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Bills Training Camp Battle: Trent Sherfield vs Khalil Shakir

  • Justin Melo
  • July 25, 2023
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The slot position is incredibly important in the Buffalo Bills’ offense. Since taking over, head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have placed emphasis on rostering difference-making slot receivers. That makes the impending position battle between Khalil Shakir and Trent Sherfield worth monitoring.

Isaiah McKenzie led the Bills in snaps from the slot last season with 425. All in all, McKenzie was involved in more than 50% of the Bills’ total offensive plays. McKenzie signed a one-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. Slot-only receiver Jamison Crowder also departed in free agency. Prior to 2022, the Bills employed capable slot receivers such as Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley. There’s a history here.

Some view Shakir as the favorite to inherit this role. The No. 148 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bills brought Shakir along slowly as a rookie. The former Boise State standout recorded just 10 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown, but his production appears poised to explode in 2023.

The Bills used Shakir as a versatile receiver in 2022. He logged 160 snaps in the slot versus 144 snaps on the boundary, per Pro Football Focus. If Shakir continues building a rapport with quarterback Josh Allen, perhaps he could contend for Gabe Davis’ snaps opposite Stefon Diggs in two receiver sets. But with McKenzie no longer in the picture, I expect the Bills to expand Shakir’s responsibilities in the slot.

Shakir doesn’t possess much experience entering year two. He played a hair over 25% of Buffalo’s offensive snaps in 2022. That’s partially what makes the Sherfield signing so intriguing.

The Bills had a front-row seat to Sherfield’s improvement in 2022. Sherfield recorded career highs in receptions (30), receiving yards (417), and touchdowns (2) with the Miami Dolphins last season. He played 323 snaps in the slot for the Dolphins last season.

How Buffalo deploys their two-headed monster at tight end could throw a wrench into this position battle too. The Bills drafted former Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid with the No. 25 overall selection despite recently signing Dawson Knox to a lucrative extension. Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey will get Knox and Kincaid on the field simultaneously. Kincaid could fill a “BIG SLOT” role as a pass-catching tight end that splits out from the line. If Kincaid is utilized as a big slot in 11-personnel, he could quickly eat into Shakir’s and Sherfield’s snaps while becoming the true starting slot receiver.

None of the other Bills acquisitions should get involved in this position battle. Deonte Harty was signed in free agency but is expected to play a critical role on special teams as the starting kickoff returner. Harty won’t be heavily involved offensively barring a significant surprise. Former Florida receiver Justin Shorter was drafted in the fifth round, but will mostly be asked to develop behind the scenes.

The Bills entered the offseason requiring more offensive firepower following their disappointing 27-10 divisional-round defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals. Beane added some intriguing pieces in Kincaid and Sherfield. Shakir is expected to make a sophomore leap. Watching these three jockey for positioning in Buffalo’s high-octane passing offense will be fascinating.

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Justin Melo