Orchard Park, NY — In his three seasons with the Buffalo Bills, former slot receiver Cole Beasley caught 231 passes from Josh Allen.
Beasley was one of Allen’s most-trusted targets. He was one of the people who helped Allen ascend into superstardom. He was voted as an All Pro for the first time in his career back in 2020.
The Bills released Beasley in March to add roughly $6 million in cap space as they loaded up – inking premier pass rusher Von Miller to a six-figure, multi-year deal – to make a run at a Super Bowl. Beasley approached the team asking for a trade after his role diminished a bit last season and his public disagreement with the NFL’s covid protocols took center stage in 2021.
Whatever ultimately led to Beasley’s departure – he still hasn’t signed with another team – a void was left in the slot in Allen’s offense.
When asked about Beasley’s absence and whether it could create a problem this season, Allen was quick to jump in played to remind reporters in May about a simple fact: He’s with McKenzie longer than Beasley.
“Isaiah has been here for four years,” Allen said. The Bills signed McKenzie in 2018 off waivers from the Denver Broncos the year before they acquired Beasley in free agency. McKenzie has been with Allen since his rookie season, obviously in a much smaller role than the one he’s auditioning for this summer.
Allen said McKenzie has already stood out in the spring with his attention to detail when it comes to the nuances of the game. But the Bills signed veteran slot receiver Jamison Crowder. That could complicate McKenzie’s path to a starting role. Allen even added that Crowder has been “big for us” since he signed back in March.
“Just seeing some of the things that (Crowder) can do, things that he brings to the table, the knowledge that he has and helping Isaiah out,” Allen said. “It’ll be fun to see those guys on the field. And I’m not sure how it’s gonna be packaged, who’s gonna be on the field at all times or what case that is. And I guess time will tell, but we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of different abilities and we’ll try to utilize their strengths to the best that we can.”
McKenzie watched closely the past three years to try and extrapolate exactly how Beasley was able to make Allen confident in him to make plays. The two had a connection and eventually worked toward an unspoken vibe on the field that led to all their success.
That’s what McKenzie wants to find now with Allen.
“We’re communicating like him and Bease were communicating (throughout OTAs and minicamp),” McKenzie said. “I want that chemistry that they had the past few years they had. I want that. We’re gonna have to speed it up a little because the season is right around the corner.”
McKenzie said it was certain words and signals Beasley and Allen would exchange that keyed their communication on the field. The 27-year-old is hoping to add some tweaks to his relationship with Allen.
“Maybe we can come up with our own some day,” he said. “But being behind Bease, he taught me a lot. Just watching him run routes and how he read coverages and everything. … Josh was very intrigued in what I can do now that Bease is gone. We’ve been on the same page so far and I want to keep it that way.”
McKenzie has been one of the stand out performers from the spring. He’s had plenty of big plays sprinkled throughout practice and seems poised to put last season behind him. After winning the kick and punt return positions to start the season, an untimely fumble against the Indianapolis Colts forced him to the bench. He returned later in the season and had one of the biggest games of the year by a receiver in a win on the road against the New England Patriots.
The key to his staying power in Buffalo has been his unstoppable will to never stop going.
“I look at the noise but I don’t listen to it,” he said. “Whether it’s on the field or off the field, I do what I do. I may let some people know along the way and if they don’t believe me then, oh well. Or I show people along the way – if they don’t believe it then oh well. I’m a keep going. That’s how I look at it. I don’t take no day for granted. I’m working and it shows each and every year.”