Buffalo Bills: ‘Open competition’ for next kick/punt returner

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 04: Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie #19 of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball against the defense of the Houston Texans during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 04: Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie #19 of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball against the defense of the Houston Texans during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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While almost all of the starters are back this year for the Buffalo Bills, one position that is guaranteed to have a new player is the starting returner on kickoffs and punts. The team lost Andre Roberts this offseason, who left in free agency and joined the Houston Texans.

Before the first practice of minicamp, Sean McDermott was asked about this position and McDermott described it as an ‘open competition.’

“As far as kickoff returns, and return duties overall, that is an open competition. We had a pretty good one last year in Andre Roberts and he has since moved on and so that job is up for grabs.”

He also talked about the challenges of being a returner due to the weather in Buffalo by saying, “Playing that position in Buffalo, New York is not easy with the way wind blows and we get some weather from time to time. So it really becomes an art form and science.”

Fortunately for Sean McDermott and the coaching staff, they are going to have a number of players who are likely to compete for that job. The most notable name is Isaiah McKenzie, who has been with the team for a few years and returned this offseason on a one-year deal.

McKenzie has primarily been a gadget player on offense but does have experience in returning kickoffs and punts. Last year, he was the primary punt returner in Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins and returned a punt for a touchdown.

In addition to McKenzie, the Bills also have Brandon Powell, who signed as a free agent and has experience on both kickoffs and punts. They also drafted Marquez Stevenson in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft who also will likely be involved in the competition leading up to the 2021 season for the Buffalo Bills.

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This is a unique position as it is likely one that won’t be decided in practice but more so in preseason games as it is tough to replicate kickoff situations at full speed in practice. This is a competition that will likely carry through all three preseason games.