot match.
While the Buffalo Bills are at their best with Beasley on the roster, they will be able to survive if he doesn’t play this year. Emmanuel Sanders and his established play set the floor for the position, while Isaiah McKenzie and his breakaway speed sets the ceiling. This duo, combined with Diggs and Davis on the outside, ensures that Buffalo will still have one of the better receiving groups in the NFL in 2021.
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